Here’s what triggers feeling overwhelmed – and how you can reduce stress


Do you often get stressed and overwhelmed? Do you wonder why your life always gets so busy? Do you want to know how you can reduce your level of stress?

In order to address all these questions, we first need to understand what triggers feeling overwhelmed – because once you know the enemy you can defeat this enemy.

I have found that it all comes down to three problems, or behaviors, that we express that make our lives busy and stressful. Let’s discuss each one of them and see what can be done about it.

Why do I get overwhelmed?

1 – You don’t know your capacity

You don’t know how many resources you have, how much capacity you have. So whenever something new comes up and you need to decide whether to take it on, you cannot properly judge whether you can actually accommodate it.

It can happen in two different ways:

Things take longer than we think

First, you might be simply underestimating how much time this specific thing will take. So you think that it’s small and easy and that you’ll be able to fit it in.

I remember a few months ago I was struggling to keep up with my weekly Breverie routines, such as social media, podcast editing, podcast recording, or blog post writing. I had an idea in my mind that these things would take roughly a couple hours a week, and I didn’t understand why every week I really struggled to get it done.

I thought to myself, “It’s only a couple of hours, so there should not be a problem fitting it all in.”

But I continuously struggled.

So one day I decided to actually write down each and every aspect of each and every task and to map how much time it really takes. And I was blown away by the results! I ended up looking at the spreadsheet that had a total of 6 hours instead of 2 hours that I thought it would take.

For example, with podcast production, recording itself is maybe 20 to 25 minutes, but then you need to add the time for script creation, editing, publishing, show notes writing. And while each of these tasks is not very time consuming, when you add them all up it actually becomes much more than you would think.

It really helped me and was really eye-opening when I wrote it down because it helped me realize why I was struggling so much – I was trying to squeeze in 6 hours worth of work in the 2-hour window, and it’s simply not possible.

So one way you can understand how much capacity you really have is by writing down all your daily routines and specifying the exact time it takes to complete them. Then you can do the math and understand how much time you have left for anything else (if any).

“But my resources are unlimited!”

You wish that was true, but it isn’t.

You might feel like you have unlimited resources and unlimited capacity because every little thing that comes your way is small, it doesn’t seem significant, and you feel like you can take it on. So you keep adding, and adding, and adding…

I’m sure you know a story about the boiling frog.

It’s about the frog that was thrown in the cold water, and then the water began to boil slowly. And because it was happening slowly, the frog didn’t notice and was boiled to death.

Slowly is key here. Because if that frog had been thrown in the water that was already boiling, it would’ve immediately jumped out. But when things change slowly, you are not able to recognize when it gets too much.

So, coming back to overloading yourself with tasks, while every task by itself is doable, when you add too many of them at once, you “boil”. And it is really hard to tell when exactly that happens, that’s why you have to be really careful about adding anything on your plate.

No matter how small a particular task is, you always need to be aware of what’s already on your to-do list, because only then you will be able to make an educated decision about to whether or not you will be able to accommodate it.

2 – You see everything as a priority

There is also another behavior that doesn’t help us, unfortunately. It is us seeing everything as a priority, seeing everything as an important thing that needs to be done.

Sometimes you just don’t have an internal navigation system in your mind that will tell you whether something is actually important, whether it needs to be done, whether it needs to be done today, or whether it needs to be done by you.

And so you automatically consider everything that gets thrown at you as a priority.

Here is a question that helps me personally to reset in the moments of stress and overwhelm:

“If I could only work on one thing today and threw everything else away… if it had to be just one – what would it be?”

We all are preconditioned to thinking that everything is important, and throwing any item off the list will result in a complete disaster.

But as you start thinking about it, as you start modeling it out and really analyzing what will happen if something doesn’t get done today, then you begin to realize that not everything is important.

You discover that some things can wait, some things can be delegated, and some things don’t even have to be done at all!

Align with your core values

Your values are your compass. They can tell you what is truly important, meaningful, and valuable, and what is in fact not so important.

What you can do is identify your top 5 values, and then refer to them any time you need to understand what your current priority should be. It takes some work to discover what these values are, but a simple starting point is to ask yourself:

“What is important to me in life?”
“What kind of person do I want to be?”
“What do I want other people to think of me?”

It is just one of the possible exercices, and we cover many more inside the Life Design Academy.

3 – You don’t know how to say “no”

This one is probably the biggest challenge for all of us – it is about saying “no”. Saying “no” to people, saying “no” to opportunities, to requests, to obligations. Whether it is your boss asking you to do something, your friends wanting to get together, your child demanding attention, you yourself desiring to do something.

You constantly have to choose, you constantly have to say “yes” to one thing and say “no” to everything else. And it is hard.

It is especially hard to say “no” to other people, because then we immediately feel like we are bad people, right?

We think that we are letting somebody down, that we are failing someone’s expectations, that people will stop liking us.

But in reality, once you start saying “no”, people actually begin to respect you more.

People begin to see that you have your personal boundaries that you are willing to protect, and it is worthy of respect.

It does indeed requires strength for us to do that. But the beauty is, we already have all these strengths inside us.

We all have these different strengths that we can use to protect our personal boundaries and to say “no”, we just sometimes don’t know how to use those strengths.

Whether it’s your courage, or creativity, or honesty, there are many different ways you can use this strength to approach the challenging situation and to say “no”.

Even humor!

Imagine someone asks if you are going to the party, and your response is:

“Oh I wish I could! But I don’t want to. 😄

I bet you it will make this other person laugh, so how can they be mad at you after that?

Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything, you can just smile! Next time when someone asks you, “Hey, are you going to join us?”, just smile at them and see what happens. 😄

They will likely assume that you are coming, and then you can clarify, “Oh no, actually I’m not coming.” But because of your smile, they can’t be mad at you!

How to say “no” without saying “no”

Here are more examples how you can say “no” without actually saying “no”.

Saying “no” to your friend

Let’s imagine your friend is inviting you to a party this weekend, but you already have some plans.

You can say to them, “I would love to, I haven’t seen you for a while, I really miss you, I want to hang out. I do have some obligations that weekend that are important to me, but how about we get together for lunch or coffee next weekend?”

Notice that you didn’t say “no” here, not even once!

At the same time you told them that you value them, that you love them, that you want to spend time with them. You also explained why you cannot join them this weekend. And finally, you provided an alternative solution.

Giving this response will not make you a bad person. Instead, it will help you protect your space, it will help you stay focused on those obligations that you want to focus on this weekend so that next weekend you can hang out with your friends.

Saying “no” to your boss

Now, let’s say your boss is asking you to complete some sort of report by the end of today.

It’s likely that your first reaction will be to say “yes” (it’s your boss after all!)

But you can also say, “I’m happy to do this, but at the same time my to-do list is already very full and I have many meetings on my calendar. Do you mind helping me de-prioritize something? Can we get on a quick Zoom call so you can help me see what I can move to tomorrow so I can accommodate this request of yours today?

And there is a big chance that your boss will agree to this because, again, you didn’t say “no” to them. Instead, you expressed your fullest desire and openness to doing what they’re asking you to do, while also protecting your own space and your own boundaries.

Saying “no” to your child

You can use the same technique with kids as well.

For example, recently my daughter wanted to play Monopoly, but I was doing something else at the time.

So I told her, “Yes sure, let’s play! I’m finishing something right now but I would love to play. Why don’t you go downstairs and set everything up for us? Maybe you can even make some lemonade for us, and I’ll be right there before you know it!”

By saying this, I bought myself some time, and at the same time my daughter didn’t feel rejected, and we ended up playing and having a lot of fun!

How to calm down quickly when you are overwhelmed

It does take practice to come up with such responses, but the more you do it, the more confidence you will have. Key here is to be calm and be able to analyze the situation properly. And sometimes, when you are already stressed and overwhelmed, it’s hard to do it.

So the first thing you need to do is to calm down.

When you find yourself in a situation where you’re so stressed and overwhelmed that you can barely think, then close your eyes for a moment.

Take a pause. Take a few deep breaths.

Think about some area of your life that is outside of the stressful situation you’re in. Think about some part of your life that you are truly grateful for, something that you love about your life.

It will help you reset. It will calm you down.

And then, once you feel that your heart rate went back down, once you feel calmer, then you are ready to find a solution:

  • Set the right priorities and identify what’s really important right now.
  • Understand how how much capacity you have, and how you can use this capacity in the wisest way possible.
  • Decide how you can say “no” to everything that you want to de-prioritize.

And remember – you do it for you.

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