Request a demo
Back to Blog

Do you feel overwhelmed all the time? Here’s why

August 3, 2022 - 19 min read

woman-in-depression-why-i-am-easily-overwhelmed

Jump to section

What does it mean to feel overwhelmed?

Why do you feel overwhelmed?

4 consequences of emotional overwhelm

6 mental health issues that can worsen your feelings of overwhelm

How to deal with overwhelm at work

What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?

Learn to control overwhelm so it doesn’t control you

If you pay attention to the news at all — or if you care about your work, your friends, or your family — chances are that you start to feel overwhelmed at least occasionally. 

But you might wonder, is everyone else feeling the same way? Is this normal? How many feelings of overwhelm are too much and what can you do to stop it from taking over your life?  

Some people struggle with daily feelings of overwhelming. It fills you with negative feelings, makes you doubt yourself, and throws you off your game. If you’re wondering Why am I so easily overwhelmed?” Don’t worry — it’s not just you. Life is stressful, and sometimes it feels like too much. 

By learning what causes you to feel overwhelmed, the consequences, and how you can deal with it, you take back control of your feelings. There’s no magic cure, and you might want to enlist some support rather than go it alone, but you can learn to contain the forces of overwhelm and make peace with your responses.

What does it mean to feel overwhelmed?

When we feel overwhelmed, we're overcome by emotions because something feels like it’s too much to handle or too much to complete. These intense emotions make us frazzled and unsure. Our emotional response, often combined with a physical reaction, makes us less able to think clearly or plan what to do to effectively handle the situation.

The feeling of being overwhelmed starts from outside of us — it’s a sense that something or things are acting on us. Often it’s a sense of piling on, not one complication or task, but several. And it combines with a feeling of not being in control or losing control. 

It doesn't matter how good our time management is or how we feel in the present moment. When something happens outside of our control or takes us by surprise, it can trigger a sense of being overwhelmed.

For me, I find that I start breathing very shallowly. Unfortunately, that just triggers a heightened stress response from my body, effectively my breath sending a message that something is way wrong and I can’t deal with it.

I become less focused, zipping from one email to the next, starting and stopping tasks, and firing off breathless overly-detailed IMs. Unless I pay attention to my reaction and manage it, I’m just building up toxic stress and wasting time. 

In short, if I’m feeling overwhelmed because of too much to do and not enough resources, my natural overwhelm reaction just digs me into a deeper hole.

But to be clear, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, with varying causes. We all handle our feelings of overwhelming differently, but what counts is that we learn to recognize those feelings and manage them more effectively.

Find someone to help you feel less alone when you feel overwhelmed. BetterUp coaches can work with you to learn what makes you feel overwhelmed and develop strategies to overcome it.

New call-to-action

Why do you feel overwhelmed?

If you're wondering why you feel so overwhelmed, narrowing down the cause is sometimes difficult. What causes one person to feel overwhelmed might be a normal day for someone else. Overwhelm is kind of personal.

It takes self-awareness to be in tune with our feelings and environment. We need to reflect to find out what causes these negative emotions and build coping strategies that work for us.

A good place to start is by reflecting on your stressors. Feelings of the overwhelming stem from stressors and other stressful situations we experience. And being chronically overwhelmed can lead to burnout or physical symptoms of chronic stress. 

Here are four causes of emotional overwhelm to consider:

1. Too many tasks and responsibilities

We all have many roles and responsibilities in our careers, home life, and more. And when they add up, significantly increase the complexity of daily activities, or consume more time and attention than we feel able to give, we lose our sense of being able to handle them and feel overwhelmed.

Things like picking up a shift from a sick coworker while managing end-of-school activities or having a high-visibility project at work while trying to support a family member might seem like too much.

frustrated-manager-at-restaurant-why-I-am-easily-overwhelmed

2. Life changes

We experience plenty of changes throughout our lives. Sometimes change is exciting and positive, but it might be overwhelming. Moving to a new city, starting a new job, or returning to school are big changes. Adjusting causes us to feel overwhelmed as we learn to cope with our new situations.

3. Traumatic events

Undergoing trauma is always overwhelming, and remembering those traumatic events overwhelms us again. Losing loved ones, being in an accident, or natural disasters are examples of traumatic events.

4. Facing fears

We have fears for a reason. Situations like public speaking, being in large crowds, or driving alone can create a feeling of overwhelming because we think we can’t handle them. Besides, we often try to avoid our fears, so we feel more stressed and less prepared when confronted with them.

businessman-giving-a-presentation-why-I-am-easily-overwhelmed

4 consequences of emotional overwhelm

Being overwhelmed isn't something that you should ignore. The consequences will impact your mental health, physical health, mood, and daily habits. Perhaps you thought you were free once you overcame that moment of overwhelming. But just as stress can have long-term impacts on your health and wellness, so do repeated feelings of overwhelming.

Let's review four consequences of emotional overwhelm:

  1. Difficulty taking care of yourself: When your mind is so focused on what's overwhelming you, you sometimes have trouble taking care of yourself. You could forget things like making a doctor's appointment or practicing self-care.
  2. Lower ability to think rationally: When your fears or stressors take over, you aren't able to process things rationally. They lead to procrastination or seeing something as more complicated than it is.
  3. Negatively impacts your social life: Feeling overwhelmed by things in life might lead to loneliness or social isolation. It prevents you from being social with friends or loved ones.
  4. It makes you feel fatigued: It’s exhausting to be constantly overwhelmed. Being so tense or stressed drains your energy and makes you feel sluggish and unmotivated.

6 mental health issues that can worsen your feelings of overwhelm

senior-man-thinking-why-I-am-easily-overwhelmed

Other co-existing health issues contribute to how overwhelmed we feel. When dealing with overwhelming feelings, we must consider what affects our mood and actions.

Let's take a look at six mental health conditions that either contribute to feelings of overwhelm or make you less able to function effectively under pressure and stress:

  1. Anxiety disorders: An anxiety disorder can cause us to have a panic attack when we feel too overwhelmed. It also contributes to feelings of being on edge, difficulties concentrating on tasks, and sleep problems.
  2. Depression: When we're depressed, we have low energy levels. This worsens our feelings of overwhelm because we don't have the energy or motivation to overcome them. Additionally, we feel pessimistic and helpless while trying to manage our emotions.
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Trauma is one of the main causes of overwhelm, and having PTSD can cause us to re-live and flashback to those traumas. They become a recurring source of stress and overwhelm.
  4. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): With ADHD amplifies our difficulties staying motivated and focused when we're overwhelmed. It causes us to forget deadlines and have poor organizational methods.
  5. Anxious attachment: When we become attached to specific people or routines, we struggle when we're apart from them and begin to feel uncomfortable. Our self-esteem lowers, and our self-doubt rises.
  6. Borderline personality disorder: Borderline personality disorder can influence our mood, values, goals, and behaviors, making us overwhelmed easily. We can even feel disconnected from people and thoughts, like our social lives, which can potentially help us.

If you struggle with any of the above conditions, reach out to a mental health professional for support. They’ll be able to help you navigate the underlying conditions that amplify your feelings of overwhelm and other symptoms.

How to deal with overwhelm at work

Our mental health at work is important to prioritize. A study found that in 2021, around 66% of surveyed Americans talked about their mental health struggles to someone at work within the past year. We have to keep this going. Talking about our mental health at work is how we create change. 

Feeling overwhelmed at work interferes with our productivity, workplace satisfaction, and how much we learn. Just as it's impossible to eliminate all stressors from our lives, it's challenging to learn how to stop being easily overwhelmed altogether. We recommend you develop strategies to reduce the frequency and intensity that you experience being overwhelmed. 

Think of these strategies in two ways. On one hand, you want to take steps to control the tasks, responsibilities, and other demands that pile up on you making you feel overwhelmed. On the other, you want to also get better at managing the emotional and physical reactions that make the experience of overwhelm so stressful and unproductive. 

To start you off, here are five strategies to use in your workplace to reduce how overwhelmed you are:

    1. Learn to say no. If you find it difficult or scary to turn down a request from someone else, even when you know that your plate is too full, make a practice of thinking about the consequences of once again accepting more than you can handle. Disappointing someone by saying no can feel scary, but visualize the alternative of disappointing yourself or others over time as you become too overwhelmed to deliver what you’ve promised.
    2. Stop thinking all-or-nothing. Prioritize your tasks and responsibilities and scale your efforts to match. Not everything needs or deserves your full attention, and often completion is more important than perfection.
    3. Delegate. Ask for help. Just because a task needs to be done doesn’t mean it has to be done by you. Ask if you are the best, or only, a person who can take on the responsibility, ideally before you accept it, but don’t be afraid to renegotiate if you find yourself overwhelmed.  
    4. Set boundaries. As my coach likes to say, “When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.” Before you agree to take on more, pause and give yourself time to consider exactly what you will be saying no to. By doing so you can avoid an unreasonable to-do list and also demonstrate to yourself and others around you what other priorities matter to you.
    5. Commit to integrity for yourself and be honest about your feelings. Sometimes overwhelm is made worse when you are embarrassed or disappointed in yourself for your reaction and inability to “just deal with it.” Denying the validity of your feelings to yourself doesn’t make it better.

And here are 6 more strategies for helping you feel less alone, panicked, or discouraged when you do start to feel overwhelmed. 

  1. Network with other people to gain more knowledge and hear their experiences of overwhelm and stress management.
  2. Know your worth and value to your company and reflect on it to remind yourself.
  3. Try out progressive muscle relaxation techniques when you feel overwhelmed
  4. Practice deep breathing or other mindful breathing exercises to center yourself again
  5. Get regular exercise, try to eat a healthy diet, and spend time with friends or loved ones to manage your stress levels before they’re too high 
  6. Find the humor in the situation. Watch funny videos, seek out more relaxed peers, or share your most absurd failures with friends.

What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?

Some people do experience a feeling of being overwhelmed more often and more easily than others. 

Do you feel all of your emotions much stronger than others? You could be a highly sensitive or deeply empathetic person. And that's not a bad thing. It means that you process the information on a deeper level than others. You notice the little details and care more about what you're doing.

Research shows that about 20% of people have highly sensitive brains.

Because your brain is more aware of yourself and what's around you, feelings of overwhelm are more common. You're also strongly affected by the moods and responses of other people. If you're mostly around optimistic people, you'll feed off their energy. The same goes for pessimistic people and their negative energy. 

girl-working-on-laptop-why-I-am-easily-overwhelmed

Being a highly sensitive person doesn't mean you can't handle things the same as others. It means you must be aware of your values and feelings and learn coping strategies to guide you. Whatever causes your feelings of overwhelm, it's always possible to manage them.

Learn to control overwhelm so it doesn’t control you

Next time you find yourself asking, “Why am I so easily overwhelmed,” hopefully you won’t spend so much time doubting yourself. Overwhelming is a natural reaction, and beating yourself up about it doesn’t help. Instead, with your new understanding, we hope you’ll be motivated to keep working on your stress management techniques.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation methods, learning to question your inner critic and let go of perfectionism, as well as practicing the simple act of saying “no” can all help you develop a new relationship with your overwhelm. 

Sometimes you need extra help. A coach can help you learn strategies for dealing with your feelings of overwhelm and develop better strategies for setting priorities and maintaining boundaries so that you can live a more meaningful and purposeful life.

If an anxiety disorder or PTSD is contributing to frequent overwhelm, a mental health professional can provide the help you need. A therapist can help you see patterns and prioritize your psychological safety or talk through issues that other family members and friends can't help with.

Learning about why you feel overwhelmed is a great first step. But your next step could be to seek help with your journey of coping with feelings of overwhelm and stressful situations in your life.

To level up, you need to understand that receiving help along the way just shows how dedicated and determined you are to overcome your challenges.

New call-to-action

Published August 3, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

Read Next

Customer Stories
1 min read | March 1, 2021

Member Story: Setting boundaries for maximum productivity and satisfaction

I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of work on my time and it was negatively impacting my personal life and overall happiness. Read More
Well-being
13 min read | August 12, 2021

Holistic wellness is a real thing. Here's why you need it.

Does talking about holistic wellness make you feel silly? It’s a thing, we promise. Learn the 7 components and their importance for overall health. Read More
Well-being
17 min read | March 2, 2022

Calm your anxiety with this guide to help you cope

Feeling worried? You’re not alone. Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, and this guide can help you calm your anxiety. Read More
Professional Development
12 min read | May 6, 2022

Stop feeling so anxious about your new job with these 10 tips

The new job jitters can feel overwhelming. Learn how new job anxiety is normal, and how you can become more confident at work in no time. Read More
Well-being
14 min read | August 19, 2022

Distress versus eustress: Learn all about the different types of stress

Learn the difference and similarities between distress vs eustress. Plus, explore the signs of both types of stress, and how to prevent overwhelming distress. Read More
Research & Insights
3 min read | September 28, 2022

Unpredictability? Workplace difficulties? It all means growth

When we face difficult situations, it can feel overwhelming. The silver lining is that with every difficult situation we navigate, our resilience grows. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.