5 Mistakes we make when we’re overwhelmed and how to avoid them

Feeling overwhelmed is something we can all relate to, and when we are in this mindset, oftentimes we end up reacting in ways that only aggravate the situation rather than improve it.

Here are five common ways people who are overwhelmed tend to undermine themselves, as well as some practical solutions for each.

You think you don’t have time for actions that would help you. Often when overwhelmed, people think of all the things they could do to help themselves re-center or gain control over the situation, such as hiring a cleaner, scheduling a therapy session, or planning a fun night with friends. Instead of following through with these actions, they convince themselves that they’re far too busy and that they should wait for the “right moment.”

When people dismiss their own good ideas, it can lead to a sense of helplessness. Instead, remind yourself that your actions don’t have to be perfect. Perhaps you don’t have time to interview top picks for therapists, but you can still choose a therapist that meets some of your criteria and see how you feel after a couple of sessions. By acting to help yourself, you’ll feel more in control and you’ll get into the habit of finding realistic and doable solutions.

You don’t utilize your unconscious mind enough. Forcing yourself to focus can sometimes be counterproductive if you’re already stretched too thin. Often, taking a refreshing walk or aimlessly doodling to let your mind drift will lead you to an imaginative solution you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Your unconscious mind can help you generate ideas to get important things done without pressuring yourself to always be focused, which is a demanding and unrealistic expectation to have. Try and identify activities such as exercising or reading that tend to let your mind drift in a way that helps you solve problems.

You interpret feeling overwhelmed as a weakness. As the saying goes, you are your own toughest critic, and this especially applies when feeling overwhelmed. You may find that you belittle yourself, saying, “I shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by this. It’s not hard.” This self-criticism can then trigger feelings of shame or anxiety, which only make the task more difficult.

If you notice that you start doing this, try and practice compassionate self-talk instead.

You default to your dominant approaches and defenses. Stress tends to make people more rigid in their ways as they cling on to dominant and familiar habits for a sense of security to counterbalance stress. In turn, this makes them less flexible to the demands of the situation.

This could mean turning a generally thoughtful person into an over-thinker, a self-reliant person into a micro-manager, and someone who has high standards can end up falling into perfectionism. If you sense yourself falling into this trap, then take a moment to re-evaluate whether you’re matching your values to the demands of the situation.

You withdraw from your supports. When people feel overwhelmed, they tend to feel more low energy than usual, reserving their drive and attention for the high-priority tasks that are most on their minds. This could lead to subtle changes in behavior and emotional availability.

Remind yourself to take the time to enjoy connecting with friends and family, even if you feel as though you’ve got limited energy. Oftentimes, these moments can refresh your mind and allow you to take on whatever tasks ahead with a more positive mindset.

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