How I Overcame Overwhelm

A New Earth, The War of Art, To do ListI had a rough couple days last week that ended up getting to me. I was upset and agitated, grumping around my house like a total jerk. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until my girlfriend commented on my behavior. I let that act as a trigger to figure out how to recenter and gather myself back up.

When I think about it, it’s been ages since I’ve had that kind a day. I used to have them all of the time, but after adopting a few new habits, I’m usually able to get things dialed in before they get out of hand.  This article will explore some of those disciplines, walking you through what I did this time to deal with this situation.

I Identified How I was Feeling

Often we get caught up in negative emotions without realizing what’s really bothering us. Earlier this year I learned that asking yourself how you’re feeling will take care of this. 

Identifying that I was feeling overwhelmed was the first step I took to changing my state. This might sound surprising, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I learned that most of our instant gratification seeking behaviors – watching excessive amounts of TV, eating crappy foods, drinking when we shouldn’t, etc. are actually coping mechanisms we’ve developed unconsciously to move us away from any feelings of discomfort. If you’re someone who’s excessively (fill in the blank) you may benefit from stopping and asking yourself: “How am I feeling right now?” before participating in said behavior.

In fact, I think everyone could benefit from this practice. Next time you find yourself being a grump or about to eat some trash, ask yourself: “How am I feeling right now?” and see what happens.

I’ve actually got to the point where I keep a list of how to react to certain emotions in a healthy manner saved on my phone. Whenever I see symptoms of dis-ease, it’s there to tell me what I can do to get out of that state.

I Took a Bath

I’m not sure how I decided taking a bath would make me feel better, but it sure didn’t disappoint. The warm water helped me relax, the quiet helped me think.

Sometimes stepping away like this is a great way to get you back on course. Treating yourself to these relaxing experiences regularly can also reduce your overall stress levels, preventing you from getting to the point where you need to step away.

I Meditated

Meditating regularly is one of the most beneficial habits I’ve picked up over the last couple years. It’s great because it doesn’t cost a dime and can be done in some capacity just about anytime, anywhere.

Being stressed or overwhelmed creates tension throughout the body. Spending a few minutes to sit and feel that tension is a great way to get rid of it.

When I meditate, I aim to focus my attention on how my body feels. My brain might be racing, thinking on and on, but I try not to give it any mind and instead I just feel the sensations taking place in throughout my body.

When I spot places that are tense, I keep my attention on them for a little while. I breathe into them, relaxing them with each exhale. Sometimes I can get them to let go, sometimes I can’t, but putting my attention on those areas helps ground me and allows me something to anchor my awareness to after my session is over. This will pull me out of my head and into my body for another day or so. I usually have to have another sit after that.

If meditation is something you’ve been meaning to look into I suggest checking out an app called Headspace. This app gives you a handful of 10 minute guided meditations that will teach you the basics. After they are all used up, you can pay to upgrade to a premium version of the app that has tons more. I haven’t purchased this product as of yet, but it’s something I plan on grabbing in the future. I think it’d be well worth the investment for someone just starting out.

Another option for learning to meditate is Youtube. Just do a search for ‘guided meditation’ and you’ll find tons of videos that can help you get started.

I Made a List

During my meditation, it became obvious that I needed some structure around my thoughts. From past experience, I knew that sitting down to make a list would allow me to create a plan around all the things I needed to get done. I could then work through this list as the day went on, knocking each of the things I’d been overthinking out one at a time.

Depending on the time and situation my lists may vary. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I make sure to write down everything. Getting it all out and on the page clears my mind and allows me to choose which task to focus on first. This is important when it comes to taking on the more challenging ones.

When I’m dealing with overwhelm certain tasks seem impossible to do. Instead of taking on these tasks – as important as they may be – I focus on getting easy ones done first. I like this approach because it gives me a momentum of sorts that I can use to take on tougher tasks when I’m ready.

Oh, and I always make sure my lists are handwritten when it comes to getting stuff done. I find handwritten lists much easier to manage than digital ones and if you haven’t noticed yet, when I’m overwhelmed, ease is the name of the game.

I Read

Reading is a great way to change your emotional state. Podcasts and videos can also have this effect, but I reserve those for times when I’m not already dealing with excessive input.

On this particular occasion I found myself drawn to two books: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Both of these works have powerful messages regarding human potential, providing wisdom and insight on how to deal with unpleasant situations.

Reading a couple pages from each helped me get back on track. A New Earth brought me even more into the present moment and The War of Art showed me what I needed to do to turn things around. If you’re seeking lasting happiness and fulfillment, I highly recommend checking both of these titles out.

I wrote

Writing has become a wonderful way for me to observe my thoughts.

When I’m overwhelmed, it means I’ve got a ton of things I’m trying to solve at once. Doing a quick brain dump and writing all of these things down not only makes them less of a burden, but often time leads me to create action plans for the things that are most important. These plans can be turned into lists that I’ll work through in the coming days.

If I’m in a particularly crappy mood, writing may not seem very appealing. In order to get around this, I set a timer for 10 minutes and get to work. I may not be able to sit down for 30 minutes or an hour to write everything out, but 10 minutes is definitely doable. Once I’m done, I can keep going or stop – whatever I feel.

Next time you’re feeling worked up, pull out a piece of paper and write about it. It’s very therapeutic and a great habit to get into if you want to learn more about why you behave how you do.


Well, that’s the gist of it.

Hopefully this article has given you a few ideas for how to address overwhelm the next time it creeps into your life. If you’ve found this article helpful in any way, please share it with your friends on twitter or facebook. Sharing helpful information like this helps others grow. When one grows, we all benefit.



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