The harsh truth about feeling overwhelmed (and 5 ways to cope)

April 3, 2015

Written By

Tabitha Dumas

Feeling in a constant state of overwhelm seems to be a way of life for most people, doesn’t it?

For some of us, it only lasts until the big project has been turned in or until the holidays are over but for others of us, it has become our lifestyle.

I am overwhelmed sometimes for a day or a week (OK, it was all of February this year) and

I’ve learned one harsh truth about feeling overwhelmed…no one cares.

The people that serve on the committee with you? They don’t care. They just want you to show up and contribute.

Your boss? She doesn’t care. She just wants you to do your job.

That client who’s expecting their deadline to be met? They don’t care, they just want you to fulfill your end of the deal.

And your kids and loved ones? They definitely don’t care. They just want your time and attention.

Of course you’ll have a few close friends and cohorts who do truly care about how you’re doing but overall…no one cares if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

So what does this mean?

Feeling overwhelmed is…as my teens would say…”a you problem.” That means YOU have to deal with it.

You can’t expect a pass on your commitments and obligations because you’re overwhelmed.

It’s up to YOU to fight the overwhelm. YOU have to decide what gets a “no” and what gets a “yes.” YOU have to prioritize your obligations. YOU are in charge of your self care. And you also have to be OK with disappointing people sometimes (because even the things that are most important to us sometimes simply don’t get done).

Of course I’m preaching to myself here.

So how do you cope with the overwhelm that is constantly trying to overtake you?

1. Set boundaries.

Givers have to set boundaries because takers never will.

Givers have to set boundaries because takers never will. Blog post about coping with feeling overwhelmed.


Set boundaries on your time, on how often you volunteer, on when you allow the neighborhood kids to come over to play…fight for your own sanity! 

“No, I can’t come work in the classroom all day Tuesday. Is there a small project I can do from home?”

“In-person meetings don’t work for me, can we schedule a phone call instead?”

“I can’t give your project the attention it deserves–but thank you for thinking of me!”

2. Build in your margins.

Try (try!) to be at about 75% capacity most of the time because inevitably, circumstances will force you to be busier for a period of time and you just can’t control it. If you don’t have margins, you’ll find yourself running at 115% capacity way too often.

3. Take self care seriously.

Even during busy seasons, you’ll feel less overwhelmed if you keep up with your yoga practice or take a walk every day (or a bath every night).

Check out my post The key to ending busyness and being more productive

Schedule time for self care and treat it like any other important commitment.

You ARE your most important commitment!

Give yourself a facial, take your camera to a local nature preserve, schedule a coffee date with a friend–do SOMEthing that nurtures and renews you. If nothing else, give yourself 30 minutes of extra sleep every night for a week and see how you feel.

4. Lower your expectations.

Only lower your expectations to the point that you are frequently surprised at how well things turn out.

Lowered expectations is a two-way street, people!

Lower your expectations of yourself:

  • take something from the local bakery or deli to your next event instead of preparing a dish
  • take a pajama day and do nothing productive
  • make a mistake and own it
  • try something new even if you think you might fail
  • have people over even if the house is messy or all you serve is chips and hot dogs

Lower your expectations of others:

  • assume that most people will flake out on you
  • stop expecting more than the bare minimum, whether it’s a work project or a dinner party–and be pleasantly surprised if they go above and beyond
  • let people say no without explanation

5. Take some time off.

I took a Tabbatical a few years ago and it was GLORIOUS.

No, you can’t drop everything and leave the country for a month but you can take a month off from taking on new projects, prospecting for clients or going to meetings. I also took a break from social media and blogging. Every year, I declare a NO-vember, and I don’t do anything extra in December.

Take a nap, catch up with old friends, go on a road trip, pick an old hobby up again, read books, write books…do some of the things that “normal life” doesn’t give you time for.


6. Get in control.

Feeling overwhelmed often means that too many things are swirling around that you can’t get a grip on…so control the things that you can.

Stock your freezer with easy meals for busy nights.

Streamline your morning and night routines.

Declutter an area that’s bugging you or impeding your productivity.

Which of these resonate with you??


Feeling overwhelmed- Tab's tips for how to cope.




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