Overwhelmed: When Life Is Just Too Much

By Dr. Kurt Smith

January 10, 2024   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Overwhelmed: When Life Is Just Too Much

Gina sat on the edge of her bed and stared at the wall. Not the window, not a picture – just the wall. She couldn’t seem to find it within her to get up. It felt like there were a million or more things on her ever-growing list of tasks. Part of her just didn’t know where to start, and part of her thought, “What’s the point?”

Can you relate?

If you can, you’re not alone. Increasing numbers of people are finding themselves at the point where everything just feels like too much. “Too much what?” you ask? Just too much .. well .. everything.

What “Too Much” Feels Like

Feeling like everything is ‘too much’ can be an easy feeling to relate to but a hard one to define. It’s not necessarily depression or clearly anxiety. And it almost seems too simplistic to say you feel ‘overwhelmed.’ Feeling like everything is ‘too much’ is a bit of all of those things, yet something just a little different.

Clearly opaque, right?

Let’s put a finer point on things.

Feeling like everything is ‘too much’ is a common feeling that results when internal and external stressors combine. This can cause perspective and balance to be lost. There is just too much coming at you at one time. It can feel like being in a snowstorm. Each flake is something that has to be thought about, dealt with, considered, or fixed. It’s just too much to be able to effectively process.

Consider where we’ve been over the last two-plus years with Covid. It’s understandable that a greater number of people are feeling like it’s all too much. Among the issues weighing on many of us are the following:

  1.     Conflict with family, friends, or society in general regarding Covid.
  2.     Politics and growing divides.
  3.     Continual bad or threatening news.
  4.     Challenges being productive in changing work environments.
  5.     Concerns over a child’s or other family member’s mental health.
  6.     Conflicting information about health-related issues and best practices.
  7.     Personal worries about the future and your capability to handle what’s next.
  8.     Financial concerns and uncertainty.
  9.     Regular messages tell you to take time for yourself yet no time or ability to make that happen.
  10.   Noise – external and internal noise that doesn’t seem to ever quiet.

There are many more that each of us could add to this list.

Taken individually most of us can find a way to handle all of these issues. But when the snowstorm hits and all of these, plus more, are swirling around you it can be .. well .. too much.

Overwhelmed Can Do This To You

Being something that most of us can relate to doesn’t mean that this feeling should be accepted. In fact, if you can relate, you are likely looking for a way to change things. You probably know this feeling is both too uncomfortable and too unproductive to be lived with as the general state of things.

Not only, however, is this feeling uncomfortable and unproductive, but it’s also dangerous in many ways. Left unchecked it can lead to far larger problems.

Just look at Gina. Feeling like things are ‘too much’ has her frozen, staring at a wall instead of taking action and moving forward. Feeling like things are ‘too much isn’t the same as being depressed. Without a change, however, it can lead to a state of depression, and that’s not all.

Becoming overwhelmed by the feeling of it all being ‘too much’ can also cause the following:

  •       Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  •       Disruption in relationships
  •       Inability to focus and complete tasks
  •       A variety of physical ailments including high blood pressure, headaches, or sleep disturbance

None of these are conducive to a happy, healthy life.

Turning Too Much Into Just Enough

So, what can you do if you, like Gina, feel like everything is ‘too much’ and you’re stuck? The first thing you need to do is gain some perspective.

That snowstorm can feel like a whiteout when everything around you seems to carry the same weight and importance. The truth is that not everything that’s hitting you at that moment should be considered equally. There are things you can impact, and things you can’t. Creating a workable perspective means separating those things.

It’s not that a crisis in another part of the world isn’t important, but when you’re trying to push yourself forward it doesn’t need to be your primary focus.

Once you’ve pushed the things you have no control over into your own bucket.

Try utilizing the following tips for regaining control moving forward.

1. Take a few minutes each morning to set your intention for the day.

Take a few minutes each morning to set your intention for the day.
Photo: thejoywithin

This is different than making a list of things you can check off. Setting your intention is more global and sounds more like, “I won’t allow myself to be distracted today,” or “I will make choices that are good for me today.” At the end of the day, you may not have finished your to-do list. By being intentional in your behavior, however, you’ll likely still feel accomplished.

2. Choose one thing to do and do it.

Ignore the snowstorm and just pick one snowflake. It doesn’t even have to be the biggest or hardest thing on your list. Sometimes a quick win can help set the right mindset.

3. Give yourself permission to take 10-minute breaks.

Give yourself permission to take 10-minute breaks.
Photo: petite2queen

Studies show that we concentrate and are most productive in approximately 90-minute bouts. After 90-minutes you need a break to reset and refocus.

4. Steer clear of media for a while.

This is both conventional media and social. Both Laura’s perfect life and filtered selfies and the impending doom forecasted by news outlets. These can blow you off course before you even know what’s happening.

5. Accept that not every day is a good one or a super productive one.

Accept that not every day is a good one or a super productive one.
Photo: stoodnt

Bad day? Nothing really done? According to the Shirelles classic, “Mama said there’ll be days like this” and they were right. Move on.

6. Don’t become complacent with every day NOT being a good or productive one.

Mama didn’t say every day would be bad. If you have a string of them you’ll need to start this process over because you’re likely back in that snowstorm.

7. Make your environment pleasing.

Make your environment pleasing.
Photo: workgenius

Like flowers? Put a few in a vase and enjoy looking at them. Find music soothing? Love the smell of lemons? These are easy things to make your environment feel more uplifting and positive.

We all occasionally feel like things are too much – something that’s good to keep in mind since it can be a very isolating feeling. When you feel that way take it as a sign that you need to make a change and consider the tips above. With a little effort, you can turn “this is all just too much,” into “I got this.”

Dr. Kurt Smith

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.

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