By Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

January 20, 2022

Hi there,

So the other day, I decided to look up the word overwhelm. Did you know that Webster has 3 separate definitions for overwhelm? Kind of ironic….they couldn’t decide on just one. So here they are:


Definition of Overwhelm:

  1. To affect (someone) very strongly
  2. To cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with
  3. To defeat (someone or something) completely

Seems accurate. All of us use this word pretty loosely these days (even kids). Because the reality is that this pandemic which initially slowed us down has now left many of us feeling overwhelmed and even hopeless sometimes. 

So many things have changed, yet so many things have stayed the same. Maybe it is only our perspective that has changed. Same problem, different lens. Whatever it is, the surveys are showing that we are overwhelmed and anxious, and this includes our kids and teens. 

So what can we do about it? I decided to go and look at some strategies recommended by psychologists on helping clients handle overwhelm and anxiety that have helped others in similar situations. 

Many times in the office, kids and teens (their parents too) came in feeling overwhelmed and anxious which then often lead to poor performance in school, work, and physical symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, eating, headaches, stomach aches, etc. It’s not surprising that this happens. Our minds are powerful and whether a threat is life or death or an eternal to-do list, it reacts the same. It panics. Panic leads to feelings of overwhelm and the whole cycle starts again. 

Getting in to see a psychologist these days is close to impossible. They are over-booked, often not covered by insurance and more and more people are needing their services. So if you’re looking for one or one for someone you love, in the meantime there are things we can do to lessen these feelings. 

6 Ways to Lessen Feelings of Overwhelm

  1. Decrease Clutter – Before you start feeling overwhelmed about decluttering, hear me out. Just start small. A small accomplishment, such as a sock drawer, a cluttered desk, a messy car, can help you begin to feel like you accomplished something and will make it easier for you to focus on something more important.
  2. Create an “Everything to-do List” – This list should be a mental dump of everything that is taking up space in your brain. I mean everything. If it’s taking up space in your brain it belongs on this list. So if you’re one of those people that keeps their to-do list either in their head, on post-it notes or even cocktail napkins, it’s time to consolidate it. (Do this once a week at least)
  3. Prioritize – Divide your to-do list into MUST DO and CAN DO. Once a week (You pick the day) you sit down and look at your list and plan for the week ahead. Take a look at your calendar and write in when you will do your MUST DOs. These are the non-negotiables. Then each DAY, take a look at your can do’s and see if you can fit in one or two of those. (And cross them off- my favorite part 🙂
  4. Jot down thoughts – One of the reasons we feel overwhelmed is that when we remember something that we had forgotten, all of a sudden all of our attention shifts to that right in the middle of when we were trying to finish something else. So keep a post it note or use the notes in your phone to write down thoughts as they come and then go back to the task at hand. Moving from task to task will always take longer and leave you feeling like you can never really finish anything. (Sound familiar?) – then write them on your main to do list later that day.
  5. Allow room for the unexpected – $*&# Happens. It just does. That’s life. Things are going to happen that are just, well, inconvenient. They demand your full attention when you have a full to-do list already. Fighting this isn’t going to make it go away so we just have to do what we need to do and do our best. Understand that this is life. It’s not a perfectly planned life with a perfectly planned schedule. It’s a perfectly imperfect mess that is called your life. 
  6. Give YOURSELF attention – Sometimes your body is trying so hard for you to pay attention to it. This might be in the form of a headache, aches and pains, even a skin rash. Your body is like, “hey, look at me! What about me???” So, are you listening? Take some time to really listen to your body and what it and YOU need. Nourish yourself with things that help you feel stronger and happier, not worse and worse. (the toxic relationship, the crazy diets, the lack of sleep, etc) Choose yourself first. This isn’t selfish. It’s essential and it will be the only way for you to be able to fully show up for those you love. 

So think about these 5…maybe you have more (if you do I’d love to hear them!) and think about your kids. Your kids are watching you “overwhelmed”. They too are feeling overwhelmed.(are they saying it? – pay attention)  Let’s work together at helping each other to feel less overwhelmed and it has to begin with YOU.

I would love to hear about ways that you are dealing with feelings of overwhelm, as I am a firm believer in learning from others. Please like and share with someone you think would like this post too.

Have a wonderful week!

Take care,

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

Thanks for being here

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