"How Can I Manage Overwhelm?"


Most of us lead very busy lives and it is easy to become overwhelmed with all we need to do. In addition, about 15% to 20% of us are born with highly sensitive nervous systems that are far more reactive to having a lot to do than the general population. Since I have a very highly sensitive nervous system, I understand how easily some of us can become overwhelmed by the demands of life. I have learned some powerful tools for managing overwhelm that I will share with you as I answer the following questions about overwhelm.

Leslie asked:

"I feel overwhelmed when I have many things to do and they all seem equally important. How do I decide where to start without feeling that perhaps I need to be doing one of the other things instead?"

I have an easy way of dealing with this issue.

  1. Write down everything you need to do.
  2. Let go of trying to figure out with your thinking mind what to do first. Your left-brain logical mind probably doesn't know.
  3. Open to your right-brain inner guidance – your intuition, your feelings, your inner knowing. Simply ask, "What should I do first?" and trust whatever pops into your mind. Write (1) by the first item.
  4. Do the same with the rest of the items – letting it pop into your mind without thinking about it.

It may take some time to trust what pops into your mind, but I assure you that you will relax and get things done if you list them like this. I've done this for years and it always works!

Sonia asked:

"How can I set healthy boundaries with people in order to avoid being overwhelmed by work and tasks?"

Sonia, the first thing you need to do is to start to notice your energy at work. Are you putting out energetically that you are available for their demands? Boundaries are often energetic, and they come from your own intent. If your intent is to please others, then they will see you as available for their demands. If they see you as taking loving care of yourself rather than care-taking them, they are more likely to leave you alone.

Second, you can let the people know that they need to submit their requests to you in writing through email. This way it is easier for you to prioritize than if people are verbally demanding.

Third, learn to say 'No.'   

Janice asked:

"I have periods of time when I become overwhelmed with certain challenges, i.e. death in the family, chronic pain, etc. and I just shut down. When I am like this I tend to procrastinate."

Janice, it sounds like you are judging yourself for feeling overwhelmed by these very challenging life situations. The first thing I recommend is that you move into kindness and compassion toward yourself. Death in the family and chronic pain are overwhelming for most people. If you are compassionate and gentle toward yourself, then you won't need to shut down to manage these emotionally painful feelings. Emotional pain gets stuck when we shut down, but when we are compassionate with ourselves, the feelings are able to move through us. Giving yourself time for the emotional pain to move through will help you to not procrastinate. 

Aubrey Asked:

"How can we prevent feeling overwhelmed when we are in a situation that usually causes anxiety, ex. paperwork, finances, applying for a job, etc."

Aubrey, the anxiety is not being caused by the situations, but by what you are telling yourself about the situations. When you feel anxious, notice what you are telling yourself that is making you anxious. The feeling of anxiety is likely letting you know that you are telling yourself things that you don't know to be true.

When you have to do things like this, it's important to make sure that the loving adult part of you is in charge. The anxiety often comes from a younger part – a child or adolescent – who doesn't know how to do these things well.

When we feel overwhelmed, the first thing to do is to stop and breathe. Taking a few deep breaths can slow us down and help us focus on what we need to do to take loving care of ourselves.


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