Anxiety & Stress

Tips for Coping with Feeling Overwhelmed

Anxiety, Stress and Depression

I’ve yet to meet a counselling client (or people in any other areas of my life) who doesn’t struggle with the modern malady of overwhelm in one way or another. 

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There are so many articles that have been written about the unreasonable standards, relentlessly over-filled schedules and the ceaseless daily demands of home and family, that this article is just one of many written about this seemingly endless ride on the rollercoaster of modern-day living.

I probably don’t need to tell you about the high levels of stress and anxiety it causes us when we judge ourselves as constantly ‘falling short’ of our own and others’ ‘expectations’ and the stressful side effects of over-scheduling every minute of every day.

So, what can we do about it? What can we do when we find ourselves in a full-fledged meltdown because we’re feeling too overwhelmed and have no idea how to make things feel more manageable in our day-to-day lives?  

One of the most common reasons for becoming overwhelmed is our constant rushing around at breakneck speed to get things done. When you are constantly rushing around, your energy levels can’t keep up with your constant busyness and you can often find yourself running on six cylinders when you only have four. This can be perilous to both your physical and mental health. Because the negative energy you generate by constantly rushing to get things done keeps accumulating, you are on perpetual overload and your physical well-being can respond in adverse ways. Your ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, increases dramatically, your serotonin level (the ‘happy hormone’ that regulates your emotions) plummets, leaving you vulnerable to experiencing anxiety and depression. This, in combination with an inevitable drop in your energy levels may very well lead to you experiencing a gradual downward spiral into a state of overwhelm.

If we find ourselves in this place of ‘overwhelm’, it can be a very tough place to be in. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you avoid overwhelm:

Prioritise everything

On a Monday morning, it’s not unusual for me to have received in excess of one hundred emails and assigned tasks. Instant overwhelm! I have learned that to deal with this onslaught, prioritising is key.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, prioritise things that must get done or correspondence that must be responded to immediately. Make a daily to-do list (preferably the day or evening before) and work your way down the list from most important to least important. Keep it real!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, looking at an endless to-do list can make you feel like you’ve been placed in a threatening choke-hold. The solution? Chunk your to-do list into an ordered set of tasks. Place all tasks in categories: Phone calls, emails, meetings etc. Prioritise each task placing the most important ones at the top of each category. Chunking tasks in this way makes your to-do list more efficient, cohesive and less overwhelming.

There are a thousand ways to bring more order to your long string of tasks. For one, chunk like with like: put all your phone calls together, or all your online tasks together. Chunking makes a long list more cohesive, more efficient and less overwhelming.


Sit down in a comfortable chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your belly. Breathe in slowly for a count of five, then out slowly for a count of five. On the inhale count 1-2-3-4-5 and then on the exhale count 5-4-3-2-1. Be sure to exhale all the air in your lungs on the out breath. Feel your belly expand and contract as you breathe in and out.

Become present

Beginning the simple habit of meditating for just two minutes a day can help you to become more present in your day. This is best done first thing in the morning when you wake up, however, if this isn’t possible, any time of the day is a good time. For beginners, I suggest using an app. There are many apps and some of them are free to download and use on your phone or tablet. A few of my favourite free apps are ‘Breathing Zone’ and the ‘Insight Timer’ app.



Taking short, frequent breaks during the day can be more effective in dealing with overwhelm than taking a long one. Every hour, give yourself a half-minute break by taking six slow, even breaths or by doing some stretching exercises. Taking mini-breaks throughout the day will help you feel significantly more relaxed, focused, and energised. If you work at a computer, mini-breaks will also help to give your eyes a rest and may also help prevent repetitive stress injury.

Tidy up your immediate surroundings

Some wellbeing gurus have wisely spoken the words, ‘Outer Order, Inner Calm’ and they may well have a point. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes tidying the area around us can restore order to a tiny corner of our environment and this allows us to feel calmer and more in control. Stack loose papers or files, wipe away dust and clear cluttered spaces.  Tidying up or decluttering can make us feel that we have accomplished something and allows us to focus on our task at hand, not on the clutter that surrounds us.

Hold something in your hand and really focus on it

Hold an object in your hand and really bring your full focus to it. This can be done with any object you have close at hand or perhaps you have a favourite object that feels good to hold. I have a number of smooth stones and crystals that I offer to clients when doing this exercise in my office. Notice the shape, dimensions, texture and colour of the object. Notice how it feels in your hand.

Distract your mind

Sometimes, a good way to deal with overwhelm is to distract your mind so that it stops thinking about whatever it is that is causing you to feel the stress and strain of what’s going on for you. Focusing on something that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s causing you to feel overwhelmed, can sometimes be a way of taking a ‘mini-break’ from it.

Here are a few ways to distract yourself that might be useful:

  1. Choose a colour. Now see how many objects in different shades of that colour you can see around the room or out of the window. If you’re still not distracted enough, choose another colour and start again. 
  2. Count backwards from 100 by 7. This isn’t so easy and it will need your concentration to be able to do this (unless you’re brilliant at maths, in which case I’d suggest doing the other exercises). This is also a great exercise for when you are having difficulty falling asleep.

Do some footwork

A quick way to focus your attention away from what’ making you feel overwhelmed is to focus on your feet by just wiggling your toes inside your shoe. Just pay attention to the sensation as you move each separate toe. Notice whether some toes move independently of the others. Tense up your foot then stretch it out. Now do the same with the other foot.

Get physical!

This is definitely my favourite way to overcoming overwhelm! Try doing these exercises for a good shot of adrenaline-pumping, serotonin-elevating fun.

  • Run up and down some stairs
  • Go for a run (or brisk walk) around the block.
  • Use your energy to do something useful like clean the house or garden. Do it quickly to burn off more energy.
  • Dance around the house while listening to loud music.

Keep a one-line journal

Take 30 seconds at the end of each day to write one line (you can write more lines, but try to write at least one). This only needs to be about something as long as a “tweet”. Think back over your day and remember one positive thing that happened in your day or something in your life that you are grateful for. Research shows that gratitude helps reduce worry which leads to feelings of overwhelm and it also promotes restful sleep.

I hope that these tips help you take steps to overcome any overwhelm you may be experiencing. If you’re looking for a way to reduce overwhelm in your life, the tips and techniques I have provided here are a good way to begin. Any of us can learn to create some time; to take back small moments in our day and use these to create a sense of feeling relaxed, grounded and at ease. Just remember that it’s the moments in our days that count the most rather than the days or the years.

If you would like more help with overcoming overwhelm in your life, please contact me here.