If you’re like a lot of college students, you’ve probably experienced overwhelm or burnout. In addition, even after college, you may find yourself overwhelmed by work, family, finances, and social obligations.
What can you do to stop feeling overwhelmed and regain control of your life?
That’s what this article is going to address. Let’s start by exploring why we feel overwhelmed in the first place. Then, I’ll show you how to regain control when overwhelmed.
Why Do You Feel Overwhelmed?
You need to figure out why you are feeling overwhelmed before you can stop feeling overwhelmed.
Although there are many possible causes, there are a few that crop up repeatedly:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these possible causes:
When you’re disorganized, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. You’re constantly reacting to life when you’re disorganized to an extreme. If you’re rushing to appointments at the last minute or starting your day without knowing what to do, overwhelm will set in.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to get organized. I’ll cover several of them in more detail below.
My college days were filled with far too many nights spent writing papers, reading dozens of pages, and cramming for music rehearsals. Yet, this wasn’t because I got too much homework. The packed nights were all my fault. Procrastination got in the way.
In most cases, procrastination is to blame for feeling overwhelmed by work. Changing that habit is tricky, but it’s possible. You can also get more organized with the Pomodoro technique (disorganization and procrastination often go hand in hand).
No matter how organized you are, you can still get overwhelmed if you take on too many responsibilities. A day only has so many hours, and you’ll feel overwhelmed if you spend them all working or going to meetings. And if you’re disorganized and procrastinating as well as overcommitting, then you’ll get even more overwhelmed.
Important note: Even if one or more of the above are causing you to feel overwhelmed, there’s also a possibility that your feelings are coming from an anxiety disorder, depression, or another mental illness. Talk to a mental health professional if you’re worried about this or feeling so overwhelmed you can’t get anything done.
8 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed
Now that you know why you’re feeling overwhelmed, let’s examine some ways to become more proactive and live a more relaxed, manageable lifestyle.
Do a Reset
Being organized can keep you from getting overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed is often a sign that your organization has gone bad.
If you’re working on a big project like a paper or presentation, it’s easy to ignore your calendar and stop using your to-do list. You can do this in the short term, but sometimes a project takes so much attention that nothing else really gets done.
You’ll end up in chaos if you do this all the time. Take a few days to reorganize your life if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Depending on the systems you use, here are some ideas:
- Update your to-do list.
- Check your calendar to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming meetings or appointments.
- Organize your physical workspace.
- Donate, recycle, or throw away things you don’t use.
These simple steps can often get you feeling organized and in control again.
Reestablish Your Routine
An organizational system isn’t the only key to productivity. Routines and habits are, too.
If you’re too busy, it’s easy to forget your routines.
Rather than ignoring routines when you’re busy, you should view them as an essential part of your success. You need routines to get things done and make yourself feel grounded.
You should slowly add habits back in if your routines fell apart. Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and give up. I recommend starting with something easy like this:
- Get up early (whatever that means to you)
- Get a glass of water
- Exercise (even a short walk will do)
If you stick with this routine for a few weeks, you can add more complex stuff like reading, writing, and practicing a skill.
Define Your Priorities and Say No to Everything Else
The temptation is always there to say yes to every opportunity. If you don’t, then you miss out, right?
It’s destructive in the long run because you end up splitting your time and attention among dozens of low-value activities. Defining your priorities is the key to overcoming the temptation to say yes to every opportunity.
What’s really important to you? What gives you energy, makes you happy, or keeps you going? Think about it, and make a list. Don’t hesitate to say yes to any opportunity that fits into your priorities.
In addition to keeping you from getting overwhelmed, it will also let you focus on the things that are really important. That means you’ll accomplish more in the long run.
Be Selfish (In the Right Way)
Several members of my family and friends are always willing to help others. If someone needs anything, they’ll always help.
This selflessness is noble, but it can be overdone. Spending all your time living for others can lead to neglecting yourself. You might need some time to yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Yes, I know this can be hard, that it feels selfish. Taking some time for yourself isn’t selfish; it’s self-care. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to help others more effectively.
Ignore the Workaholic Cult
You have to work hard to accomplish your goals. But there’s a fine line between working hard and working too much. These days, more than ever, there can be a lot of pressure to work all the time. We’re able to work all the time with the ability to access email and apps on our phones. Not to mention texts from staff, coaches, or athletes. This pressure comes from all kinds of places, like company culture, peers, your boss, and even the media. Regardless of where the pressure comes from, you have to resist it. You can’t live a healthy life or get anything done by working all the time.
Constant work can mess with your sleep, your relationships, and your health. And often, the “work” you’re doing produces little value. Staying late because volleyball went into OT is one thing, but staying up late just to check work emails or finish SOAP notes that can probably wait until the morning is another.
Ask yourself why you feel pressured to work all the time. There might be a better job out there with a better work culture if your boss is putting a lot of pressure on you. Usually, though, you’re putting pressure on yourself. You need to set some boundaries:
- Block your email after a certain time with an app like Freedom.
- Leave your office computer at work.
- Tell coworkers and clients you’re only available during business hours.
- Take up a hobby or join a club to keep you busy in the evenings.
Swallow Your Pride
If you’re ambitious and high-achieving, you’re probably proud of your ability to take on so many things at once. You may try to “push through” if you’re feeling overwhelmed because admitting you’ve taken on too much feels like failure.
Tying your worth to how much you can do at once is toxic. If you only look at yourself as the sum of what you can do, you’re going to feel miserable. In the end, you won’t be able to scale things back when you get overwhelmed, which can ruin you (and your relationships).
Don’t let your pride stop you from admitting you’re overwhelmed. There’s more to you than your achievements, and it’s okay to cut back when you’ve taken on too much.
Practice Calming Techniques
There are many simple things you can do right now to feel better, whether you’re overwhelmed or just a bit stressed. Below are a few to consider:
- Deep breathing
- Taking a walk
- Aerobic exercise
- Taking a hot shower or bath
- Listening to a song you enjoy
These are just a few of the many possibilities. Find something that helps you feel calm.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
To stop feeling overwhelmed, I’ve focused on things you can do yourself. But sometimes, you need outside help.
It could be as simple as venting to a friend or family member. By talking about it, you’ll realize why you’re overwhelmed and how you can fix it.
Talk to your boss if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work. Good bosses listen to you and help you create a better schedule. When your boss isn’t willing to help, it might be time to look for a new job.
In college, you can talk to your advisor, department chair, or another person who can help you succeed. Don’t ignore them, they’re experts at making college work.
Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to a counselor, psychiatrist, or medical professional. They’re expert listeners, and they can also help you figure out if you’re overwhelmed by an illness (and help you get the treatment you need).
Being Overwhelmed Isn’t Fate
There are ways to deal with being overwhelmed, whether it’s resetting your organizational systems, learning to say “no,” or asking someone for help. It’s something you can change with time and the right actions.