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How to feel better when you feel overwhelmed

If you constantly feel overwhelmed, you know the stress and anxiety that overwhelm can create in your life. It can delay or prevent you from achieving your goals, and it just makes life feel harder, like you’re always swimming upstream. 

I know this feeling all too well, so I’m sharing a simple and super effective technique to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

It has helped both me and my clients to feel more calm, centered, and in control – no more being paralyzed with inaction by “all the things,” or running around in circles like a cat chasing her tail (which is how I act when I’m overwhelmed!).

Why We Get Overwhelmed

I want to share a different way of thinking about overwhelm . . .

When we say, “I’m overwhelmed,” it suggests that we’re in a physical state known as overwhelm. It seems like a physical, concrete condition, like the flu.

But overwhelm isn’t a measurable tangible physical state; it’s just a feeling. 

To give an example, compare it with a true physical state, like dehydration. If the doctor tells me I’m dehydrated, this is a tangible condition that can be measured.

When we say, “I am overwhelmed,” what we’re really saying is, “I feel overwhelmed.”

I wanted to make this distinction because we tend to think that our overwhelm is caused by all the things we have to do, but what actually causes us to feel overwhelmed is our thoughts.

Our to-do lists and all the things we need to do are just there. They aren’t actively creating overwhelm – they’re neutral.

It’s our thoughts about them (like, I have too much to do, I’ll never get all this done, I have so much to do that I don’t know where to start, I’m responsible for everything, etc.) that cause the feeling of overwhelm.

In other words, overwhelm isn’t happening to us . . . we’re actually creating the overwhelm ourselves with our thoughts.

Try this . . .

Say to yourself, “I have SO MUCH to do” and see how you feel when thinking that thought.

Then say to yourself, “I have some things to do” and see how that thought feels.

It’s a noticeable shift, right?

As someone who’s lived much of my life feeling “overwhelmed,” this was a hard concept to wrap my head around. I was resistant to it at first, but over time I’ve seen the truth in it. That awareness alone has helped me feel less overwhelmed.

The good news is that because we are unknowingly creating it, it means we have control over the overwhelm, and not (despite how it might feel) the other way around.

Mental vs. Emotional Overwhelm

Emotional overwhelm is when we feel overcome by strong emotions, like when we receive really bad news, we’re going through an incredibly stressful life event, or we lose someone we love.

For the purposes of this post, I am focusing on the other type of overwhelm – mental overwhelm.

Mental overwhelm happens when we have so many thoughts happening in our minds (usually about all the things we “need to do” or the problems we’re trying to solve) that it seems like there’s more than we can handle.

When we think we’ve got more than we can handle, or too much to do and not enough time to do it, then the feeling of overwhelm sets in.

One of the best ways I’ve found to feel less overwhelmed is to declutter my mind.

Decluttering Your Mind to Feel Less Overwhelmed

If you’re someone who constantly feels overwhelmed, this technique is going to change your life!

Decluttering your mind is my version of what is commonly called a “brain dump.”

It’s a really simple and effective technique you can use any time you feel overwhelmed.

Decluttering your mind helps you feel less overwhelmed by:

  • Stopping the racing thoughts that are creating stress
  • Bringing awareness to the top areas or tasks that are creating the feeling of overwhelm in your life
  • Freeing up mental space so you can focus on what’s really important to you
  • Clearing your mind so you can tune in to your intuition and your Higher Self
  • Becoming more aware of thoughts and beliefs that are keeping you stuck or holding you back

Overwhelm is kind of like the “junk drawer” that almost everyone has in their house – you know the one where all the random things end up.

You open it (probably having to jerk or jiggle it because it’s so crammed full of stuff) to look for something specific, like a pair of scissors.

Instead of being able to quickly grab a pair of scissors and get back to the task at hand, you have to sift through all the random stuff inside in search of the scissors.

At first you’re totally focused on finding those scissors, but then you start getting distracted by all the other stuff (like things you thought you’d lost or forgot you had . . . ohhh, so that’s where my favorite lip balm ended up . . . ooh, I found a quarter!…..).

The next thing you know, 15 minutes have passed and not only have you not found the scissors, but you’ve forgotten why you were looking for them in the first place.

The same thing happens in your mind (and mine) when it’s cluttered!

How to Declutter Your Mind

Grab a few pieces of blank paper (I just pull some sheets from my printer) and a couple of good-writing pens. I recommend having two because there’s nothing like running out of ink in the middle of decluttering your mind to get you out of the flow.

Set aside time when you can do this without getting interrupted, and minimize distractions as much as possible.

You can do this practice quickly and on-the-fly, but when possible, I like to make it into a special ritual. I do this by sitting by our lake or going to a park where I can be surrounded by nature, or going to a fun setting like my favorite coffee shop.

If I’m doing this at home, I’ll get comfy and cozy with a blanket, relaxing music, lighting a candle, and having a cup of hot tea, cocoa, or coffee (or in the Fall, I might run by Starbucks first and treat myself to a Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew).

Take a few deep breaths and settle into this practice. Set an intention for how you’d like to feel by the end of it (for me, that’s usually something like calm, in control, focused, or grounded and centered).

Now, start making a list of everything that is cluttering your mind.

And I mean everything!

Whatever comes to mind, write it down.

This isn’t a time to analyze, sort, prioritize, or judge what’s coming to mind – you can do that later (if you choose to).

Right now, your only goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper.

Most people only write out the “to-do’s” that are cluttering up their mind, but guess what . . . there’s a lot more going on up there than just to-do’s!

I recommend also listing out what you’re feeling, things that are bothering you, ideas, dreams, and anything else that comes to mind as you start writing.

If you have the time, I encourage you to give yourself all the time you need to get everything  out until there’s nothing left to write.

But if your time is limited, it can be helpful to set a timer.

Once you’ve gotten it all out of your head (or the timer has gone off), take a deep breath and tune in to how you’re feeling, both in your body and mentally/emotionally.

Sometimes I stop here and consider the decluttering ritual complete. I’ve gotten all the “junk” out of my head and onto paper, and I can then return to my day feeling more calm and less overwhelmed.

But sometimes I want to go deeper with what came out during my decluttering process.

A few ways to to deeper with your mind decluttering are:

  • Review your list and cross off anything that doesn’t feel important or necessary
  • Organize things into categories (for example, putting all errands into one category, and tasks related to a specific project into a category, etc.). An easy way to do this is take a fresh sheet of paper and divide it into four or six squares and make each one a category (use multiple sheets if you need lots of categories)
  • Note any great ideas and add them to your idea list/journal to be revisited later (or you may have one that you feel ready to take action on now!)
  • Notice anything you wrote down that has heavy feelings attached to it, and explore that further by journaling about it 
  • Capture any relevant tasks that weren’t already on your to-do list
  • Prioritize what you want to focus on next
  • Pick out anything you can delegate to someone else
  • Create a plan of action

To close out my ritual, if I’m at home I sometimes burn sage to cleanse myself of any residual heavy energy and get into a higher energetic vibration.

It can also be helpful to do some movement afterward, like going for a walk, doing some stretching, or shaking it out.

Once you’re finished working with your list, you could tear it up or burn it to symbolically release the feeling of overwhelm.

Brain decluttering can be a very cathartic process. I always feel better after doing it – sometimes energized and ready to go, and sometimes relaxed and ready to take a nap, but always better.

When to Do a Mind Decluttering Ritual

  1. I like to do a weekly mind decluttering as I’m planning out my week. In fact, in my Sacred Path Planner (coming soon – find out more here!), there is space each week to declutter your mind. This really helps me to be intentional in how I plan and go about my week.
  2. I also use this technique any time I start feeling overwhelmed. If I find myself getting nothing done because I can’t decide what to do first, or jumping from task to task without completing any of them, I know it’s time for me to declutter my mind.
  3. If I have a problem that I can’t figure out, I’ll declutter my mind in a more targeted way around that problem. This often helps me get to the root of the problem and find creative solutions I couldn’t see with my mind cluttered by feeling overwhelmed about it.
  4. If you have trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing, decluttering your mind before bed can help. It might seem counterintuitive to list out all the things you’re trying to NOT think about before going to sleep, but this has helped many of my coaching clients who have sleeping problems caused by stress and racing thoughts. By capturing all the thoughts before going to sleep, it’s like you’re reassuring your mind that nothing will be forgotten and it can rest.  Give it a try and I think you’ll be surprised by the results.
  5. When you need to focus and you’re having trouble concentrating, doing a mini-mind decluttering can help. Take just a few minutes to jot down. all the things going through your mind in that moment that are distracting you from the task at hand.
  6. I also do mind decluttering with projects I’m working on, both big and small. In this scenario, I write down everything I can think of specifically related to the project – every task, thought, idea, concern, etc. This works for big projects like giving my entire website a makeover, to small ones like writing a blog post (I did a short mind decluttering to prepare to write this post!). It’s a great way to get focused, break down a project into smaller steps, and create a plan of action that feels empowering instead of overwhelming.
  7. The end of a lunar cycle, during the last quarter moon phase, is another great time to declutter your mind. The waning energy of this lunar phase naturally has an energy of release, and it will prepare your mind for a fresh start at the beginning of the new lunar cycle.
  8. Similarly, the energy of Autumn is ideal for decluttering, taking stock, organizing, and releasing. This is a terrific time to do a large-scale brain decluttering. It’s great for  taking stock of how your year has been going and where you’re headed for the remainder of the year. This can help you determine if you need to pivot with any goals or projects, and also prepare your mind for winter, which is the season to rest, recharge, and create a vision for what you want to manifest in your life in the coming Spring.

Benefits of Decluttering Your Mind

Here are some of the benefits that both my coaching clients and I have experienced from mind decluttering:

  • Feeling more in control of your day, your week, and your life
  • Getting unstuck
  • Being more decisive and making decisions that are in alignment with your true Self
  • Feeling empowered to take mindful and aligned action
  • Feeling more grounded
  • Being in a more positive mindset, thinking positive and useful thoughts
  • Being more intentional

Final Thoughts on How to Feel Less Overwhelmed

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Overwhelm is a FEELING, not a physical state
  • Mental overwhelm (usually caused by the thought that you have too much to do) is detrimental in so many ways – it can keep us from accomplishing our goals, living in alignment, tuning in to our intuition, maintaining healthy balance in our life, and experiencing all the joy available to us
  • One of the simplest and most effective ways I’ve found to stop feeling overwhelmed (or at least feel less overwhelmed) is to declutter my mind
  • Decluttering your mind can be a quick ten minute process you do on the fly when time is short, or you can create an entire ritual around it (both work!)
  • When our minds are cluttered, they’re like the overflowing junk drawer in our house. It becomes really hard to locate what you need and stay on task, and it’s full of distractions. It also carries a heavy and unproductive energy.
  • I recommend having a weekly mind decluttering practice to help you plan and carry out your week with intention, so you can stay in alignment with your purpose, values, and goals.

Next steps to put this into action:

  • Schedule time in your planner/calendar to declutter your mind this week (even better – set it up as a recurring weekly appointment)
  • Gather whatever supplies you need to make this feel like a special ritual
  • If you have trouble at first actually sitting down to do the decluttering, schedule a time with a friend or colleague to do it together (not necessarily physically together, but commit to doing this practice at the same time and hold each other accountable)

Don’t let the simplicity of this process fool you – it’s really effective at helping you to feel less overwhelmed and creating more space, peace, and clarity.

As someone who used to feel chronically overwhelmed, it has been a game changer for me! I still have my moments of overwhelm, don’t get me wrong, but having this tool keeps me from getting bogged down — it gives me a way out of the overwhelm.

If you love planners like I do, check out my Sacred Path Planner! It will help you feel less overwhelmed by making decluttering your mind a regular weekly practice, living in harmony with the moon’s energy, and tuning in to your intuition.

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