12 Coping Tactics to Address and Conquer Overwhelm


When you’re feeling stressed, taking a step back to reassess the situation can provide clarity for your next step forward.

From the demand that all tasks be handled in a timely manner to the pressure that comes from needing to constantly communicate with stakeholders, a job can often add a significant level of stress to a professional’s life.

Relieving this burden is essential, but the challenge is not getting overwhelmed and confused about how to get everything done with a growing list of tasks that need your attention. To help, a panel of Newsweek Expert Forum members each share one coping tactic to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and life.

1. Step Away to Clear Your Mind

Step away from the computer. I find that most stressors are a result of information overload from emails, Slack, social media alerts and more. It’s also difficult to interpret tone or emotion when someone is saying something to you. They may be saying it in a friendly tone, while you could interpret it in a hostile tone. Ultimately, getting away from the computer is the best way to clear your mind.

2. Focus on What You Can Control

Move away from the situation, physically or mentally, and repeat this statement while taking three deep breaths: “I will focus on what I can control and release the rest.” With a clear and calm mind, reassess the situation and determine your next best step.

3. Make a List of Priorities

I create a priority list of items to complete and then focus on moving through that list. When I complete that list, I move on to the next list. By focusing my energy on the most important tasks to accomplish, I’m able to overcome the overwhelm.

4. Exercise

My go-to coping tactic when feeling stressed or overwhelmed is to exercise. Exercise allows me to think more clearly and better analyze the issues that are causing me stress. If I am in a business setting, I stand up and stretch or go outside for fresh air.

5. Get Tasks Out of Your Head and on Paper

There are so many options, but movement of any kind is my first choice. Then, writing down the five most important things to focus on gets them out of my head to a place where I can see them. Holding things inside always makes them seem bigger!

6. Find an Easy Win

Find one thing on your to-do list that can be accomplished quickly but that you have been avoiding and just tackle it. In less than five minutes, you will have something done on your to-do list that has been stressing you out and you will create a bit of momentum for yourself both practically and emotionally.

7. Determine Whether Your Desired Outcome Is Possible

Find a private spot. If all you can find is a bathroom stall, that will do. Put your feet flat on the floor. Take a breath that fills your belly, then exhale to the point where you believe you can feel your diaphragm. Rinse and repeat. Then picture your desired outcome of the experience in which you are overwhelmed. Take five minutes to make a plan. If it’s not within your control, let it go.

8. Practice Acceptance

Too often we get emotional because of our expectations. As a solution-oriented leader, it is important to accept things as they are and seek strategies to change situations into what you want them to be. If you don’t have the power to change the situation, it’s probably not something that you should be stressed out about.

9. Focus Your Thoughts

Overwhelming feelings are not based on our actual capacity to be successful in our work or life, but rather on our emotional fight, flight or freeze response in the brain. Taking five minutes to prioritize your top 10 tasks and immediately taking action, without pausing, reduces these feelings fairly quickly. Your brain can only focus on one thought at a time, so give it the right thought to focus on.

10. Take a Break to Refocus

Stop. Shut off all your devices, turn away from your screens and stop talking. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit still or walk slowly. Put your hands on your belly and feel your palms as they move with your breath. When you get caught in a story, worry or memory, bring your attention back to your palms and your breath. Don’t stop until you hear the timer. Repeat as necessary.

11. Connect With A Support System

The remedy for being overwhelmed is connection. Make it a priority to maintain contact with your support system, be it a workmate, your child or a therapist. This could even involve spending time with a trusted friend. Being with others and among feelings of trust, safety and comfort lowers the body’s stress-related responses. If you are on your own, try a phone call.

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