7 Signs That Overwhelm Has Taken Over Your Life

Feeling stressed

When we’re drowning in a sea of overwhelm, it’s very hard to stop and take notice of the environment in which we live, just like fish are hardly aware of water.

Overwhelm though is not like water. It’s more like a swamp that pulls us deeper into helplessness, and compounds our stress as time goes by.

We can go on for years living with a dominant state of stress and overwhelm without giving it much thought—until a major event interrupts this way of life, and forces us to take a deeper look at how we’ve been operating in the world.

We don’t need to wait for a catastrophe to stop and look at the life we’re leading. We can do it right now.

First let’s look at overwhelm itself. It is not a mental process that we can analyze, or try to reason with. It’s a deep emotional response to countless thoughts and experiences. It runs without much care for logic, making it much harder to understand.

Feeling overwhelmed leads to higher levels of stress and anxiety, which in turn strip every experience of joy and satisfaction. Who wants to live a life devoid of contentment and enjoyment?

So, how do you know that your life is run by overwhelm?

Look at the following symptoms and see how they manifest in your life. You may relate to some more than others. You’ll also notice that they tend to work in tandem, and compound the stress.

7 chronic signs of overwhelm

It’s okay for us to experience any of these symptoms at any given time. They become a problem, however, when they turn into habits that run our lives.

I’ll start with the one I feel is the most indicative of overwhelm and its faithful companion: resistance.

1. Dread

If you wake up in the morning dreading the things you need to do and feeling anxious, chances are you’re in overwhelm mode before you even start your day.

Dread is anxiety wrapped in resistance. We feel torn between having to do something, and fearing that we won’t be able to do it. So we resist it and then feel more anxious.

Dread can become a habit that runs your life. When dread takes over, nothing is fun anymore; everything becomes a chore.

2. Indecision

Feeling overwhelmed clouds our judgment and robs us of clarity. When we feel we’re drowning, we grasp on to anything, but only momentarily before doubt creeps up and we fear we’re making the wrong decision.

Resistance in this case shows up as jumping from one thing to another because we’re unsure if we made the right choice among countless choices. If we don’t stick to anything long enough to see results, we’ll add to our stress and confusion.

3. Rushing through life

When we feel we have too much to do, and we don’t feel like doing anything (resistance), we procrastinate. But when life’s demands scream at us, we react with rushed action. We feel we’re running out of time and we have to get things done as fast as possible.

Rushing is like speeding when driving a car. It becomes a habit that dominates every aspect of our lives. We can’t slow down and enjoy what we’re doing. We just want to get it over and done with.

A sense of urgency compounds stress, and in most cases the fruit of our labor is mediocre at best. In rushing we may make mistakes that will cost us more time and effort, which means more stress.

4. Procrastination

We all tend to procrastinate when dealing with certain actions or tasks that we’d rather not do, but need to do (like taxes, or paperwork).

In a state of overwhelm and resistance, procrastination becomes a way of life. We delay and dread everything, till we feel pushed into a corner where we have to do something.

The more we delay and resist, the more we feel overwhelmed and unmotivated to act.

5. Inability to say no

In a state of fuzzy priorities, procrastination, and indecision, we find it really hard to say no to a new demand or opportunity that we feel might be our salvation.

We take on more hoping we’ll do things differently with a new beginning. Or we feel excited by a new project that will be more fun to tackle.

Except … old habits die hard. The excitement of a new project or task, fizzles and we’re back to confusion and overwhelm with more stuff to stress about.

6. Avoidance and escapism

If we’re stuck in overwhelm with too much to do without any clear objectives, we’ll choose to do the easy stuff and avoid what appears to be difficult. We feel that we’re making progress.

But in reality we feel stuck in the same painful cycle and we feel guilty that we haven’t dealt with the important stuff that continues to linger in our minds.

7. Unfocused attention

Rushing, procrastination, and confused priorities result in fragmented focus. We jump from one thing to the other, without a clear purpose or tangible outcome. Everything, other than what we should be focusing on, becomes more appealing.

This is the common state of busyness that leads to nowhere.

All of the above habits (and more) feed the same cycle of overwhelm and stuckness.

It may appear that overwhelm is the necessary evil of modern day living. Or that it’s okay to live our lives barely catching our breath as we scramble through each day, counting the days to the weekend or daydreaming about the long-awaited vacation. This is not true—we always have a choice.

Feeling overwhelmed may not be a conscious choice. But we can deliberately choose to become more aware of our emotions and how they shape the quality of our life.

Every time we notice how we feel and stop, instead of unconsciously reacting, we chip away at the resident overwhelm. And every change, no matter how small, can significantly impact our lives in the long run.