Posted on May 01, 2024

"Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes over night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down."

Eleanor Roosevelt

When you find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, or experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it is helpful to remember that every journey, every trip, is taken one step at a time.  Patience and understanding of this timeless lesson can get you through an otherwise tough time.  In this article, I offer some actionable tips for you to practice starting right now.  And there is a bonus tip for you at the end.

If you need a practice to work through feeling overwhelmed, give this week's quick reset meditation a try to gain some clarity.

The Word Overwhelmed

As I began writing in my journal about feeling overwhelmed recently, I realized I use this word frequently, yet when I thought about it, I couldn’t clearly and accurately define the word.  When I looked up the meaning, I was a little surprised, wondering if I was even using the word correctly.

As an adult, I find myself searching for the definition of words frequently, much more than I remember doing so when I was younger. It’s almost as if words hold more value to me now than they ever have in the past. This quite possibly may be only in my mind.

Words hold energy, emotions, intention, and impact, in addition to the basic meaning. Words are at the heart of one’s ability to skillfully communicate with others as well as ourselves.  They may hold different meanings or weight from one person to another.

The Meaning of the Word

By now, I imagine you are wondering what the definition of overwhelm is. Although the suspense may be heavy right now, I’ll start with my interpretation of the word before my search for its meaning.

I use the word overwhelm to describe any or all of the listed experiences:

  • Feeling stressed
  • Too many things on my plate
  • Having more responsibilities than I feel like I can handle
  • Feeling agitation
  • Having a short fuse
  • My mind feels busy and distracted making it hard to focus
  • My chest feels heavy making it difficult to get a full breath
  • On the verge of tears
  • I feel like what I imagine an adult temper tantrum might look and feel like

Have you ever felt this way or some version of similar?  If you answered yes to this, what word or words would you use to label this experience?  Would you call it overwhelm?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Now, the definition you’ve been waiting for…

According to Merriam-Webster, Overwhelm means:

  1. Upset, overthrow
  2. To cover completely
  3. To overcome by superior force
  4. To overpower in thought or feeling

Some example sentences offered:

  • The Tornado overwhelmed many mobile homes.
  • A sense of inadequacy overwhelmed me.
  • Overwhelmed with grief.

How to Use the Word Overwhelmed

This made me stop and consider my use of the word.  The way I understood it and the meaning I was implying was overwhelmed as an emotion itself--an emotion as in anger or sadness.  As in “I am feeling overwhelmed.”  When in fact, it is not really an emotion.  It is an overpowering OF a specific emotion.  As in the example above, “Overwhelmed with fear.”

Because my interpretation of the word is not truly accurate, I must pause and get curious about what my actual emotions are at times when I perceive that I am overwhelmed.  I’d say I have a history of not being in touch with my emotions.  Yet, I thought I had made strides to improve this in the last 10 years or so.  I guess there is always more to learn about yourself.

After deeper inquiry, I realize, I am overwhelmed with fear: fear of not enough, fear of failure, fear of letting people down--to name a few.

What to do when overwhelmed by strong emotions?

You take one step at a time.  Take one task at a time.  Move one foot in front of the other.

Many analogies come to mind when thinking of this lesson.

First, the task of painting a room:

  1. Move the furniture away from the walls
  2. Tape moldings
  3. Place drop cloth
  4. Mix paint
  5. Cut edges with a brush
  6. Paint the remaining walls with a roller
  7. Clean up (this is as important as the other steps to truly finish the job!)

This same philosophy can be applied to many other tasks including gardening, laundry, putting together furniture, reading a book chapter by chapter, cleaning the house, driving a car, etc.  You get the idea.

Important Reminder for Times of Stress

One step at a time.  One task at a time.  This allows you to see more and more as the process moves along.  It allows you to practice patience and reduce the possibility of stress, worry, and fear that may be present with a large, daunting task or project.

This can be applied to a to-do list with one more consideration—Priorities.  Ask yourself, what is the most important task that needs to be completed first?  Many people have a practice of prioritizing the top 3 items on their to-do list every day.

I have a bonus tip for you to reduce the tendency of becoming overwhelmed with fear and it is one that I often need reminding about.  I am fortunate to have Les as the person who frequently offers this reminder to me. The to-do list will never actually be 100% cleared! (Insert dramatic microphone drop here)  This simple realization can be extremely freeing.

I hope some of these ideas prove helpful for you the next time you find yourself overwhelmed with emotion.  If you feel there is an underlying belief you carry about yourself that is keeping you stuck in a state where you are overwhelmed by strong emotions, a 1:1 personalized hypnotherapy session is a powerful tool to uncover the cause so you can begin to make a positive change.  I love working with clients who are looking to get unstuck.

When you find yourself having difficulty getting started with a task, procrastinating, second-guessing yourself, your abilities, or your worth, give yourself the time and space to inquire with curiosity about what’s under these actions or beliefs so that you can make a positive transformation.

With love and gratitude,


The Mindful Movement