Are you drowning in your to-do list? Do you feel like you’re always behind, no matter how hard you work? Are you constantly wishing your had more time in the day?
You don’t have to muscle your way through stress. In fact, gritting your teeth and bearing it is a really great way to burn yourself out. If you want to maintain a steady flow of energy, focus, and creativity despite external pressures, you have to learn to manage stress.
In this article, we’ll cover seven ways to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress right now. Of course, you can mix and match your favorites, but I suggest starting with just one or two of these strategies, then coming back to this article once you’ve mastered them and trying another one. It would be counterproductive (and frankly, a bit too ironic) to become overwhelmed by a list of ideas on how to stop feeling overwhelmed.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Stress management vs time management
- 7 ways to stop feeling overwhelmed and manage stress
Stress Management vs. Time Management
Before we get into it, I want to clarify that it’s not enough to just manage your time well. Stress management and time management are two sides of the same coin, but they are different.
Time management is about prioritizing tasks, optimizing your day, and working efficiently so that you can own your to-do list. Stress management is about managing your emotions, maintaining your energy, and preventing burnout, so that you can keep your to-do list from owning you.
Look, no matter how well you time-manage or how hard your work, there will always be something left on your to-do list.
It’s not enough to just figure out how to maximize your time, because the truth is, there’s no way to squeeze everything into one day. There will always be more things you wish you could’ve done, no matter how much you hustle.
If you want to get the most out of time management — as in, if you want to keep a steady flow of energy and focus and prevent burnout — it’s important to learn to manage not just your time, but also your emotions. Plus, the better you can manage your mental health now, the more you can enjoy what’s in front of you, rather than having to wait for a day where the to-do list will hit zero (a day, as we know, that will never come).
We manage stress by (1) accepting that there will always be something left to do on our list, and (2) learning to be okay with it. This means figuring out how to be present in the moment despite external pressures. Below, I’ll share the ways I’ve found to be most effective in stopping feelings of overwhelm and managing stress.
Ready to stop feeling so overwhelmed? Read on.
(Side note: If stress, overwhelm, or anxiety are a chronic issue, it might be worth trying therapy to get to the root of the problem, in addition to these tips.)
How to stop feeling overwhelmed and manage stress right now
Here are 7 things you can do to manage stress and stop feeling overwhelmed right now. A reminder: You don’t have to do all of these at once. Pick one or two items from this list to focus on in the future. Come back to this article once you’ve mastered those and try one or two more.
1. Stop the scroll
When we’re overwhelmed, we often reach for our phones as soon as we have a break.
We open email, check Facebook, scroll on Twitter, peek at Instagram, catch up on Reddit, kill some time on TikTok, then start again from the beginning. Our phones — and in particular social media — flood our brains with dopamine. Those hits of dopamine feel especially good when everything else feels like it’s out of control.
It might feel like scrolling on your phone is taking a break because it’s a distraction, but you’re not truly letting your mind rest. Instead of allowing yourself to take a mental break and truly relax, you continue to be in a reactive state of mind, relying on external influences to set the pace of your mind. Scrolling isn’t going to put you more at ease when you have to come back to your work.
What you need to feel grounded and manage overwhelm isn’t more stimulus – it’s less. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone between meetings, spend a few minutes doing nothing. Feel what it’s like for your mind to not have anything to do for a few moments. It’s a little awkward at first, it forces you to get a little perspective and slow down.
What can you do instead of reaching for your phone when you want to relax?
2. Take a 10 minute break to slow down
In order to regain control of your mind and emotions, you have to intentionally set your own pace, rather than just reacting to everything that’s happening around you. Proactively create a more relaxed state of mind by slowing down.
Take a 10 minute break in your day. This can be after a long stint of work in the afternoon when you find yourself reaching for your phone, or between meetings. Schedule it if you need to.
“But Tali, where am I going to get 10 extra minutes? I already have too much to do as is without a 10 minute break!”
Look, I get it – I know what if feels like to be drowning at work. Taking a break feels selfish and irresponsible. But if you want to think clearly and have more control over your emotional state, you need to prioritize your well-being and make time to get grounded.
Step away from your computer, your work, your phone, your obligations. Create a little distance between yourself and all the stimulus that’s adding to stress.
Slow down your breathing. Take fuller breaths to bring down your heart rate. Pay attention to how it feels to slow down and regain control of your breathing and pace. Bring that sense of calm and peace with you as you go about your day.
Some ideas on how to slow down:
- Take a short walk around your block.
- Go sit in another part of your building and just look out of the window.
- Walk as slowly as you can around your floor.
- Do some light stretching in another room.
- Do a free guided meditation.
- Follow along with a 10-minute office stretching or yoga video.
3. Make a brain dump of all your worries
Ah yes, my personal favorite way to lower stress – the good ol’ brain dump.
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s often because there are too many things floating around in our mind, and we feel like we can’t get a firm grasp on them.
Instead of trying to manage all your thoughts and tasks in your head, get them all out on paper, where you can see them. Make a list of everything you’re worried about, all the things you need to do, everything you’re trying to keep track of mentally.
Just the act of writing down the things that are stressing you out makes them more approachable. By labeling our worries, we take them from being abstract and turn them into more concrete things that we can manage.
When you make a list of your worries and tasks, you keep those things from just swirling around in your mind and stressing you out. Once you finish writing your list, you realize that it’s more manageable than you thought; the tasks, projects, and worries that felt so overwhelming actually fit on an 8.5×11” sheet of paper.
An added bonus: When you see your tasks and worries on paper, you can compare them and decide which ones are important (and which can go on the back burner).
4. Figure out your top 1-3 priorities for the day
Psst. This strategy pairs really nicely with a brain dump.
When you’re overwhelmed, you feel like you have to tackle everything all at once. It becomes difficult to think clearly because every task is vying for your attention. Everything feels urgent.
But in reality, some things are more important than others. Sure, in an ideal world, everything would be considered equally important. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We are constrained by time, and so we have to prioritize our activities relative to each other.
If it feels like you’re drowning in your to-do list or spreading yourself too thin, figure out the 1, 2, or 3 most important things you need to work on today. Focus on chipping away at those items.
Take everything else off your plate if you can – order takeout instead of cooking dinner, ask for an extended deadline on admin work, let people know you’ll get back to their request once you complete this pressing item.
If you can’t drop other responsibilities, ask for help. Depending on the situation, this can be from your manager, team, partner, family, or friends.
You don’t have to be a superhero and do everything yourself. It’s OK to deprioritize some things and ask for help. When you know the most important things to focus on, you can be more confident in delegating and pushing out the rest.
5. Keep a “done” list
This is an idea I’ve adopted from Brendon Burchard, who studies and shares habits of high performers.
If you feel like you’re always playing catchup with your to-do list but never quite making a dent, start tracking the things you get done throughout the week with a “done” list. Every time you complete a task (no matter if it’s big or small, planned or unexpected), write it down in this list.
This might feel redundant if you’re already keeping a to-do list. After all, isn’t this the same as crossing off a completed task, or checking off a box from your existing list?
Yes and no. A to-do list is a great way to keep track of what you have to do, but it visually keeps your focus on everything that’s still remaining. When you look at a to-do list, you’re not looking at all the things you’ve crossed off, you’re looking at what’s still left over (and subsequently feeling like you’re no closer than when you started).
A “done” list is different because reminds you of everything you have completed, rather than focusing on what’s remaining. It’s a reminder of how far you’ve come, even when you still have a ways to go.
I started keeping a list like this a few months ago, in addition to crossing things off of my to-do list. It takes an extra minute or two each day, but it ends up serving as a really good reminder that I am making progress every day, even if sometimes it feels like my list of tasks is never ending. Being able to see what I’ve already done helps me keep overwhelm at bay, which in turn keeps me confident and motivated to tackle the next item.
6. Adjust your expectations
If you find yourself constantly working but never quite making a dent in your daily to-do list, you may have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish in a single day.
We aren’t robots – no matter how much we time manage and optimize our workflows, there will always be a limit on how much we can accomplish in a day. We are limited in how much time we have, and in how much energy we can expend. And unlike robots, we need time to rest. Yes, we need time to sleep and eat, but we also need to socialize, process the events of the day, and recharge by taking our mind off things.
When you put too much on your plate, you not only feel overwhelmed because you can’t accomplish everything, but you also burn yourself out by not giving your mind time to rest and recharge. You come back the next day feeling tired and demoralized, with even less focu and energy.
If you’re trying to do 5 things in the evening after work, reduce it down to 1 or 2 things instead. Chip away at your list consistently throughout the week, rather than trying to cram as much as possible into a day.
This might feel like you’re slowing down or getting less done, but in reality, you’re keeping yourself from burning out. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re better off keeping consistent at a slower pace than sprinting through a bunch of tasks but then losing time when you end up overwhelmed or burned out.
Take the pressure off of yourself to accomplish everything right away. Adjust your expectations so that you have an easier time meeting them consistently, and so you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.
7. When all else fails, do one (small) thing
Sometimes we end up with so much on our plates that we feel paralyzed and avoid our responsibilities altogether. We get sucked into our phones and seek out comforts like TV to distract ourselves.
When your responsibilities feel like too much to handle all at once, do just one small thing. Find the smallest, simplest task on your list and just do that today. That’s it. Don’t try to do a bunch at once. Once you do that small task, you can rest, eat, socialize, watch TV, play video games, or continue whatever you were doing in peace.
When there’s so much to do that you don’t even know where to start, it helps to start with something small. Give yourself a small win to feel confident about. Once you take that first step, even if it feels small, it’s easier to start gaining momentum the next day.
You don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you shouldn’t try to do everything at once, because it’ll just lead to feeling too overwhelmed to do anything at all. Learn to be ok with doing a little at a time. Start with one small thing to show yourself you can do it.
Take the pressure off of yourself
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how much pressure to put on yourself. You might not always be able to control how much there is to do, but you can control how you approach it, and how kind you are to yourself in the process.
Managing stress is better for your productivity in the long run because it keeps you energized and prevents burnout. More importantly, it allows you to enjoy your time and find more peace in your day-to-day life. When you learn to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress, you lessen the power external forces have to affect your outlook and well-being. You take ownership of your mental state and become unshakeable.
I want to hear from you. Which one or two strategies are you going to focus on first to stop feeling overwhelmed? Are you going to start with a brain dump, or with a 10-minute walk around your block?
Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Now, take that strategy out into the world and start taking back control over your mind.
You’ve got this.