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Overwhelm - How can you spot it and 5 steps to help

Overwhelm can describe the feeling we have when we have been working beyond our capacity for some time and we are struggling to cope. It is our body's way of trying to tell us that we really need to take stock and that something needs to change.

How can you spot it?

Overwhelm can turn up in the body in many different ways and for each person it will present differently. Your body's fight or flight response has been on a long time and it has reached the point where it is slightly confused and exhausted as it cannot get a break from the stressor(s) or even pin point what they are.


  • Fatigue that doesn't necessarily disappear after you have had a rest - you find you only have the energy to do what is necessary

  • You have aches and pains that you previously did not

  • Your joints can hurt

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Your appetite can fluctuate - you may find you are hungry all the time (usually because you are tired and feel food gives you energy) or you have lost your hungry (you just cannot be bothered as you feel washed out).

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • You may also find you are reaching for not just foods for energy but drinks such as coffee or energy drinks to boost you but these may only last a short time until you feel tired again

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep

  • Despite the feeling of tiredness you may also feel slightly wire

  • Ladies you may notice that your PMT is worse on a month where you are feeling overwhelmed

  • A loss of libido

  • You may get heart palpitations or panic attacks

  • You may be getting sick more often or not recovering as quickly as you normally would


  • It is hard to retain and recall information

  • You can feel disorganized despite your best efforts

  • The feeling of something else being added to your to do list is just to much

  • You may experience anxiety and depression or other mood fluctuations

  • You may find having to concentrate and focus causes frustration

  • The need to have everything super organized or tidy (so that you feel you have more control), mess in your space an increase mental anxiety

  • You may find you dont notice mess around you and it doesn't affect you, or you just cannot be bothered cleaning it up (especially if you normally do pick up bits and pieces and are tidy). This can be due to exhaustion, disconnection or simply not enough time.


  • You may feel more emotional than usual

  • You may find you cry easily

  • You may react with irritation and anger for situations that you wouldn't previously

  • You may emotional outbursts that you would not normally have

  • You mind you feel numb or disconnected

If you are able to tick off quite a few of these, then it is quite likely you are, currently, in a state of overwhelm.

5 Steps to help you

  1. Breaking it down

Logic isn't always easy when you feel overwhelmed, however you may find that breaking your life down in the areas that you have to cope with can help you spot the areas where you are overwhelmed and see where you can make changes to the way things are done so that you can cope better.

For example:


Housework should not be the responsibility of just one person within your home, unless that person is a paid cleaner. Delegate jobs and tasks where you can. This can be hard when children are young but if they are older then it is wonderful life skills you are teaching them. Do what household tasks you find important to the running of your home

For example: The kitchen can be a busy area of the house - having done your dishes the night before will mean you wake up to a clean and easy to use space the next morning, allowing making breakfasts & lunches flow a lot easier (and with less stress).

A white board, calendar or both can be helpful for remembering important events and tasks. It also allows others in the house to know what is also going on.

You can look at other areas of your life and see if you can make things work more efficiently, which can help with increasing feelings of accomplishment without it being overwhelming.

2. Talk with someone you trust

Talking with someone can range from booking in to see a councilor to having coffee with a friend. Having space to be heard is a type of healing all on its own.

3. Check your basics: Are you feeding yourself properly, hydrating yourself and making sure you are exercising or moving and resting properly?

These are things that your body needs to function properly - if any of these are missing then your body will struggle. When we feel overwhelmed it is easy to let these things slip and can add to feeling awful.

4. Breathing and Mindfulness

I can hear you - "But I'm am overwhelm and busy, where am I gonna fit this in?!"

I truly understand.

Breathing is a highly underrated human function and many of us forget to breathe properly when we are stressed and overwhelmed. Making sure you take 5-10mins each day to focus on your breathe and deep breathe from your tummy will help to trigger your para-sympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your nervous system that is responsible for relaxation, rest and digestion. Deep breathing will help you to feel calm.

The practice of mindfulness is like a type of meditation and is about awareness of the self. Take 5-10mins to sit and be aware of yourself and your body. You may notice thoughts and emotions that come up. Sometimes we can be so busy that we dont take stock of what our needs are - this practice can help you do that.

If you look at your day, you will have an opportunity to do this and the benefits are worth it.

5. Plant Medicines - Adaptogens

Adaptogens can help to bring balance and calm back to the body. They are herbs that support the body's various different systems to cope with stress, reducing feelings of overwhelm.

For example

Ashwaganda is a herb that is being used as the new stress herb and with good reason. It does help the body's resistance to stress as an adaptogen. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body so reducing pain, helps with supporting your immune system and helps reduce anemia. It is a gentle adaptogen

There are other adaptogen herbs that are much more stimulating such as the ginsengs or Rhodiola and they help with promoting energy which increasing resistance to stress. There are others still, such as Bacopa, that help with concentration and memory as well as reducing feelings of stress.

Additionally - Adaptogens can help with getting a better nights sleep. As your body is able to function much more calmly through the day, you will find in the evening you are able to rest and relax, linking in with your parasympathic nervous system, making sleep much easier to achieve.

Seeing a herbalist or naturopath will ensure that you are able to purchase practitioner quality herbs, which will be effective. They will also be able to assess which herbs will be of most benefit to you depending on what symptoms of overwhelm you have.

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