How to gain control if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Do you occasionally or often feel overwhelmed by your job search or by life in general?  Do you find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to handle everything you have to do? Are you inundated with emails and text messages that require more attention than sometimes seems possible?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. According to the Stress in America 2022 survey, about three-quarters of adults (76%) said they have experienced health impacts due to stress in the prior month. And 33% reported feeling overwhelmed. The survey, conducted in both English and Spanish by the Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, questioned 3,192 adults aged 18-plus who reside in the U.S.

How to know if you’re feeling overwhelmed

If you are overwhelmed, you’re probably well aware of that fact. But if you’re not sure, here are some of the symptoms. You may:

  • Have trouble staying focused.
  • Experience a racing heart.
  • Become moody.
  • Be perpetually tired.
  • Be consumed with worry.
  • Have trouble sleeping.
  • Find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Often feel like crying.
  • No longer enjoy the things you used to like to do.
  • Be obsessively concerned about being exposed to Covid.

According to the Stress in America 2022 survey, about three-quarters of adults (76%) said they have experienced health impacts due to stress in the prior month. And 33% reported feeling overwhelmed.

What you can do if you’re overwhelmed

If you feel overwhelmed, like many of us do these days, here are some of the things you can do to help bring things under control.

Focus on one thing at a time. While your to-do list may contain countless items, every morning pick the most important thing you need to do on that day. And get it done.

Make a list. Write down everything that’s overwhelming you, and create a plan for how to deal with each item on that list.

Learn to say no. Feeling that you have to do everything that people ask you to do can make you feel overwhelmed. You can also say no to regular tasks that need to be done. Forego a clean house for an hour of rest, for example.

Do something you like to do. Take a walk in the park, work out at the gym, go to see a movie or engage in any activity you really enjoy doing. All these will help focus your attention on something more pleasant than being overwhelmed.

Be in the present. Worrying about the future can make you feel overwhelmed. Concentrate on the task or tasks you can take care of right now. Instead of being concerned about whether you’ll be able to find a job, do some research and add more companies to your list of those you are interested in applying to.

Practice positive thinking. Being overwhelmed often means that your thoughts are out of control. And learning to develop a positive attitude can help turn your life around.

Volunteer to help someone. Whether it’s walking pets at an animal shelter, helping people at a senior center or offering to cook for a neighbor who just got out of the hospital, doing things for others can help you focus on someone besides yourself.

Turn to your support system. Rely on friends. Pick up the phone and call a close friend or relative or invite them for coffee. Sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Write down your thoughts and feelings. Getting things out of your mind and on to a written document can help you let go of overwhelming thoughts and relax.

Take a digital vacation. Unplug for a few hours or a few days. Turn off your cell phone notifications. Don’t look at your email or social media feeds. The internet and digital media can be overwhelming. And getting away from it can help you focus on other things that may bring you pleasure, like a walk through the woods, getting together face-to-face with a friend or reading an interesting book.

Don’t try to be perfect. Do the best you can do, but don’t attempt perfection. It will just cause stress in your life.

Take a deep breath – or two – or three. Learn and practice the breathing technique that is part of mindfulness meditation. It can help calm your thoughts if practiced on a regular basis.

Be kind to yourself. Be careful to avoid self-criticism. Instead think positively. And tell yourself you can make it through difficult times. Being overwhelmed is a state of mind that happens to most of us at one time or another.

Be your own best friend. Treat yourself as well as you treat the people in your life who mean the most to you. Be your own best friend.

Choose an absorbing activity. Whether it’s cleaning up the kitchen, jogging in the neighborhood or completing a crossword puzzle, try to do something that forces you to be present.

Take a break. If you’re busy with your job search, take regular breaks throughout the day to stretch or do a few exercises.

Accept that things will get better. Know that the situation is only temporary, and that you will eventually get your life back on track and overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed.

We’ve outlined quite a few ideas here on how to cope with being overwhelmed and how to change outcomes. But even experimenting and implementing just a few of them can make a big difference.

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