We all feel overwhelmed sometimes and need help getting out of our own way. Here's 14 things I try to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed that help calm me down, refocus my attention, and get me feeling better about life. What works for you?

Feeling a bit overwhelmed

Three more sleeps until two full weeks off, and good lord, I need it, because I am a bit overwhelmed. Wrapping up a long and hectic year at work, finishing up holiday preparations, and just life in general in these Covid times have me wanting to hide.

What overwhelms us differs for each of us, and we all respond to feeling overwhelmed in our own unique fashion. My natural response is to utter some choice curse words and curl up on my couch with a blanket, bad TV, and snacks. The world can just eat it. I’m having Couch Time.

Couch Time can be helpful, but too much of it is not

Sometimes a brief respite of sloth makes sense. We have days where the only good response is bad TV and takeout. I think that’s fine, and even healthy, once in a while. The problem for me comes with the seductiveness of hiding from the world. I like it.

Once I start Couch Time, it can be hard to stop.  And then things pile up even more, leaving me even more overwhelmed than when I started.

Ollie hiding on the couch, feeling overwhelmed
This is what Ollie does when I make the bed. When I get overwhelmed, I feel like joining him

My gab bag of tricks to help me when I’m overwhelmed

In order to avoid that spiral, I have over the years developed a little grab bag of tricks. Sometimes they help me avoid Couch Time altogether, and other times, they get me up off the couch. They’re little things. Movement, a task that produces a tangible result. Or activities with a time limit. Or breaking something down into small enough pieces that I can actually handle it.

These do not replace therapy

This grab bag of activities is not meant as an alternative for therapy and medication, if you need it. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or other issues, please get help. If you aren’t sure, please seek out help anyway. I have that kind of help when I need it, too.

Pink Clouds


14 things I do to help me when I’m overwhelmed

These 14 things help me, and, if you find yourself feeling a bit like hiding, they might help you. Some of these will be familiar to longtime readers, as I’ve written about them in different contexts before, but others are new. I’d love to hear what works for you when you feel this way. Let’s make ourselves a giant bag of tricks.

1. Get moving

Let’s make ourselves some endorphins, that magic little hormone that gets us feeling better. There’s a whole bunch of ways to get moving. Here are a few ways to get moving

  • Take a walk (or a run, if that’s your thing)
  • Do some Yoga
  • Put on some music, and have yourself a living room dance party
  • Clean—this one’s a double whammy of help in that it’s movement AND an activity tangible result. More on cleaning below

2. Get clean

We’ve all had really good ideas in the shower. Sometimes those ideas help us to get out of the mess we’re in. Mostly, though, getting ourselves clean refreshes us, and helps us to move forward.

3. Meditate and breathe

Stop. Breathe. Focus on where you are right now. Taking a few moments with a guided meditation can help us get back to the present moment. With a clear mind, we’re better equipped to face our worlds. Personally, I have had the Headspace app for years. I don’t always meditate—it’s something I wish I was better at and made more time for—but I find it a huge help in times of trouble.

4. Do Nothing

This is a big one for me. My daily ritual of allowing myself to just stop and not distract myself with TV or anything else, I grow calmer. Often, this is enough. If you haven’t tried it before, my post on Doing Nothing from last December is a good place to start. Set yourself a timer, and let yourself just be for a few minutes.

5. Do something for someone else

Sometimes the best way to not get all caught up in our own problems is to help someone else. Or just show some everyday kindness to someone.

6. Clean

I mentioned this above, but it deserves its own section. Cleaning produces a tangible result, and sometimes just seeing a bit of improvement in our environment is enough to get ourselves feeling in control. Do the dishes. Make the bed. Clean the loo. Pick a task, take a deep breath, and do it.

Cleaning can be seductive, too. Let’s try to avoid taking a toothbrush to the crevices of our floor at three in the morning (I had an old roommate who would do this) as a surrogate for too much Couch Time.

Think Small

The idea here isn't to tackle all of our problems. These are activities designed to provide a quick change of focus and a sense of control and accomplishment.

7. Write it down

Yesterday, I used my writing time to just blurt out all the crap that had me feeling overwhelmed. I don’t normally use that time for such things, but, since I wasn’t going to be doing anything productive, I figured that I may as well get it all out.

I wrote about all the work I have to do to get ready for the next phase of a big project. How I’m not really ready for the holidays (I still need to send my cards! Eep!). That pile of recycling that I need to get out the door. How I was late with my posts last weekend. How I still need to be doing more Yoga. My student loans shot up another $150 a month (I’m not one of the people who got a break from payments). I’m going to be 50 soon. My jeans are tight.  Omicron or whatever the hell it’s called. Antarticas glaciers are falling into the sea and the Jet Stream is off kilter. And. And. And.

As far as a piece of writing goes, complete and utter crap. However, I felt better. At least I could see all of it. And that helped me to get a handle on it.

8. Make a plan

Similar to writing things down, sometimes getting a plan together helps. I’m a project manager by day, so making plans comes naturally to me. I also like to use technology to help solve problems, so I use Trello and my Google Calendar to help make routine tasks manageable.

Break things down to make them manageable (and get them out of your head)

The idea is to cut down on how much mental resources I’m using to keep all my plates spinning. For complex tasks, I use Trello to break things down into manageable pieces (also, check marks = satisfaction). And for things I need to remember to do, I use my Google Calendar, because it’s always with me.

Maybe plan a vacation!

Plans can be escape plans, too. Maybe plan a vacation, or some kind of adventure. Sometimes just knowing that something fun is off in the future can really help.

Like other items on this list, planning has its seductions. Making a plan is not the same as executing a plan, even though it feels like it sometimes. And overly complex plans are not achievable, so keep things simple and flexible (and don’t go too far out into the future).

Think Fun

A lot of the activities on here are fun. If we give ourselves a little bit of pleasure, the world can stop feeling so bleak.

9. Do one small thing on that list that’s freaking you out so much

Is there one little thing on your Big List of AAAAIEEE that you could do, right now? Something small that moves the needle just enough to give you a little hope? Sometimes the answer to that is no, but oftentimes, there’s a little thing. Just a little thing. That if you just got on with it and did it, the rest would not seem so AAAAIEEEEE.

10. Cook something

Like cleaning, cooking produces a result (though, in true meta [curse Mark Zuckerberg for ruining that word] fashion, also produces dishes to clean). You take some ingredients, perform some steps, and you get something (hopefully) delicious to eat. There’s a method to it, and, while it can produce its own unique stress, it can also take our minds off our problems like no one’s business.

It can take a little doing to get myself into the kitchen when I’m feeling overwhelmed (takeout being a key component of Couch Time), but the rewards are worth it.

11. Get crafty

This one is not an oft-used trick for me, but I do enjoy it when I do it. Something as simple as coloring can really help when we’re feeling stressed. Knit, paint, make some glittery macaroni art, doesn’t matter. You can produce a result and focus on Something Else.

12. Take a break from the news

You know what won’t help? The news. Give yourself permission to step away from the doomscrolling. You have enough on your plate, and you aren’t helping anyone by adding to it with the stress that the news brings on our best days.

13. Reach out to a friend

We’re there for our friends when they are having a day. And we reach out to them when we need a little perspective, or someone to just vent to. We don’t need to be alone with our AIEEEE. Let’s take care that we’re not using our friends in lieu of therapy, but reach out when we need a little love in our lives.

14. Take a nap

Sometimes, a little sleep improves our outlook. Set a timer for 20 minutes, lie down, and take a nap. Twenty minutes is enough to get some actual rest, but not long enough to leave us feeling groggy.

Think Relaxing

Taking a bath, or a short nap, or even a walk can be relaxing. Calming our minds helps us to come back to our lives and be able to handle things.

What works for you?

We all feel overwhelmed sometimes and just need a little something to help us get out of our own way. The above work for me? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!