Stress management

What to do when you are overwhelmed by work

- July 19, 2018 4 MIN READ

We have all been there. Our brain is spinning faster than a chocolate wheel at a school fete, filled with more and more things that all have to be done yesterday. We feel like if someone adds just one more thing we will explode in a messy combination of frustrated tears while hurling insults at anyone within earshot. Welcome to overwhelm 101 – solo business style.

The first and most important thing to know when you hit the overwhelm button is that it is your thoughts that are broken, and not you or your life. You have probably been through this before in your life, and you will get through this again.

In the meantime, here are a few different coping strategies to help you get through your overwhelm.

Stop if you can

Everyone’s overwhelm is different. If your type of overwhelm allows you to carve just a teeny tiny sliver of time for yourself, grab that nanosecond of time and push it to the limit.

Take a nap

If you are overwhelmed, it is pretty much guaranteed you have added sleep deprivation into the mix. There is something therapeutic about curling up into a comfy warm bed and taking a nap in the middle of the day. That’s the reason we encourage fractious toddlers to take a nap. Treat yourself as you would a terrible two-year-old and go for a snooze.

Take a walk

Overwhelm always feels worse indoors. Grab your dog and force it (kicking and screaming with joy) to go for a walk or play at the dog park. Take a dip in your local pool. Walk around the block. Do something physical to get out of your head and back into your body.

Hydrate and nourish

Being hangry is real. Go eat some food that loves you back. Drink some healthy fluids instead of that cup of coffee that lies about how much you can accomplish when you are over-buzzed.

Do what you can

If your form of overwhelm is the sort that makes you need to ‘do something’, find some ‘doing’ options that help and don’t simply spin the hamster wheel.


Marie Kondo was onto something. Clutter adds to overwhelm. That said, when you are overwhelmed is the worst possible time to decide to do a full house clutter clear (you end up throwing out arbitrary things like all your left socks because your brain has gone into ‘I hate the world, so I will take it out on random objects’ mode).

Do some gentle cleaning – tackle your desk surface, the folding pile of clothes teetering on your dining room table or your handbag (why do I still have Barbie shoes in the bottom of my bag years after the last Barbie from my girls went to Vinnies?)

Write a few lists

Get the spinning words out of your head and into lists. You will notice that I didn’t say ‘list’ but rather ‘lists’. Create a few different lists sorted into categories or clumps of similar things.

Don’t be tempted to make your category too large. A marketing list is terrifying. A website tweaks list is doable.

By seeing everything down on paper, you can begin to make sense of what actually needs to be done now and what can be delegated, delayed or dumped.

Finish something small

We all have 5-minute jobs that hang around like kids when you open a lolly packet. Get onto those 5-minute jobs and knock a few off your lists.

Free journal

I am a passionate believer in free writing when you are overwhelmed. Grab a pen and paper. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Pose a question to your brain. Start to write furiously for 15 minutes, never letting the pen stop.

Sometimes your brain gives you truly amazing insights that any wise sage would be proud to call their own, and other times your insights relate to how much you hate the tune the washing machine plays when a load is done. It is a wonderful brilliant mental lottery.

Do one small thing

If your overwhelm relates to a particular anxiety provoking project, do one small thing towards that project. Create the client folder. Set up the document headings. Brainstorm dot points on what needs to go where for the project, or content ideas.

Small things can break the procrastination barrier and help put the overwhelm back into perspective.

Work out what you can control – Delegate the rest

Sometimes overwhelm comes from things or situations outside our control. Work out which bits are really yours, and create your to-do lists around those bits within your control.

Some of your tasks can be delegated to other people, friends or family to do. Ask for help and delegate what you can.

But what do you do about situations that no one can tackle?

For the bits outside anyone’s control, create a new to-do list. This is your Mega Delegation List.

These are the things you delegate to any deity you may believe in (yes, make sure that you write their name on the top of the Mega Delegation List). You can also delegate these things to Time, the Universe, ‘Somebody’: the choice is yours. The thing is to get these bits off your to-do list and onto someone else’s.

It’s remarkably comforting to be able to mentally say, ‘These are your bits, you sort them out for me as I have other things to do.’

Ask for help

As a solopreneur, we often think we should be able to handle everything. No one succeeds in life truly alone. We all need ridiculous amounts of support and help in life, and that is what makes us human.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, this is the time to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, your community or your mentor and talk things through. You can also seek professional support or counselling.

Remember, asking for help shows strength and not weakness. It shows bravery, leadership and demonstrates messy honesty to engage with life.

Overwhelm is part of our journey in business. What you do with the new knowledge that you gain during the process is what takes you forward.

Do you have any strategies for dealing with overwhelm that work for you?