Podcast episode 10 What to do when you feel overwhelmed


Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.

I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.


Welcome to episode 10 and in today’s show we’re focusing on overwhelm. How to recognise when you’re feeling overwhelmed because it likes to disguise itself, what the common causes are, and what to do to help yourself feel better.

Overwhelm can be a slippery little devil. It doesn’t make itself clearly known by waving a flag and declaring you to be officially overwhelmed. That would be quite helpful because once you recognise that’s what’s going on with you, you can do something about it. 

No, overwhelm likes to take on different guises so it can get a firm hold on you without you realising. Overwhelm shows up as a lack of focus, an inability to know what to do next when everything feels urgent. Or as tiredness, irritability, a lack of patience and empathy. When life’s become a struggle and it feels like you’re wading through treacle. Or when it’s all just a bit too much, everything’s going wrong, you can’t see the point in doing anything and you may as well get back under the duvet. Overwhelm is with you when your overthinking goes into serious overdrive and your brain, whizzing back and forth between raking over the past and what ifing the future, feels like it’s going to burst. 

Overwhelm sucks. Really, it sucks the life out of you. It makes you feel like you’re failing at life, that you’re the worst friend/partner/mother/daughter, that your kids are turning into delinquents, your boss thinks you're an idiot and you’re ruining your life. 

None of that is actually true, this is not what’s happening, but it can really feel like it. 

Overwhelm, and the way it shows up in your life, is an indicator that your life has gone a little off kilter. That the scales have tipped off their usually, wobbly, centre to one side and the result is you feeling like you can’t cope. Overwhelm isn’t something you’re stuck with forever and it isn’t something you can banish forever either. But being able to recognise the symptoms of overwhelm means you’re better able to take action to reduce them and get yourself back onto a more even keel. And this doesn’t require major life changes necessarily. It can simply be a matter of seeing where you have too much of one thing and too little of another, and addressing the imbalance. 

Each one of us is unique, living our lives in our own way and facing an enormous variety of challenges so I’m going to focus on the most common causes of overwhelm. They may sound simple, obvious even, but it can be the stuff we take for granted that trips us up when we stop paying it attention.

So, when you start to recognise the symptoms of overwhelm – there’s too much to do, you don’t know where to start, it feels like everything’s going wrong, life’s an uphill battle and you want to vanish under the duvet – pause for a moment and run through this checklist:

Have you been getting enough quality sleep for you? 

When did you last do something you love just for the enjoyment of it?

What have you eaten the last few days? 

What have you been drinking? 

When did you last switch off from work and even thinking about work?

How much have you been outdoors?

When did you last connect with someone who makes you smile?

How long is your to do list or, conversely, are you trying to remember everything instead?

When did you last have some time for yourself?

It may sound too simple but something as straight forward as a few nights’ disturbed sleep, fuelling yourself with caffeine or sugar, a lack of fresh air, putting all your energy and brainpower into work and making no time to do the stuff that you enjoy and makes you smile, is enough for overwhelm to take hold.  

Everything on that checklist is needed for you to not only function and cope with life’s challenges but to thrive and live life as you want to. And because they’re pretty straight forward, none of it involves major life upheavals, you can begin to take action and so start to alleviate that horrible overwhelm feeling. 

The facts of your situation won’t change – the responsibilities you have, the project you’re working on or whatever else you have going on – but addressing your basic needs, applying basic self-care, will make you better able to deal with everything you’re juggling.

So, think about what you can do to get a better night’s sleep. Perhaps stop looking at screens an hour before bed, go to bed earlier, or wear an eye mask to cut out the light.

Get a supermarket delivery and make a few extra portions so you have a nourishing meal ready even when you’ve no time to cook.

You could keep a big bottle of water on your desk to make it easy to drink and swap to decaf for a couple of your cuppas.

Write down everything you feel needs to be done and then take a step back. Look at each item carefully and judge if it’s important and urgent or only urgent. Take one important and urgent (it needs to be both) item and commit to focusing on that one task today. When it’s done you’ll go back to the list and pick up the next important and urgent task but right now you’re focusing on one item of your massive to do list rather than thinking about the whole lot.

Even if you love your work it’s still important to take breaks to recharge and refresh yourself. Research shows that you’re more productive, more creative and more focused when you take regular breaks rather than pushing on through.

If you’ve barely been outside in days get outdoors for some fresh air and have a look at the world around you. Listen to episode 8 for a guide on taking a mindful walk to calm your mind, it works a treat, I promise you.

Take a couple of minutes to think about what you would really love to do, it could be going for a walk alone, catching up with a friend, taking your book to a café, whatever it is that would make you feel good, schedule it in to your diary as soon as possible. 

We all need connection but when we’re feeling overwhelmed in life we have a tendency to want to retreat, hide away and cut ourselves off. This can lead to us feeling even more stressed out as we try to cope with everything on our plate while also feeling isolated. Reaching out and connecting with someone who can offer support whether it’s listening to you unload, making you a cuppa or getting you giggling will help you to gain a little perspective and reduce the overwhelm.

Challenge your overthinking rehashing and what ifing by checking in with what’s real and true right now. Look around you at the facts of your reality, so that could be you have a job, your children are healthy, it’s raining, you’re making a cup of tea, it’s 10am on Wednesday… you get the idea. You’re not forming an opinion or judging, you’re just stating what is true about this present moment, rather than imagining and supposing and what ifing and overthinking.

One additional step you can take, to help your future self the next time you feel overwhelmed, is to write down a few sentences about this experience. Record how you were feeling, how you recognised that your life wasn’t actually falling apart but that you were overwhelmed, and what you did about it to help yourself feel better. Keep these notes somewhere handy so the next time you’re feeling like it’s all just a bit too much you can read them and remember that you can deal with the overwhelm now just as you did then.

Overwhelm is something we all deal with from time to time, you’re not the only one who feels like everything’s getting on top of them, I promise. The next time you realise that’s how you feel, run through the checklist to see what you have too much or too little of in your life and start, gently, to take steps to address what’s out of kilter. You may not be able to change the facts of your situation but by taking care of yourself in this way you’ll begin to reduce the feelings of overwhelm and put yourself in a stronger position to deal with what life brings.

Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast. 

Spring is my favourite season. There’s so much potential and possibility at this time of year, and it gives us a fantastic opportunity to put into practice techniques that are proven to increase our wellbeing by being mindful of the season, appreciating everything around us, and savouring it. To maximise the enjoyment we can derive from Spring I’ve created a guide to savouring the season and stepping into Spring with mindful intention. It is packed with inspiration, guidance, worksheets, audio recordings, creative prompts and practical actions so that you can experience Spring with more mindfulness, calm, creativity, fun and clarity. Go to gabrielletreanor.com/ebooks to find out more and get your copy.

I love to see how you’re enjoying Spring so do share your photos on Instagram with hashtag savourtheseasonalshift and I’m @gabrielletreanor.

Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.