How to Recognise Overwhelm

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overwhelm‘Feeling overwhelmed’ is a term that gets bandied around all over the place these days.  In this fast paced world there’s always some pressure from somewhere for us to do more, be more, make more deadlines.  There can be professional and personal pressure.

But what does being overwhelmed mean, really?

When I ask people to explain what they mean they say things like this:

“I can’t cope with everything.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“ I feel swamped, it’s too busy.”

The trouble with ‘feeling overwhelmed’ is that by the time you realise you are, it’s taken hold. And it’s much harder (certainly not impossible, but harder) to get yourself out of that state once you’re in its grip.

The key to keeping overwhelm in your control rather than the other way around is spotting the early warning signs. Knowing what your unique indicators are and listening to them.

Recognising the Signs of Overwhelm

 All I want you to do for now is this. Think back to a time when you felt overwhelmed. What did that look like for you? Be like a scientist for a moment: investigate and observe.

How does overwhelm…

Show up in your body?

How does your body respond to overwhelm? Do you find your heart starts to race? Maybe you tense up around the shoulders, or find yourself gripping your hands in fists. Or maybe you get digestive or skin complaints.

Do you feel tired or over-stimulated?

Sound in your mind?

What voices are in your head and what are they telling you? What words do you use and reinforce when you’re feeling overwhelmed? For many of us, we tell ourselves that we’re in too deep, that we can’t cope, that we just don’t know what to do next, that we’re incompetent or stupid for feeling like this.

That we should know and do better. We can be really harsh to ourselves when we’re overwhelmed.


What emotions do you associate with overwhelm? Panic? Confusion? Dread? Lonely because no-one else is feeling like this? Wanting to dive under the duvet and disappear until it all goes away? Wanting to stay up all night and deal with everything so it’s all gone?

All I want you to do for now is to notice. Remember how overwhelm has shown up in the past, and notice whether it’s creeping up on you now.

Noticing gives you enormous power because it lets you choose how you respond – you get to choose what you do next.


Next time on the blog I’ll go into detail about developing your own personal strategies for kindly telling overwhelm to sod off. But for now, as soon as you see it coming for you, notice it. That’ll slow it down, without doing anything else.

And give yourself the luxury of three deep breaths. That’ll slow it even more. It will give you space to see where it’s creeping in, how it’s trying to take root and it’ll give you the chance to say:

“No thanks. Not today. Let’s do this another way.”


If you want to talk to me about how I can help with your overwhelm then book a free call with me here.


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