Tips on How to Cope for the Easily Overwhelmed Person


I am what you might call a chronically overwhelmed person. I am not sure if such a diagnosis exists, and I doubt it exists as that term, but, put simply, that's what I am. What is a chronically overwhelmed person? Based on my experience, such people consistently, on a long-term basis suffer in the following ways:

* High levels of stress, frustration, anxiety and confusion.

* Worry that can become obsession over getting things done - whether there will be enough time, the best way to get things done, the process for getting things done. This could be related a simple task like preparing a meal to a more complex task like planning a week's menu and grocery list. These feelings often apply to a specific task, for example a work project, as well as the general circumstances around that task, like how to manage your overall workload, time, multi-tasking on the job.

* Obsession with time, constantly watching the clock, frequently thinking, "I don't have time for that."

* Obsession with planning, organizing, making to-do lists.

* Panic and extreme reaction when a plan is altered due to uncontrollable circumstances, sometimes leading to acting out with emotional outbursts or addictive and/or self-harming behavior.

* Difficulty making decisions. Chronic procrastination. Inability to weigh possible consequences and existing circumstances and make a reasonable choice.

* Letting things go unfinished, never getting around to starting, paying bills late even when money is available, not keeping promises to self and others, making plans and goals and to-do lists that never are acted upon.

Sometimes, the gears in the brain just won't stop turning - but you never get anywhere!
Sometimes, the gears in the brain just won't stop turning - but you never get anywhere! | Source

* Addiction, sometimes used as a distraction or anesthesia from obsessive thinking or feeling constantly stressed, which can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting.

* Depression resulting from feeling stuck, hopeless, not accomplishing goals, not practicing basic self-care, not meeting standards at school or work.

* Anxiety from pushing yourself to meet standards or accomplish a to-do list that in practice feels too difficult and overwhelming, burn out, usually followed by a just as extreme bout of inactivity, which in turn leads to depression, and then, more acting out on an addiction to avoid the bad feelings.

As you can see, feeling chronically overwhelmed can lead to a terrible cycle of despair that for the sufferer is very hard to break. Maybe there are some Average Joes who are OK with being average but for some of us, it's either perfect or nothing at all. It's very difficult to find middle ground or be OK with being there. This all-or-nothing attitude is also the mark of an addictive personality. It's a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario. But whatever is the cause or the symptom, being chronically overwhelmed is a constant crisis that can lead to debilitating stress and serious mental and physical health problems.

Practical solutions to overwhelmed feelings

These techniques may help slow the brain's gears, calm you, organize you and help you to take action when you need to but feel paralyzed. Keeping a list of practices handy to pull out when feeling especially overwhelmed and panicked can be helpful.

* Break down a task into components. Break those components into smaller pieces if possible. Then concentrate on accomplishing one of those tiny pieces. That's it. Don't get ahead of yourself. Focus on what you are doing in the present moment, just that one tiny piece.

Example of task break down

Smaller Components
Write an article
Read documents supplied at council meeting
Interview two sources
Formulate questions to get more info, clarify what I don't understand, verify what I think I know
Get art to go with story
Formulate questions for each source based on their area of involvement, expertise
Interview John Doe
Interview Jane Doe
Write rough draft
Write article
Drive to road being repaired to get photo for story on transportation
Get IDs on any crew members in photo and construction company name
Work up photo in PhotoShop and attach to story
Edit story and submit final draft

Now that's a lot of steps to write one article. But that's the work that's necessary anyway, and by having it all written out to refer to, you can alleviate some of that monkey brain that's constantly chattering "What do I have to do next? What do I have to do next?" That only leads to anxiety and even forgetfulness. Write it out so you can focus. It's OK to be overwhelmed, but regurgitating the same thoughts does not lead to productivity. Action is key.

* That said, dive in. Focus on one task at a time and try not to worry about all the other steps that you need to complete. This is easier if you're not on a deadline, but often stressful situations are induced by deadlines. Nevertheless, the only way to do something while maintaining a modicum of sanity is to do it one step at a time. Anyone who's ever conducted a phone interview while answering email and writing another story during the boring parts will tell you that! You may be shocked to discover that you can get the same amount of work done when you make the time to focus on each individual task as you do when you're a multi-tasking maniac!

* Take breaks. Get up and walk away for five minutes, chat with a co-worker for a bit, make a hot cup of tea, stretch your legs. You work more efficiently when refreshed and even though you don't believe it, there really is time for a five minute break. If there isn't you make the time. This is also a signal to you that you value yourself and will take care of yourself regardless of the situation and how stressful it is, and that can be a real confidence booster! So whatever the situation, if you're feeling overwhelmed, take a break, for five minutes or five hours, then come back to it with fresh perspective.

Reduce workload

Finding better ways to manage your responsibilities is important. But sometimes, there's a reason we feel like we can't get it all done. It's because we can't. It's too much. This is not a negative commentary on our character. It is simply a fact. If you've tried and tried to manage all your duties and are still feeling an abundance of distress, it's time to eliminate something. This could mean giving up a service position in a club and just being a member, or it could mean giving up the club altogether for a while. Maybe you could delegate a duty at work or maybe you're taking on extra work that's not your responsibility anyway or isn't essential to getting the job done. Maybe cooking a gourmet meal from scratch every night is exhausting and it's time to find some quick recipes or frozen alternatives. Find creative ways to reduce your load until its bearable.

* Prioritize. What's necessary and what's not? What's most important and needs to be done now and what can wait three hours or three days? This is not a license to procrastinate. Often, easily overwhelmed people have a hard time distinguishing between the truly crucial and the merely desirable (but not necessary.) That's because everything seems truly crucial. Learn to prioritize, and if that's too difficult, ask someone for help making the distinction.

Just do it

* There's only so much organizing you can do. And sometimes, organizing and planning can only exacerbate the overwhelmed person's symptoms. There are situations when it's time to "just do it." When my apartment is a disaster area, I sometimes don't know what room to tackle first. There is no right answer, though I often think there is. It's a case of just dive in and get something done. In these situations, time boxing is an effective tool. Set a timer for, say 15 minutes, do all you can do in that amount of time, and when it goes off, stop and forget about that task. You'll be amazed how much can get done when you put some muscle into it and leave out the mind.

My life binder.
My life binder. | Source
My life binder includes categories like exercise, finances and cleaning.
My life binder includes categories like exercise, finances and cleaning.

Make a life binder

A life binder can be of great help organizing and compartmentalizing. The simplest way to create one is to buy a three-ring notebook, page dividers and labels. The dividers are a literal separation of the various compartments of your life. That can help mentally compartmentalize. Each section stands alone. There are no rules as to what the sections have to address - it's up to you. I recently started a life binder and my categories include exercise, cleaning, finances and menus, areas that I have difficulty managing. I've decided to set general long-term goals and specific short-term goals for each category. To address my problem keeping my apartment consistently clean, for example, I set dates for dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, etc. A general goal could be to vacuum twice a month. (Yes, that's actually an improvement for me.) I set the dates to do vacuum and check off that task when it's done. There are a variety of ways to organize life binders. They can even be used to keep track of expenses and important documents.

Reduce stress

If you're a chronically overwhelmed person, you're likely burdened with stress. Finding ways to relax is crucial to coping day-to-day.

* Find a relaxation CD or download music that works for you and listen to it regularly. I like "Super Brain Power: 28 Minutes to a Supercharged Brain" by Dane Spotts. It's the first relaxation CD to ever truly make me feel rested and refreshed, body and mind.

* Exercise to burn off anxious energy.

* Practice deep breathing and/or meditation.

* Take hot baths, drink a cup of hot tea, use a heating pad to soothe sore muscles, get a message, anything that calms you.

* Find a hobby you enjoy and get lost in it to take your mind of the incessant "to dos."

Challenges to managing if you're overwhelmed

Now here's where it gets really problematic: If you are truly a chronically overwhelmed person, after reading the above suggestions, you are, yes indeed, overwhelmed. You don't know where to start.You'll never have time to practice all those coping skills. You'll try them all every day and burn out quickly from checking off a mile-long coping skills to-do list. And the cycle of despair continues.

Let me let you off the hook. You won't be able to do all these for very long.You may not be able to do even one of these suggestions every day for more than a few days at a time. It's hard to change. It's scary and it's triggering. Whether you're practicing one skill or all of them, you will likely be triggered by whatever your dissociative demons are: shopping, gambling, overworking, and so forth.

It makes it even tougher, but learning to live with and not act on those compulsive feelings is absolutely necessary to overcoming them. There is no other way. They will not go away any time soon no matter what you do. It may be a good idea to speak with a counselor, go to a 12-step group or find a person who's experienced what you're going through so you can feel less alone and get some wise counsel.

Regardless of whether you seek outside help, start small. Try one coping skill today. See how it goes. Try it again tomorrow and the next day and try to keep it up as long as you can. If you freak out and don't practice it one day, do it the next. Try not to go more than one day without practicing, because it's harder to restart than to maintain. After three or four weeks, when you've mastered one skill, add another, if you can tolerate it. The goal is not to perfectly handle every situation with poise and calm, although that would be nice. The goal is to adjust ever so slightly your reaction to triggers, build competence in handling everyday situations that were previously intolerable and to decrease your stress level and improve your health. If any of these activities is causing the opposite effect and is increasing your stress, it's best to stop. Discomfort is OK and is necessary to change up to a point. Go a little past your comfort zone, but not past your tolerance zone.

© 2013 Crystal Tatum

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Comments 49 comments

carter06 profile image

carter06 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

I feel for you I really do's a tough hand to be dealt for sure, but you've covered some important solutions..finding what works for you is so important & I think deep breathing is sure to help..really helpful and well thought out hub here..Voted UUAI shared & I will tweet this one..cheers

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 3 years ago from Midwest

I can relate to this from my younger years. The one thing that helped me manage more than anything was meditation. It's not a just a relaxation technique - it can actually help you rewire your brain to be less anxious and overwhelmed. I hope you'll give it a shot and maybe it can help you. You can try guided ones at first, but eventually if you can get to a point you can put yourself in an alpha state at will, you can shut off the mind-chatter. What you appear to have is a very extreme form of chronic anxiety. It can get better. You wrote a very descriptive and useful hub! Voted up and sharing.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you so much cartero6! Thanks for the votes, share and tweet especially!!!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi ChristinS. Thanks for reading and for the advice. I have tried meditation and it has been very difficult to get my mind to relax enough to do it, but when I did make the effort consistently, it was helpful. I have gotten away from that and you've reminded me that it was helpful and is worth trying again. Thanks and thanks for the share!

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

I used to be excessively organized myself, but I found that once I eased up on it I actually had more time for myself. I found it was actually counterproductive and caused more stress than it relieved. Don't know if this helps.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Well that doesn't sound like a fun way to live at all. I'm sorry you have to deal with this, Crystal. I think your suggestions and positive and capable of rendering good results. Best wishes to you my friend.


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks Flourish. I think if you are extreme in any way, it can be very stressful. No organization creates stress and excessive organization is also stressful. It's finding that middle ground that's necessarya nd that's always difficult when you're prone to extremes.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks Bill. We all have to deal with challenges in life. The good news is if we keep trying, we can usually find ways to cope.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very useful article, Crystal, with great tips for someone who feels overwhelmed. Some of what you say applies to me. Best wishes for the future. I'll share this hub.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks Alicia C. I think some of these suggestions are helpful even for those who may not feel extreme or chronic anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. Wherever you're at on the scale, there is benefit in these solutions, which I may add, I definitely did not come up with on my own! Thanks so much for the share.

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 3 years ago from United States

This is a very good, helpful article. I think it is extremely important.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks so much for stopping by angela_michelle!

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Very innovative and creative article. I fit the category on a lot of the bullet points you presented and I know that I try to accomplish too much with too little time, so that definitely leads to becoming overwhelmed. I'm a big believer in to-do lists. They kind of help keep everything balanced...for the most part. Thanks for posting this!


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks for stopping by epbooks!

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Tips on How to Cope for the Easily Overwhelmed Person sometimes I feel this way with lots to do and don't know what to do approach first, this hub explains it all and I am glad to have read it. Voted up, Useful and interesting.

LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 3 years ago from WA

I'm definitely one of those people who get easily overwhelmed. The part where you say "...after reading the above suggestions, you are, yes indeed, overwhelmed..." made me laugh out loud because, yep, that was definitely me. I've had all sorts of advice on how to cope with being easily overwhelmed and so far my boyfriend has been the best help. May sound strange, but, having someone call me out on overly stressing out or getting anxious helps me put myself in check once in a while. Great hub!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks DDE, so glad you found this helpful!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks Lisa! I usually feel overwhelmed when reading advice o how not to be overwhelmed, so I thought I'd throw that in there just in case there was someone else out there like me. Glad to know I'm not alone!

thebiologyofleah profile image

thebiologyofleah 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Great suggestions on how to deal with being overwhelmed, everyone gets overwhelmed at some point in their life and your suggestions are great ones. I personally am the queen of to do lists, I always find it is helpful to jot down a few things that are stressing me out to just put them on paper especially if they are things I can't immediately tackle. I feel like once it is on the list it is out of my head.

Thanks for sharing!

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Crystal, this is SO me! Are we related? Seriously, if I vacuum twice a month, it's a miracle! I feel your pain. I've constantly overwhelmed. I think I take on too much. I have so many ideas and projects but leave so much undone. I need to prioritize and try a few tips you mention. I'm glad I came across this!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks for stopping by Leah! I understand the pleasure of to do lists, particularly the crossing off bit!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Maybe we are distant cousins Victoria! I can't imagine a day not feeling overwhelmed. It can be exhausting. I'm so glad you found this helpful. Please let me know if you try any of these tips and how it goes for you!

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

This sounds like me, as others have said too. I do get the music out that is so relaxing it really does help, but if I allow myself to get so stressed I tend to stand there and think, what's the darn point? so this is great Crystal, voted up, and hub shared! nell

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Nell, I have been in situations where I was so anxious that telling myself to calm down or using relaxation tools has only heightened my anxiety. It just depends. I think using a coping skill can also be a distraction though and whether we realize it, any distraction is helpful. Thank you so much for the share!

Laura in Denver profile image

Laura in Denver 3 years ago from Aurora

It's very important to avoid "analysis paralysis", which affects me. Thanks for the great hub!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I am feeling for you, sweet lady. I have had times of anxiety but not to this extent. I am so glad you know how to deal with this in a positive way and with great attitude. Your advice is wonderful. Prayers and hugs.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

I very much relate to analysis paralysis. Thanks for reading.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you teaches. (Sorry I don't know your real name.)

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

An amazing article, Crystal. My nephew came to live with me when he was 15 and I discovered this about him. It is pure suffering for the person who experiences this, and no fun for those around them, because it spills over. Organization is one of the key factors, and remembering to relax and 'BREATHE' is another.

I loved the life binder idea and will visit that hub in the near future. UP/Awesome and U/I Shared with followers here, and on Pinterest.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you so much Denise. I hope your nephew has been able to cope with this problem.

jo miller profile image

jo miller 2 years ago from Tennessee

I began following you because I liked your writing and your style, but now I think you sound like me about 40 years ago. Now I hardly recognize that person in myself but when I recognize it in someone young, I immediately identify.

I don't know if you are familiar with Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird, but it might be helpful. I had both of my daughters read it. Now we all use than term when someone is saying, "How can I ever get it all done?"

Good luck, and keep writing.

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you Jo. I haven't read "Bird by Bird," although I am familiar with Lamott's work and very much enjoy her. I appreciate the recommendation and your kind words.

Lisawilliamsj profile image

Lisawilliamsj 2 years ago

These are very useful tips that could not have come at a better time for me! Thank you for sharing!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

You're very welcome Lisa. Listen, if you ever need some extra support, contact me via HubPages. I know a bit about what you're going through. Not exactly, but I have my own version. You don't have to be alone.

Lisawilliamsj profile image

Lisawilliamsj 2 years ago

Thank you crystal! I may just take you up on that offer! Have a great night!

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Crystal: Great article! You are preaching to the choir here! LOL I have learned what to do over the years also. I am also easily overwhelmed. It is breaking down the task and taking it one step or day at a time. When I taught the term paper to my students I gave them a daily schedule for the month and told them what task to work on each day. I told them they needed to see the big picture, but just to think about the task they had to do for that day and not worry about the rest. My students found the schedule so helpful and brought them to success if they kept up with it and only focused on the goal for each day. Your suggestions and tips are great and your presentation wonderful. Thanks for sharing this with us! You have discovered the key to success!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you so much Suzette! I love how you handled the term paper assignment. Very helpful for your students, I'm sure. I know that kind of break down would have helped me tremendously in school.

vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

Wow, that's a lot of stress! I like your suggestions for managing it: using a life binder, breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, not getting so caught up in details that you can't start a task and learning to relax. I can see you have a lot of experience with this subject. Thank you for sharing!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks for stopping by vespawoolf, and all the way from Peru, too!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 2 years ago from Texas

Good advice and practical tips! It's a stressful world! Voted up, useful and interesting! :)

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you Suzanne!

vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

I can totally relate to this. I can easily get overwhelmed if I'm not careful. I agree that prioritizing is very important and not getting bogged down in small details. I have found that delegating and saying "no" to too many commitments helps when the stress gets to be too much. I tend to squeeze too many activities into a small period of time. Thank you for these helpful suggestions and encouragement!

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you vespawoolf, for reading and commenting. I have a very hard time focusing on one task at a time, one moment at a time. I've found that telling myself I only have to do this next thing for x number of minutes really helps. Once that time is over, I can then keep doing it or stop, but at least I've gotten something accomplished!

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


Wow, what a hub! Nicely-written, presentation was perfect. Nice in-depth research. Great use of graphics, and organized well. I voted up and all the choices.

I am the person who you are talking about--easily overwhelmed.

Thanks for sharing.

I cordially invite you to look over my hubs and then become one of my followers. That would make my day.


Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks for the visit Kenneth. On my way to check out your hubs.

Kenneth Avery 2 years ago

Hi, Crystal,

Thank you. You are sweet and kind to do this. I hope you like my hubs for I put my heart and soul into them for I hate to disappoint my beloved-followers.

I hope to see you around on Hubs.

Have a Happy and Safe weekend.


letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 10 months ago from Bend, OR

While reading your description, Crystal, someone immediately came to mind -- a young woman who once worked with me. We were mismatched because I'm very low-key, but we became great friends and were an awesome team. She did, however, often stress me out because she was so high-strung -- rushing here and there and doing a million things. Now she has a toddler and a baby on the way so she's forced to slow down...and that's definitely a good thing!

Gee 10 months ago

I feel overwhelmed trying to decide what to take from this article and where to start...

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 9 months ago from Ontario, Canada

I used to be overwhelmed especially when deadlines come close but as I got older I have learned of ways to manage it. I have also become more relaxed with standards I set for myself. I saw I could not enjoy anything so I tried hard to change.

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