What to Do When Life Feels Overwhelming | 12 Tricks to Find Peace in the Midst of Chaos

What to Do When Life Feels Overwhelming | 12 Tricks to Find Peace in the Midst of Chaos

Are you feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? After adding up your hours at work, home, kids’ activities, errands, and other obligations, you might just consider crawling back into bed. What can you do when life feels overwhelming? I’ve personally found I have two options.

My first option is to crawl back into bed. I deal with life as it happens, battle constant anxiety and exhaustion, and never quite feel on top of…well, anything. I’ve taken this approach several times, but hated how it left me simply surviving each day.

My second option is to take action. Some days I take 317 actions at once, backed by double shots of espresso. Other days, I crawl through just one simple action that inches me closer to peace.

I’ve found that when I go with the second choice, taking action, I feel more in control of the chaos, even when I’m not. I’m more centered and at peace, and less rocked by stressful events.

So what kind of actions have I taken to find peace when life feels overwhelming? I’m glad you asked! 

Prioritize When Life Feels Overwhelming

  • Get real about your priorities. First things first, you have to determine what’s most important to you. Is it spending quality time with your family? Climbing the corporate ladder? Reaching your goal weight? You’ll likely have multiple priorities. Take a moment to list every priority you can think of, jotting them down as they come to mind. Now review the list you created, decide which three priorities are most important to you, and list them in order from most important to least. We’d all love to conquer our entire list of priorities. But when life feels overwhelming, it’s much more practical to focus on our top three, at least until things slow down again. Keep these priorities at the forefront of your mind. Because if your family is #1 on the list and your business is #3, then you’ll know that your time will be better spent nurturing those relationships over logging more hours at the office.
  • Write it down. You know what’s even more mentally taxing than having a long to-do list? Having to constantly remember and keep track of that list! I write down ev-er-y-thing that comes to mind in the notes app on my phone, along with the day of the week I need to knock it out, if applicable. Then I can stop running through the list in my head, because I know it’s written somewhere that I won’t forget about it.
  • Ruthlessly cut down your to-do list. Yes, you’d probably love to have the time and energy to do all of the things currently on your plate. But you don’t. Not now, at least. So take a hard look at your to-do list and ask yourself if every activity is absolutely necessary. Is it essential that you knock out that home project right now? Or volunteer to head up your daughter’s preschool event? If it’s not 110% necessary, and/or doesn’t line up with the priorities you set above, check it off the list. You can always come back to it when life slows down a little.
  • Take your first bite of elephant. Now that you’ve narrowed down your to-do list, how should you approach the remaining items? Desmond Tutu once said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Your best bet is to prioritize your list and then start at the top, remembering that slow progress is still progress. Some days you’ll knock out a huge chunk of work and other days you’ll have only 15 minutes to log toward your goal. But regardless of how much or how little you accomplish each day, you’ll be one step closer to checking that item off your list. And the more you knock out towards a goal, the more capable and on top of things you’ll feel.

Make a (Forgiving) Plan When Life Feels Overwhelming

  • Start your day with a plan. Don’t allow your day to happen to you. Happen to your day. Take five minutes every morning to jot down everything you need and want to accomplish that day. Just going into the day with a plan will help you to feel more in control and at peace.
  • …but learn to be okay with not reaching those daily goals. I’ve started some days with boatloads of energy, ready and fully intending to punch 10 items off my to-do list. But then life would throw a curveball…and I wouldn’t accomplish any of those goals. I used to allow those days to stress and overwhelm me. Today, I think about them differently. I consider falling short of daily goals an inevitable part of life. After all, who would have imagined my daughter would wake up puking? Or that my boss would have made that last-minute ask? Life is unpredictable, making my personal plans unpredictable at times as well. I’ve learned to let go of how I wanted things to go, and to focus on how things did go, and how best to move forward from there.
  • Remember that you don’t have to pack every minute of your day with activity. I recently experienced a miraculous clearing in traffic on my commute to work, and pulled into the parking lot with 25 extra minutes to spare. As I began to gather my things to run inside to write or maybe finalize plans for my daughter’s birthday, I decided instead to take the morning off. And so, in the middle of a quiet parking lot, I simply sat in my car and watched an interview on my phone. I laughed and laughed again, deep belly laughs, and kept laughing at random points throughout my morning as I remembered things said. No, I didn’t check another item off my list in those 25 minutes. And I certainly didn’t accomplish anything worthy of a #girlboss status. I simply gave something I sincerely enjoyed my full attention for a few minutes. And to be honest? It was the most refreshing 25 minutes of my entire week. We all have a lot on our plates, and it’s okay if we don’t utilize every second to accomplish a task. Don’t allow false guilt to trick you into believing otherwise. Slow down once in a while. Rest. Refresh. Reset. The rest of your day will still be there when you’re done.

Take Control Back From Others When Life Feels Overwhelming

  • Remember that you can’t please everyone all the time, and stop trying. All you can do is your best. How others respond to your best is on them. A true friend will recognize your state of overwhelm and not only accept your best efforts, but also ask how they can help.
  • Practice saying no. You are human, with limited time, energy, and resources. Remember that every thing you say yes to, means saying no to something else. I’ve had to turn down what would otherwise be fun events (meals out, happy hours, etc.) because they would take away from the time I really needed to catch up on bills, spend quality time with my spouse, or heck, just sit down to do nothing for an hour or two. Don’t allow your desire to please others’ wishes steal time you could otherwise use to lighten your load.

Practice Healthy Thinking When Life Feels Overwhelming

  • Let go of what you thought your life would be like. We all start out with such incredible plans, don’t we? I was going to become a youth pastor, marry a handsome Spanish-speaking man, and move to Mexico. Then life happened, and I was going to live out my years on the East coast, selling my car to take the train everywhere, and becoming an invaluable resource in the health and exercise field. Then…life. Rather than holding tight to your original plans, and living in eternal disappointment, throw away what you thought you knew. Accept what’s right now, right in front of you, and make a new plan to move forward from right there.
  • Practice mindfulness. Now notice earlier that I didn’t sit in my car mindlessly scrolling social media feeds, or half watching the interview, half listening to the radio. Dedicating only half of our attention to whatever we’re doing (1) makes us less efficient at knocking out work and (2) leaves us less than refreshed when we do get the chance for a short breather. So focus on just one activity at a time, and try your best to give it your full attention. You’ll find yourself knocking out your to-do list and relaxing and refreshing much more effectively. (Check out our post, How to Be More Mindful | 8 Secrets to Experiencing Life Instead of Surviving It, for some practical tips!)
  • Focus on the positives. This is easier said than done, but is often the key determining factor of someone’s success or failure when their life feels overwhelming. Science has found that the more you focus on and think about something, the more likely your brain is to default to that way of thinking. So if you’re always seeking out the negative in every situation, you’ll get better and better at finding it. Alternately, if you’re always seeking out the positives, you’ll begin to see the world in a better light. (I use this technique to begin every day with optimism!)

Wrap It Up

There are so many things you can do to find peace when life feels overwhelming! When you set your priorities, make a plan, let go of others’ opinions and what you thought your life would be like, and live more mindfully, you can feel centered and at peace even when your world is not.

What tricks have helped you when life feels overwhelming? Be sure to share in the comments!

A Practical Guide to Stress | 17 Tricks to Take Control of Stress Today

P.S. Need a little help managing stress? Download our free guide to help you develop a game-changing stress management plan here!

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