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What it Actually Means When You’re Overwhelmed (and four Methods to Transfer Previous It)

Raise your hand when you feel a little overwhelmed. Aside from the fact that everything gets more stressful in the middle of a pandemic, you have work and family commitments, there are food choices, home workouts you think you should be doing, and non-stretchy pants that make you feel bad feel because you don’t fit in.

That is much. I understand, and it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed. That said staying in a state of overwhelm is a choice.

Yeah you heard me it’s a choice And when you’re ready to step out of the seemingly relentless cycle of life (and the tight chest and racing mind that comes with it), stick with it. I’m going to unpack the real reason you’re overwhelmed – spoiler alert, not because your to-do list is too long – and also four things you can do to change it.

Why am I getting overwhelmed?

I will give you an example from my own life. As a health coach, I often hear my clients say they just can’t. You can’t swap your toast and cereal for breakfast. You can’t take the time to go outside. You can’t go to bed earlier. You can’t … fill in the blank.

In my opinion, the statements “I can’t” reflect limiting beliefs. You are not real; It’s just stories we tell ourselves and identities that we inadvertently identify with. It’s not that you can’t, it’s that something is holding you back. I find that most of the time when I dig a little deeper, it is fear.

Types of fear that overwhelm:

  • Fear you will not be able to handle it
  • Fear of doing something wrong
  • Afraid you won’t make it (on time)
  • Fear that you will be judged
  • Fear of the consequences
  • Afraid of not being in control
  • Afraid of being embarrassed
  • Afraid that you don’t really deserve it

Whether you are worried, stressed, or completely overwhelmed, fear is usually the rule, just for your information. But the goal here is not to be fearless (there are actually some benefits to be feared) but rather not to let it rule your life.

Anything that threatens your place in this world, i.e. your self-esteem, can provoke a fear-based response. I’m sure you heard about the fight or flight response, right? When you experience something that feels scary and stressful, the amygdala (the part of your brain that does emotional processing) releases a rush of chemicals into the body. The stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol flood your system, preparing you for fight or flight. Not only that, The amygdala instantly blocks the nerve pathway to your prefrontal cortex, temporarily disrupting all rational thinking and making you feel disorganized and out of control.

So is it all in my head

Believe it or not, you are causing this cascade of physiological effects through your thoughts alone, although there is no real danger other than the perceived consequences of what would happen if you failed, or were embarrassed, or unable to all in To keep track of your duties. When you feel overwhelmed, your life doesn’t fall apart – your thoughts do.

So how do you wind it back in? This study at Yale showed it can be as simple as breathing. The researchers placed 131 university students either in a control group with no intervention or in one of three 30-hour workshops that used interventions for wellbeing, including breathing, mindfulness, and emotional awareness, to combat stress. Before and after the workshops, the students were subjected to a stressful task that simulated a high pressure performance situation.

They found that the group that attended the breathing workshop could stay calm during the stressful task. Also, their heart rates stayed constant, they could think more clearly, and they actually did the job more effectively.

4 ways to keep yourself from spiraling

Overpowering is without a doubt one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals, but it is possible to get past it. It’s only your brain trying to protect you, and the strategies below will teach you how to recognize the onset of the overwhelming situation and take steps to regain the clarity and calmness you need to do all that you are have to do.

To breathe

Since in this overwhelming state you are compromising your prefrontal cortex and allowing adrenaline and cortisol to flow through your body, the best thing you can do for yourself is to slow down and breathe. It doesn’t matter what type of breathing you do – box breathing, alternating nasal breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing work. Just make sure that the method you choose is rhythmic, which means that you breathe in and out for about as long. After a few minutes you will find that your mind has slowed down and your energy is much calmer.

Try the following: Here is a triangular breathing exercise I created for my clients. Inhale through your nose and slowly count to 6; Hold up for a count of 2; and exhale until 8. Repeat for 1-3 minutes or until your mind feels calm again.

Check your stories

Do you know the limiting beliefs and thoughts that prevent you from achieving your goals? These are your stories. And I call them stories because they just aren’t true. You may have picked them up from something your parents said as an adult or from an experience you went through. Maybe you’ve decided to keep dropping the ball. Or that things always feel too big for you and who were you anyway to achieve big things ?! These narratives become a form of identity that not only reflects who we think we are, but what we believe is possible.

Try this: The next time you have doubts about your size, twist it to her ear. Instead of saying, “I don’t think I can stick to a new way of eating,” try “I am fully capable of new things.”

Take the top of the stairs

Often times, when I work with new clients, they feel overwhelmed by all the things they think they are doing. It’s about clearing out the closets, figuring out which brands are rapeseed free, learning how to make your own bone broth / kombucha / beet kvass … this is roughly the time I sneak into my stair-step approach. This technique is fantastic because it breaks the journey down into smaller steps, which is less intimidating than trying to jump to the end in a single set.

Try this: Literally draw stairs on a piece of paper. Identify the lower step (this is where you are now), then identify the upper step (this is where you want to go). Figure out what to do first to get to the next step, and then do that! The rest of the steps will show up over time.


Just because you can do all things doesn’t mean you have to. Often times, we get overwhelmed by putting too much on our plates. Just as there is no gold medal for doing more, there is no penalty for doing less. Your worthiness has nothing to do with how much you achieve or not achieve. Aside from that, there is also no shame in delegating tasks and responsibilities.

Try this: Think about the areas in your life that you might need help with. Can your spouse prepare a healthy dinner tonight? Can your kids help you sort through the original recipes? Make a list of the things you want to do and read it if you need help to familiarize yourself with asking for help.

Go from “I can’t” to “I have this”

Life can be overwhelming even if you are not in the middle of a pandemic. However, by paying attention to your triggers, your stories, and your breath, you can restore your ability to think, listen, and move forward. It takes practice, but at some point you can practice reacting instead of reacting. Follow these four steps and see how it works for you:

  • To breathe
  • Check your stories
  • Take the top of the stairs
  • Delegate

How do you manage to overwhelm? What tactics do you use to get through or avoid everything together?

About the author

Erin Power

Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish loving and trusting relationships with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you are passionate about health and wellness and you want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. In this special briefing event hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.

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