It happens to the best of us: We take one look at our calendar or planner and immediately feel overwhelmed by everything we have to do. We live in a society that encourages us to take on as much as possible, so feeling consistently overwhelmed may seem unavoidable — but it's not, and luckily, there are ways to feel in control of our to-do lists (and no, they don't involve abandoning all our responsibilities and heading for the hills).
"Feeling overwhelmed causes stress, which is not only bad for your mental health, it’s also not good for your physical well-being and can lead to difficulty sleeping, digestion problems, increased heart rate, feelings of anxiety and other health concerns,” Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells SheKnows. “The good news [is] there are plenty of ways to take control and feel less overwhelmed.”
Break it down
In order to feel less overwhelmed, Masand says it's key to break tasks down into smaller steps. During a busy day or week, take your eyes off the big picture and focus on one task at a time. "When you do this, your brain sees organization instead of chaos," Masand explains.
Ask for help
It's also important to remember that it's more than OK to ask for help during busy, stressful times. Masand suggests asking a close friend or family member if they have a few hours to spare. "If not, there are plenty of people or concierge services that you can hire without breaking the bank to take on some of your tasks," he says.
Pinpoint the cause
It's also important to get to the bottom of what is causing you to feel overwhelmed, Dr. Eliza Belle, licensed psychologist, tells SheKnows. "'Overwhelmed' usually comes after an influx of things going on at one time [that] is difficult to manage mentally, physically and emotionally," she explains. "Everything is lumped together, and it becomes hard to know where to begin eliminating the stress."
Belle suggests thinking about the usual suspects that cause us to feel overwhelmed, such as work, love, home, family and school. Then, it's time to prioritize setting limits in the area that is overwhelming you the most. "Say no where possible and if that is difficult for you, set reasonable limits at the outset with the people involved in your life," Belle says.
Don't forget self-care
Masand also emphasizes the importance of self-care — and he notes that it's not selfish to put yourself first when necessary. "You can’t serve others until you take care of yourself first," he says. Masand recommends carving time out each day to relax and recharge, whether it's by engaging in a favorite hobby or simply sitting in a quiet space and relaxing.
Belle says that although it's hard to imagine enjoying hobbies and downtime when you're overwhelmed, it's key to "mix in responsibilities with personal fun and leisure… Experiencing pleasure gives you energy and relaxes your mind."
If you find yourself in a constant state of feeling overwhelmed, and you're struggling to find coping mechanisms, give therapy a try. "A private, unbiased place to talk through issues you may be unaware of could be both comforting and relieving," Belle says. "A therapist could assist with creating strategies tailored to your unique issues to help manage stress." Therapy can also help you identify the origins of deeper issues that may be contributing to your stress levels.
Although we're all bound to feel overwhelmed once in awhile, we don't have to live every day feeling that way. Engaging in self-care and not being afraid to put yourself first can go a long way when it comes to achieving your goal of feeling less overwhelmed.