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5 Therapists Share Their Best Advice On Dealing With Overwhelm

Whether we believe it’s achievable or not, we all crave a balanced life. But sometimes we take on too much, or we have so much we want to do that we feel paralyzed with overwhelm. We feel like we can’t do anything because there’s just so much to do. Where do you even start? 

I figured this is a question that therapists get from clients on the regular, so who better to ask for tips and tools to work through our overwhelm? We’re ambitious and want to accomplish a lot in our lifetimes, but how can we do that if we stay stuck in overwhelm? 

Here’s how we can work on overcoming overwhelm, according to five therapists.

 

Break your to-do list down

“Being overwhelmed typically comes from trying to do and think about everything at once. To manage the feelings of being overwhelmed it can be helpful to take your problems or to-do list and make them smaller so they are more manageable.” – Brittany A. Johnson LMHC

 

Create boundaries and systems 

“There is an old therapy joke that goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same can be said for how to face things in our lives that overwhelm us. The cause of overwhelming feelings is usually two fold, we have bitten off more than we can chew (running a metaphor in the ground), and we simply don’t know how to say no.

When we don’t have systems in place to make the tasks ahead of us easier to do, we can easily get overwhelmed. Women do this a lot. We can sometimes lack the proper perspective to know that we have to take a step back and look at the whole picture before attempting to take on big tasks. And it’s usually because we are putting everything and everybody ahead of what we need for ourselves.

So having boundaries, and systems in place will help us with this. And if you have all of these in place and are still overwhelmed. Just breathe and repeat after me, “I will do what I can do when I can do it.”

And then take your time, prioritize and do the most important things first, meaning super urgent and time sensitive, then doing the easiest tasks to complete and then working your way up.

This way you get some quick wins and it makes everything else better.”  – Nikita Banks, LCSW

 

Identify your values

“When we’re feeling overwhelmed with our to-do list, the best thing we can do is identify our values.

When we know what we truly value, we can better prioritize our time. It’s easy for us to get caught up in an endless array of tasks, but we have to ask ourselves—am I doing this to fit into someone else’s priorities or does it line up with my own?

Often times we are working to please others rather than live with intentionality towards what we truly value. This is how our to-do list can become a mile long. As you better understand what is important to you, you may find that your to-do list either shrinks, or becomes that much more worthy of your time.

If you’re unsure of what your values might be, I recommend completing a Values card sort (which you can find on Amazon) or a therapist can help you identify what is important to you.” – Lauren Cook, M.M.F.T.

Shift your perspective

“It can be quite easy to get caught in the thought trap of never feeling like what you are doing is good enough. When your accomplishments become so intertwined with your identity and self-worth, you seek things outside of yourself that you believe will bring about a sense of worthiness and fulfillment.
 
If you are reading this, I am fairly certain you have accomplished a lot in your life thus far, yet still struggle with self-doubt and anxiety. Reminding yourself of all of the times you have successfully overcome a challenge or one of life’s hurdles will empower you to talk back to the part of you that is afraid of failure and provide the evidence of your will and perseverance.
 
A shift in your perspective will help you see the big picture and create the space for a more fair assessment of the situation; for example, whether you can get support, be patient with yourself or truly determine if what you are feeling stuck with is what you really want or need.
 
Talking to yourself in a fair and compassionate way is not a weakness nor will it lead to less motivation or productivity. It will help you clear the mental blocks that paralyze you and deepen your connection to your intuition, your greatest source of information for what will bring about true fulfillment and self-acceptance.” – Shrein Bahrami, MFT
 

Schedule only the essentials

“Life is overwhelming, especially if you’re someone who is creative, ambitious, driven and thoughtful. You want to help everyone, do everything and accomplish every last goal on your list. The problem is when we have too many things on “to do” list we get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing.
 
Here’s what I recommend my clients do who struggle with overwhelm:
 
1) Grab a piece of paper and do a complete “brain dump” – write down everything you’ve been telling yourself you need to do, have to do, must get done. 
 
2) Once you have your list, it’s time to get rid of some things. It’s time to Marie Kondo your list. First you’re going to cross out anything on your list that you really don’t care about and don’t want to do. While it might sound nice to have a vegetable garden in your yard, if you don’t really care and don’t want to tend to it, don’t do it –– cross it out. This also goes for any items that are about another person’s behavior. You can’t control other people, so don’t waste your time trying to stop your father from eating too much meat. Cross out anything that doesn’t excite you and doesn’t move you forward in some way.
 
3) Now I want you to take anything on your list that you know you can’t accomplish within in the next three months. If you have a dream of writing a book, that’s great; if you don’t see yourself doing it in the next three months, you’re going to create another list called, “Things I will do in the future.” These are things that are important to you, but you know you can’t do anything about it right now. Take that list and put it somewhere where you know where to find it but it’s not in your face each day making you more overwhelmed.
 
4) Now you should have a much smaller list. These are the things you have control over, that excite you, that move you forward in life and can be accomplished or at least started in the next 3 months.
 
5) Start scheduling. Success is scheduled so start putting in your calendar when you’re going to accomplish these tasks. Some might just be an hour or an afternoon and others you might have to break down over a period of time.” – Tess Brigham, MFT, BCC
 

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