What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

This is not the post that I intended to write this week. I had all kinds of other ideas to line up with the 121 Day Challenge, but I and many women and people around North America (and the world) have been very affected by the news and politics.

Fear not, this is not a political post. This is not about me bashing the ‘side’ whose opinion differs to mine. What this is is a post about how to deal with the overwhelm in our lives, as I know so many people who are emotionally exhausted at the moment.


I wanted to provide some tangible tools to help people deal with their overwhelm, because when you feel like you’re drowning, it can be hard to see the light.

Let’s start with the definition of overwhelm.

  • to bury or drown beneath a huge mass
  • defeat completely
  • give too much a thing to someone/something

Clarification – these past two weeks have been about overwhelm related to politics and the onslaught of the news, but these strategies work for any other kind of overwhelm also. Whether you’re overwhelmed by parenting, family drama, being overworked, not having a job, illness, you name it, one of these strategies will help. It’s not going to solve it all, but it will give you some reprieve from the overwhelm, which is important for your mental, emotional and physical health.

Last point of clarification – I’m not saying you should employ all of these strategies (and you’ll soon see why), but to figure out which one will work best for your given scenario. You should know yourself best. Know when you need to push yourself, and know when you need to rest. If you’re unsure, go through the strategies in the order that appeals to you and discover which one will give you solace.

As a quick aside – in case you didn’t know, I interviewed the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, Brigid Schulte, last year and the episode was full of great wisdom from her, so make sure to check that out.

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1. Take Action

In many cases of overwhelm, the most troubling aspect is that we feel as if we have no control over the scenario. We’ve been let go from a job, or we see government policies put in place that affect our livelihood, or our colicky child cannot be soothed until she screams herself to sleep.

We feel useless, defeated, totally out of control.

So I ask, instead, what can you take control of? Where can you be useful? What small action can you take that may not change the bigger picture, but will give you a sense of purpose?

For me, this past week, it was donating to individuals and causes that were in alignment with my beliefs. It was a small thing, I was financially able to do so, and it made me feel as though I was helping.

Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by your mental health – what one thing can you take action of and control? Maybe it’s making the bed. Maybe it’s responding to that one email today.

Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by your small kids (*cough, cough – raises hand). When I get overwhelmed, my ‘action’ is to take five deep breaths. Or to force myself to take my kid to the playground even on a snowy day to make sure he burns off his excessive energy. Yes… I was the only one at the play park on the snowy Monday just passed, thank you for asking.

The point is, it can be minute or mega, but what action will help you move closer to what you want and/or feel more in control?

2. Step Back

Funny, I just spoke about taking action. Well… turns out that in many cases of overwhelm, the right thing to do for yourself is to step back (technically a form of action, but go with me here). I mean this in a few different ways.

Many women I know are overwhelmed with the recent Kavanaugh proceedings, whichever side of the aisle you fall on. The 24 hour news cycle bombards us with stories so we can’t get the opportunity to process, grieve, regroup.

And so… I advise that if you’re in this scenario that you step away. Take a break from social media, or the news, or the conversations in your life when people are talking about things that trigger you. Stepping back is so much about creating strong boundaries for yourself both with people and technology. Only you can enforce that boundary.

Another way you can step back is to step INTO self care. Sure, if bubble baths are your thing go for it, but maybe that means going to bed at 8 and feeling like a grandma, but feeling 10% happier tomorrow. Maybe it means going to that group fitness class, even it if means putting something else important to the side. Stepping back is very much about figuring out what your body and your mind need, and giving it to yourself without judgement.


3. Get Grounded

No, I’m not sending you to your room! I had a great conversation with my counsellor recently (I highly recommend counselling for everybody!), where we talked about this back and forth most people experience between thinking about the past and worrying about the future.

She actually said that she’s seen people lose months of their lives to that pendulum, where they know they lived it, but have very little memory of that time. It’s because you’re not present. You’re living in your head and not in your body, and so you psychologically lose that time.

Well… I don’t want that to happen to me, or to you. So, what do you do about it? When you’re feeling overwhelmed and giving in to worry and anxiety, the one thing that you can do to interrupt that pattern is to ground yourself in the present.

But how…? Meditation, if you’re up for it. But gratitude always works. Always. You actually can’t be grateful and anxious in the same moment. Try it, I dare you. Anxious an hour later, sure, but in the same moment? Nope. Not possible.

You could journal about your present day and the moments of gratitude, or you can simply take time to reflect and savour in moments. It’s hard to start with, particularly if it’s not your norm, but the more I’ve tried it, the more I’ve found some beautiful moments. Taking out the trash the other day, I heard a flock of birds above and just stopped and watched them, breathing in the winter air, relishing in the feel of the cool breeze on my face. Sound corny? Maybe, but I felt so alive… and I was taking out trash, y’all!

And that’s just one example of the many moments I’ve been able to be perfectly present for and embrace since making gratitude and mindfulness more of my everyday. So, if full on meditation isn’t for you at this point, practice gratitude.


4. Get Support

Sometimes you need to bring in the support network. Like I’ve said, for the deep darks, as I call them, I highly recommend counselling. I mean… I recommend counselling for life in general, not just the deep darks, but in particular for the deep darks the right counsellor can help you process your feelings, your thoughts, and give you strategies to move forward.

The right support system also means friends and family. I’m a huge proponent of finding your chosen family. Not all of us have a supportive family of origin, but you can find and cultivate your chosen family. Who are the people who have your back, who will answer your 3 a.m. phone call? The list doesn’t have to be long, but you need at least one person.

Support can also come in the form of a tribe of individuals going through (or who have gone through) what you’re experiencing. For example, when I was in my deep dark of postpartum depression, my community wasn’t actually in my Birth and Babies group as I’d thought and hoped, but in a community of women who had personally experienced postpartum. We weren’t necessarily close or besties, but we could provide that sounding board, that I’ve-been-there-momma understanding that I so craved.

As a society we put so much pressure on one another to do it all, be perfect… but what if instead we recognized overwhelm for what it is – human.

Here’s the thing that I always come back to – you’re going to be overwhelmed in life. It’s impossible to avoid it. Life throws curve balls at us, it piles on more than we think we’re capable of, and some seasons are way harder than others… but with the right coping mechanism, you can move through overwhelm faster and more efficiently.


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