How to Tell When You’re Overwhelmed

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You’re here because the thought that you’re overwhelmed has crossed your mind. You feel the overwhelm slowly creeping in but somehow can’t acknowledge what’s truly going on. Between all that you’ve got going on at work and home, it’s not surprising that you have questions.

No one ever sets out to intentionally overextend themselves. And overwhelm is sneaky. In most cases, the physical signs alert you to the fact that something isn’t right. Because although your mental state is often the first clue, it’s also the most commonly ignored.

But physical symptoms are not as easily ignored. Maybe you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. Or your ability to concentrate has taken a nose-dive.

And that nagging cold that just won’t go away? Could it be something more than just your kid who makes it his life’s mission to constantly sneeze in your face?

It’s one of those things where you’re fine one minute. But in the very next, you find yourself googling “how to tell when you’re overwhelmed.” And so, here you are.

You’re not alone. Overwhelm is real and can make life feel like a drag. But there are also real steps you can take to start feeling better.

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Overwhelm or Something Else?

Symptoms of overwhelm can mimic a variety of health conditions. If you’re consistently feeling down, depressed, or have had changes in sleep, appetite, or other areas of your life, it’s essential to see your primary care provider.

Although I am a nurse practitioner, I am not your nurse practitioner, and this post does not constitute medical advice. It is for educational and entertainment purposes only. You and your healthcare provider are the only ones who can collaborate to diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions.

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues, it’s time to take back your life and put a stop to the overwhelm!

Physical Signs That You’re Overwhelmed

Although mental or emotional signs of being overwhelmed often appear first, they can be the easiest to dismiss. The physical symptoms often cause you to stop and question what’s happening underneath all that unchecked anxiety and a general sense of crankiness.

Shortness of Breath

If you’re a runner or are active in other ways, you’re probably familiar with the heart racing, short-of-breath feeling you get when working out. But if you get these feelings outside the gym, it could be a sign that you’re overwhelmed.

If you have shortness of breath accompanied by dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or a sense of impending doom, please head to the emergency room ASAP!

But if you find yourself chronically short of breath and your heart and lungs are fine, it could be a sign that your body is chronically stressed. In other words, your brain is getting the message that danger is everywhere. And it’s trying to compensate by releasing chemicals that make you feel a certain way.

Our bodies have amazing coping mechanisms to balance in the short term. But these coping mechanisms have a shelf life. After they’ve expired, you can be left with long-term damage that’s difficult to reverse.

Fatigue

Are you having trouble shaking that “didn’t get enough sleep” feeling? It may have more to do with having too much on your plate than getting too little sleep at night.

Fatigue can permeate every area of your life, making all the things feel way more complicated than they have to be. It can be sneaky too. If you’re a high-achieving type-A person like me, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re simply not getting enough shut-eye.

But in reality, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. And your brain can’t possibly fathom taking on anything else at this point.

Constantly Sick

Do you find yourself battling one cold after another? If so, it’s possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Our bodies are a fascinating combination of complex systems, all working together. When your brain is stressed, you feel the effects in your body as well.

As a form of overwhelm, stress sends chemical messages that alter how our bodies function. In this case, chronic stress impacts your body’s immune system. This results in frequent colds and other minor illnesses.

Although rarely life-threatening, frequent colds are annoying!

And even minor illnesses can mess with your concentration, mood, and motivation.

Mental and Emotional Signs that You’re Overwhelmed

It takes practice to identify overwhelm before it reaches the point where you have physical signs. This is especially true for high-achieving, type-A personalities because, just like Olivia Pope, we handle things.

We are driven and feel that our drive is the reason for our success. And sure, we feel overwhelmed much of the time, but where would we be without the overwhelm?

It’s almost as if we wear overwhelm like a badge of honor.

But what if I told you that overwhelm is stealing your joy? It’s clouding your vision and making you less effective than you could be.

Would it inspire you to get serious about recognizing overwhelm for its hazard?

Crankiness

Do you find yourself in a general state of crankiness much of the time? Almost as if you’re ready to go 9 rounds with anyone at any time?

If so, it’s entirely possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Irritability and mood swings can be your brain’s way of putting the brakes on your ever-growing list of obligations. Crankiness is also a subconscious way to keep people at arm’s length and guarantees they’re less likely to ask you for favors, thereby increasing your workload.

Generalized Anxiety

Do you feel nervous all the time? Maybe you’re overwhelmed. Is the word “relax” not even in your vocabulary? You’re overwhelmed.

You don’t have peace if you’re running here and there, trying to get things done. You don’t have the time or space to just be. Your brain gets in the habit of being in constant overdrive.

And because there’s so much to do, you get trapped in this negative cycle of overthinking. After a while, it’s tough to feel any joy because all you can think about is checking things off your list.

But the more you check off, the more you realize there is still left to do.

Overwhelm and anxiety feed off each other. This is especially true if you are a Type A personality. The fear of not getting something done, missing a deadline, or doing a task imperfectly drives you and is a big reason you’re overwhelmed.

You Can’t Stay Focused

It’s no wonder that it’s difficult to concentrate when overwhelm takes over. Overwhelm, mixed with a bit of anxiety, zaps your energy and makes focusing on anything other than your long list of obligations impossible.

To get even more done, you may also have started multitasking. According to multiple studies, multitasking is actually your brain quickly switching from one task to the next, a process that zaps your energy at a remarkable rate. Although multitasking seems efficient, your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

A tendency to multitask also means that you may tend to ignore the little things in life. You become so focused on becoming efficient that you forget to stop and simply enjoy the little things.

But the little things make life worth living, thus the reason anxiety, and even depression, eventually take over.

Now that we’ve explored both the mental and physical signs that you’re overwhelmed let’s talk about how you can start feeling better!

What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Although overwhelm is familiar, you don’t have to let it rule your life. You are in charge of your life.

Overwhelm becomes a mindset that clouds your vision and darkens your world. But if you take action, the sun will come out once again, and you can finally find peace.

Watch for Catastrophes

The language you use matters. It can either build you up or tear you down. Words like “always” and “never” make anything seem worse than it actually is.

And in those moments when you’re overwhelmed, look for ways to accurately describe what’s happening. For example, which of these two statements sounds more reasonable?

  1. “I’ve got so much going on today. I’m completely overwhelmed and have no idea how I will make it through the day.”
  2. “I’ve got 2 meetings at work today, and I have to finish that presentation by noon tomorrow.”

The second one sounds manageable, right? Describing precisely what needs to be done and when takes the panic and mystery out of overwhelm. Sometimes, the simple fear of the unknown adds an extra layer of negativity to your thinking. And by taking the time to lay out what’s bothering you, you’ll suddenly realize that it’s actually not as bad as you thought.

Stop Multitasking

Along with accurately describing why you’re overwhelmed comes a commitment to stop multitasking. Research shows that it’s not effective anyway, so what’s the point?

Take time to enjoy the small moments in life. Stop and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Laugh with your kids. Leave your phone inside and stretch out in your backyard, watching the clouds float by on a sunny day.

Multitasking re-enforces the idea that you have to be doing something every minute of every day. It leaves no time for living and loving life. And it’s fooling you into thinking that you’re making progress when all you’re actually doing is sucking out the joy and feeding anxiety.

Set Boundaries

It’s easy to feel like you’re overwhelmed if you’re saying “yes” to everyone but yourself. If you find that your people-pleasing tendencies are taking over your life, it’s time to set some boundaries.

I’m not saying you should never do anything you don’t want to do. But I am saying that there needs to be balance in life. And you need to be realistic about what you can actually get accomplished in a day.

A great place to start is by establishing priorities. What areas of life matter most to you, and how can you optimize those areas?

Whenever new opportunities come up, you can then match them against your priorities. If they don’t align, don’t feel bad about saying “no.” There’s somebody out there who would be thrilled with the opportunity that simply doesn’t feel right to you. And by saying “no,” you open a door for that person.

Pretty great, right?

Exercise

I have yet to find a self-improvement topic that doesn’t involve exercise in some way, shape, or form and this one is no different. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and move your body. Take a walk. Go for a run. Grab your bike and take a ride.

Whatever it is, clearing your head with a little fresh air and movement does wonders for shaking out the cobwebs and anxiety related to overwhelm.

Exercise stimulates the release of feel-good hormones that immediately improve your mood and lessen anxiety. It’s an all-natural way to stop the hamster wheel of overthinking.

Meditation

If you’ve never tried meditation, now is your chance! Meditation teaches you the valuable skill of controlling your thoughts, especially important when overcoming overwhelm.

If you struggle with insomnia, meditation just might be the answer you’re looking for! The practice of meditation helps ground you into the here and near instead of the past or future. Sometimes overwhelm is more about the habit of worrying about the future. But by keeping yourself in the present, you can start enjoying life.

There are several apps to teach you the basics of meditation. Headspace is my favorite app. It has different meditation to help you with insomnia, stress, and even self-esteem.

You can also find meditations on YouTube. Give it a try! You might be surprised by how well it works for relieving overwhelm.

Choose Gratitude

Your brain is phenomenal at picking up patterns. And your subconscious is always looking for ways to help you out. What this means for you is that your brain will find what it thinks you want.

If you wake up telling yourself that today will be awful, your brain will find ways to support this thought. When you spill your coffee, your kids miss the bus, and you’re late for the meeting, the message that this day is terrible wins out.

But if you wake up telling yourself that today will be a good day, instead of being angry, you’ll be thankful that you spilled the coffee on your kitchen counter instead of on your brand new skirt. Or that you’re happy for a few extra minutes with your kids because you have to drive them to school when they missed the bus. You’ll even be thankful that you missed the small talk you hate so much at the beginning of the meeting.

You are in control of your thoughts. And since thoughts drive emotions, you also have the power to change how you feel. If you feed your brain negativity, you will feel negative. And if you fail to set boundaries and are constantly multitasking, you’ll feel like there simply isn’t enough time in the day for it all.

But if you decide that you’re in control of your life and your schedule, overwhelm will become a thing of the past. Start seeing the good and stop embracing the overwhelm.

Find Inspiration

There are some great resources out there on tackling various aspects of feeling overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Be Realistic

Although gratitude can take you a long way in life, being realistic can bring you the rest of the way. There honestly aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

It’s time to accept this truth and set your priorities. If something isn’t a priority, forget about it. Or at least re-schedule it to a more reasonable time.

It’s ok to let things go if they don’t fit into your priorities at this moment in time. There will always be things that were important to you at one time, but simply don’t make the cut anymore.

You’ve grown and evolved as a person, and it’s ok to let it go. You can always pick something up again later if your priorities shift.

The small, daily stress adds up quickly, and it’s simply not worth it if it doesn’t align with your major priorities.

It’s Your Turn

Everyone gets overwhelmed at times. But you can take steps to ditch the overwhelm and take control of your life.

Don’t get fooled into thinking that overwhelm is normal. It’s not. It will steal your peace, joy, and ability to be your best self.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to find a new way. Fight the urge to give in to overwhelm. Set your priorities and weigh out your obligations. If something doesn’t align with your major priorities, ditch it.

And the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, describe exactly what’s causing the overwhelm. Putting language to your feelings helps you realize that it’s not actually as bad as your brain is trying to make you think it is.

As always, please drop a comment below to tell me your thoughts on this post! How do you recognize when you’re overwhelmed? And what steps do you take to start feeling better?

If the post resonates with you, please share it with a friend or social media.

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Until next time, thanks for stopping by, and best wishes on your personal development journey!

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