What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

When you’re juggling a career and family, it can seem like the demands are endless.  The work deadlines, the extracurricular activities, doctors’ appointments, birthday parties, Christmas shopping, and the list goes on. Overwhelm is a common reaction to those demands and it’s one of the most common emotions that I see in moms who are also professionals.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to manage it.

Overwhelm is an emotion that we feel in our bodies.  As I’ve discussed before, all emotions are created from our thoughts.  The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually variations on these two:

  1. This is too much for me to handle.
  2. I don’t know how to get this done.

When we think these thoughts, our brain likes to fixate on them and repeat them, which sends us into the downward spiral of overwhelm.  When we’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re not taking action because the emotion causes our minds to freeze up in panic, which makes accessing our creativity and ability to make good decisions nearly impossible.

Instead, we end up wasting tons of time spinning out and doing nothing.  The time we spend spinning out is time we could be using to take action if we were in a more productive state.  This is obviously a counter-productive emotion.  It feels necessary in the moment, but it really serves no purpose.

Although it doesn’t feel optional, it actually is.  The circumstances of your life do not create the feeling of overwhelm.  There are other people who are in your exact same circumstances who are not getting overwhelmed.  And the only difference is the thoughts that they’re choosing to think.

Refuse To Tell Yourself That This Is Too Much

There is absolutely no upside to telling yourself “this is too much for me to handle.”  That thought will create overwhelm and indulging in overwhelm is never a good use of your time.

Instead, think about how you want to feel given your current set of circumstances.  Do you want to feel calm and in control?  Creative?  Committed to get things done?

Then think about what thought you would need to think in order to create that emotion.  Make sure it’s a thought that you can believe.  For example, you could decide to choose the thought “I am figuring out how to handle this.”  Just even allowing for the possibility that you can figure out a solution will allow you to access your creativity and problem-solving skills, which will help you find the solution more quickly.

Ask Good Questions

We’re often asking ourselves questions that aren’t very helpful.  Questions like:  Why is there never enough time?  Why don’t I know how to do this?  How did I get so far behind?  Why does this always happen to me?

When you ask questions like that, your brain is not going to give you very good answers.  Instead, it will say things like “Because you’re so disorganized.  Because you can’t pull yourself together.  Because your ex-boyfriend was right and you really are a disaster,” or other such unhelpful answers.

The good news is that you can access the creative power of your brain by deliberately asking positive questions that are going to elicit positive answers from your brain.

For example:

  • How can I break this down so that I can tackle what really needs to get done?
  • Whose help can I enlist?
  • How can I figure this out?
  • What is the solution to this problem?


As I discussed when talking about priorities, making the deliberate choice to constrain and focus on what is really important to you can help avoid chronic feelings of overwhelm. For example, you could allow your kids to choose one extracurricular activity instead of three.  You could decide you’ll only go to networking events held at lunch and not after five o’clock.  You can decide that you’ll only have big birthday parties for the kids every other year or every three years.  These choices, made ahead of time, can dramatically simplify your life so that you’re only spending time on what’s absolutely essential.

Overwhelm is completely optional.  When you catch yourself starting to feel overwhelmed, stop and write down the thoughts that are creating that feeling.  Remember that they are optional thoughts and that you could choose to think differently. Imagine who you would be without those thoughts.  See what evidence you can find for the thought that “I am figuring out how to handle this.”  What good questions can you ask yourself to find a solution?  And how can you constrain so that you focus on what’s most important to you, to avoid being chronically overwhelmed?

Overwhelm may be “normal,” but it doesn’t have to be.  If you need help figuring this out, contact me for a free strategy session.  You’ll see immediate results.

Go forth, grow, and bloom.



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