How to deal with feeling overwhelmed?

University of Leeds
3 min readAug 18, 2022

Seminars, lectures, essays, group projects, work and other tasks can be a lot. From time to time, it may feel like it’s too much. Sometimes you can react to that with an attempt to do everything at once in a panic. Other times it can block you and make you feel helpless. You may feel like there’s no point in starting because you won’t be able to do all of it anyway. But you can take steps to deal with these feelings and the sense of losing control. You can learn how to take power back to fight to overwhelm. Below you can find a printable worksheet to help you with the process.

1. The first step to do it is making a list of tasks and things that make you feel overwhelmed. The simple act of writing these things down can make you feel like you have more control over them because they have a form and structure. It is easier to manage something tangible rather than abstract thoughts.

2. After making your list, divide the tasks into four groups: urgent and important, and non-important. The ‘urgent and important’ group could be further divided into three categories: let’s call them hares, elephants and cats.

a.Hares are tasks that are urgent and important but won’t take more than 15 minutes.

b. Elephants are also urgent and important, but they are also time-consuming and require additional resources such as the ability to focus.

c. Cats are tasks that are important but aren’t that urgent like all of the other tasks on your list, so you can do them after you feel less overwhelmed and ready to take care of other things in your life. However, you need to be mindful about what you put on this list. We often decide that things related to building relationships are important but not urgent. For instance, we would reschedule a meeting with friends. We know that our friends will be there for us later, but we can’t reschedule this sort of thing forever as it can cause more stress by creating relationship issues. Moreover, making some time for nurturing your relationship can help you feel better.

A detail of a person writing in a notebook.

3. It’s time for action. You can try working in intervals. First, give yourself 15 minutes to tackle as many hare tasks as possible to decrease the number of things on your to-do list as soon as possible. Next, spend 40 minutes on one of your elephant tasks. Likely, you won’t be able to do the whole elephant task this time, but try to do something that will move you forward on the way to accomplishing it. After that time, take 5 minutes break. It’s essential to change your environment during your break. You can go to a different room or go outside. Repeat these steps until you feel less overwhelmed. If you feel like you don’t have any tasks, you could do them in 15 minutes or less but only ‘elephant’ tasks; you could break these tasks into small steps and do them in your 15 mins time blocks.

4. What about things marked as non-important? Some of them seem urgent, but some of them probably are non-important and non-urgent. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry about them now. However, sometimes it isn’t easy to do it, for example, if you feel like it’s something you should do for someone else. You could create a separate list for tasks like that and tackle these tasks when you stop feeling overwhelmed. If you have a possibility, you can also delegate these tasks to someone else. But the key question to ask yourself is why you want to do tasks that you regard as non-important in the first place?

We hope that this simple method to deal with feeling overwhelmed will be helpful for you, and you will be able to take more control over your life.

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