4 Ways to Avoid Overwhelm


Overwhelm is that feeling you get when there is more to do than time to do it. Or more stuff happening right now than your senses can handle. To feel overwhelmed is to feel buried. To feel overwhelmed is to feel flooded.


This feeling has been a theme in many my conversations in the last few weeks. I have felt it recently, and people around me have felt it.

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There are at least two different senses of feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Long term. When you see all that needs to be done to complete a major goal. This sense of overwhelm makes you want to hide.
  2. Short term. When your senses are flooded with too much information. This sense of overwhelm makes you want to scream.

This post is about the first sense of overwhelm. To handle the second sense, consider reading my post about handling crisis.

Yet, there is an interaction between the two types of overwhelm. Solving one type will help to solve the other type. The job will not be completely done. But there will be progress.

Think of solving long-term overwhelm as a “buffer builder” for short term overwhelm. By reducing the stress about the future, you create more “bandwidth” in the present.

Simple Changes Reduce Overwhelm

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

How do you climb Mount Everest? One step at a time.

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These answers might sound too simple for the problems they solve. But that is exactly the point. Someone came up with a simple way of solving major challenges.

What overwhelms you about the future? What major goals, projects, or barriers are between you and the life you want?

Whatever it is, break it down into smaller parts. Not too small, because then the number of parts becomes overwhelming. Just small enough that each part feels less overwhelming than the whole thing.

Example 1. I want to get my counseling license. I need 1200 client contact hours to make that happen. That 1200 hours is a little bit overwhelming. But if I am willing to take two years to get my license, it only takes 12 clients per week to make that happen. 12 clients per week seems much simpler to me.

Sequential Changes Reduce Overwhelm

Rome was not built in a day.

You cannot build your roof before your foundation.

You cannot count to 3 without passing 1 and 2.

After you break your goal into simpler parts, arrange them in a sequence, or an order that makes sense. Each part should build on the parts before it.

Example 2. Perhaps you want to lose weight. You can either change your diet first or change your physical activity first. Which one is easier for you? Do that one first.

Example 3. Perhaps you want to get out of debt. Pay off your smallest debt first. Then use its payment to make extra payments on the next debt in line. Dave Ramsey calls this the “debt snowball.”

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Example 4. I want to be a certified Gottman counselor. I need to do level 1, 2, 3, and get my counseling license first.

Example 5. I want to be a counselor that local pastors trust. That means I need 1 or 2 pastors that trust me a lot before anymore will.

Sustainable Changes Reduce Overwhelm

The best diet is the one you will stick to. Crash diets do not work because starvation will kill you if you do it long enough.

The best exercise program is the one you will stick to. Crossfit is great. Until you get hurt for the eighth time and finally figure out it is not sustainable.

Just the same, the best plan for change is the one that you can stick to. Any lasting change has to be built on simple parts. It has to be built on simple parts arranged in sequence. And each part has to be sustainable.

Bad Example 1. Combining a crash diet with a Crossfit training program. You will hurt yourself and not have any physical energy for your body to heal itself.

Example 6. You want to build a blog to market your business. You know that the best marketing blogs are 5,000+ words per post. You could decide on one of two options:

  1. Publish one post per month that is 5,000+ words.
  2. Publish one post per week that is 525+ words.
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Pick the one that is sustainable.  Pick the one that you can do even when you are not feeling good.

Scalable Changes Reduce Overwhelm

You can do almost anything for 30 seconds. If you can do it for 30 seconds today, then you can probably do it for 35 seconds tomorrow. If you can do it for 35 seconds tomorrow, you can probably do it for 40 seconds the next day.

“Find what works once, then 10x it.” – Noah Kagan

In other words, “find what works once, then do it ten times.”

Noah was talking about business practices when he said that. But the principle applies to many areas of life.

Example 7. You could walk 100 steps more than you did yesterday. Then keep doing it until you get to 10,000 steps per day. Or you could eat 100 calories less than you did yesterday. Then keep doing it until you get your caloric intake and output balanced.

Example 8. If you want to save money, go without your Starbucks once a week. Then go without it twice a week.

Example 9. If you want to get a degree, just survive the first term. If you can survive one term, you can probably survive two. (Or ten).


  1. Which of these is easiest for you?
  2. The last time that you felt overwhelmed, which of these would have helped you most?

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By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling