Why We Get Overwhelmed and What You Can Do

Why We Get Overwhelmed and What You Can Do

Let’s be real…feeling stressed and overwhelmed are not pleasant feelings.


And I don’t doubt that you have your share of stressors…today’s world requires plenty of responsibility, skills and multi-tasking. There’s also a societal expectation that us women are to be “jacks of all trades”, often causing us to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves and our lives.


Although challenges and stressors are a part of life, our minds tend to function on automatic reactions, usually turning what could be looked at as a challenge, into a stressor. This is what creates those awful feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion and defeat.


But why do our minds turn challenges into stressors?!


Let’s take a look at how overwhelm works…


So we’re moseying along throughout our day and then BOOM… a situation or challenge occurs that triggers our stress response (i.e. we open that pile of bills, your child begins uncontrollably screaming, you look in the mirror and you’re not a fan 🙁 , you get jealous with your partner, etc…)


Once our stress response is triggered (a part of the brain called the amygdala)… we get a cascade of emotional and physical responses. 


These emotional and physical responses are often unpleasant, signaling to the brain that we are in danger. This is when a challenge begins to turn into a stressor.


Because we experience stressors frequently, our brains have been conditioned to think automatic thoughts once our stress response is triggered.


These could include: “I can’t handle this”, “This is too much”, “My life is a mess”, “I’m a bad wife/girlfriend/partner/mother/daughter/sister/friend”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m not skilled enough”, “I’m not as good as…”, etc. etc. etc.


The problem is… that often, these automatic thoughts contain what are called cognitive distortions (i.e. distorted thinking that doesn’t represent reality 100%).


Some examples of these cognitive distortions include:

  • Disqualifying the positives: We become only focused on the negatives and they cloud our perception of our lives
  • Jumping to Conclusions: We start jumping to worst case scenarios and we begin fearing the future without adequate evidence
  • Labeling: We label ourselves as bad or not good enough – without taking into consideration all the effort and all the good things we do on a daily basis


As you can see, cognitive distortions are quite harsh (and an FYI…I only named 3/12 distortions there…why brain, do you have so many distortions?!). Cognitive distortions are narrow perspectives and they usually contain quite a bit of putting ourselves down and self-attack 🙁


Cognitive distortions are dangerous because they often affect our moods and we begin acting and living from a place of stress and negativity.


And our actions affect…well, everything.


But remember…


Our brains are jumping to these thoughts because the pathways of these automatic thoughts have been well used. Our brains always resort to the pathways that are the best conditioned. 


So what can we do to feel less stress and overwhelm?!




1. Notice when you’ve been triggered – The first step is living more consciously so that we can become more aware of when we are triggered with challenges, stress and feelings of overwhelm. Catch yourself when you feel anxiety or stress – label it as a trigger.


2. Surrender to the situation – Surrendering means accepting that the challenge is occurring. A lot of the time we resist challenges. We wish they weren’t occurring and we curse when they happen. Resisting will never help us get through the situation. Instead, radically accept that the situation is happening and choose to work with the challenge instead of against it. 


3. Notice your cognitive distortions – Catch your thoughts when they begin to cascade into self-attack and worst case scenarios. Remember, these thoughts are automatic triggered thoughts but rarely do they represent reality.


4. Become present – Ground yourself back in the present moment. Instead of allowing your thoughts to run on autopilot mode, pull them back to reality. Slow down, breathe and become awake to what is actually happening.


5. Problem solve – Everything is figure-outable. Everything has solutions. There are no mistakes in life – only learning. Choose not to be controlled by thoughts and emotions and instead, take control of your thoughts. Begin brainstorming solutions to your current problem. Choose purposeful actions that will help the situation and help you.


6. Offer yourself love, kindness and acceptance – We are not perfect humans…we cannot be perfect humans. Beating yourself up and your life situation will only make things more difficult and cause yourself suffering. Accept yourself  and your life exactly as they are in this moment, because…this is how they are! Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to enjoy certain things however, we can only grow and move forward once we accept where we are today. Offer yourself love, offer others love, offer your challenges and stressors love. And notice what a difference this attitude makes 🙂


If you practice these techniques more and more guess what?…


You’re strengthening new automatic pathways for when your stress response becomes triggered.


The more you practice, the more your brain will get used to thinking in accepting, loving and problem-solving ways.


Thinking in more loving, rational, solution-oriented ways will lower stress and overwhelm which can also have numerous health benefits such as improved sleep, improved metabolism (less cortisol), reduced tension and fatigue…and I could go on and on…


What I always say is…


It’s a wonderful truth that our brains can be trained 😀


#psychologynerd 😉


Good luck with the beginning of September and say no to overwhelm and stress.





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