Person sits frustratedly in front of laptop while fire and burning crumbled sheets of paper billow behind them.

What to Do When You are Feeling Overwhelmed

Many things in life can put you in the position of feeling overwhelmed. Diabetes is one of those. Whether you are newly diagnosed or not, diabetes is tough. Fitting it into your life and schedule isn’t easy either. And, diabetes or not, life will throw you curveballs at some point that are sure to leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed with type 2 diabetes

Feeling overwhelmed can be caused by your body’s natural response to stress, which results in the fight, flight, or freeze response. You have likely experienced one or more of these. Fight may look like taking action to address the situation, flight may look like avoidance, and feeling frozen may look like being in a state of panic or not knowing where to start.

If you find yourself in any of these, it’s okay and it’s natural. But, ultimately, we need to address your overwhelmed feeling. When taking action, you may be tempted to just get busy doing anything. But it’s easy to get caught up with busywork that may be distracting you from addressing your bigger areas of need.

Action steps when feeling overwhelmed

Often times it is helpful to first hit the pause button, take a step back, and calm our circuits. But then what? Some of the best next steps involve a pen and paper, gaining support, and self-care. Here are some productive action steps to take if you are feeling overwhelmed:

Journal

For many people, this act of putting pen to paper helps you to see things more clearly. That’s because you have to actually slow down your thoughts since your hand doesn’t write as fast as your brain thinks. When we slow down for writing, though, it can sometimes help to bring things into focus. Plus, the process of journaling can be highly therapeutic. Remember, do what works for you to journal, even if it means typing on a computer or other device.

Journaling can also help you to better identify emotions. Feeling overwhelmed can sometimes be the first line emotion for other deeper feelings that you may not be able to pinpoint just yet. That overwhelmed feeling may be related to fear of complications, fear of failure, fear of having to give up foods/habits you enjoy, etc. If there are other emotions you identify, you can begin to address those directly.

Make a list

Take all of those tasks, responsibilities, and thoughts that are bouncing around in your head like a pinball and put them to paper. When you make a list of things that you are overwhelmed by, you can then evaluate them. When evaluating your list, here are some things to consider: (1) What do you have control over? (2) What can you delay, delegate and delete?

  • Focus on the things you have control over and the things that are relevant.Focusing on things that you have no control over is senseless worrying. And, to quote Vance Havner, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere.”
  • Delete anything that is not worth your time and energy. When examining your list, you may identify some things that don’t even seem to be relevant in the context of the other things you are facing. This often involves setting healthy boundaries and saying no when needed.
  • Delegate where possible and appropriate. Notice anything that you are trying to take on yourself that could easily be done by others. Consider the cost versus benefit of hiring a professional for certain tasks.
  • What items on your list can you delay? If there is something you are not quite ready to tackle, don’t be afraid to put it on the backburner, as long as it’s still on your radar. This delay could be a week, a month, or a year even.
  • Establish areas of priority. What are the most important things on this list? What are you ready and willing to take on? Are there important deadlines for some?

Focus on one thing at a time

After focusing on what’s in your control, what's important and a priority, your list may start to look a bit more realistic. Now, hone in on one specific task and work towards incorporating that first. You may find that you need to give yourself permission to focus on one thing at a time, but this can be a critical step. In reality, nearly everyone stinks at multitasking and, the result is usually that we get less done and feel more frustrated and overwhelmed.

Set effective goals

With one goal in mind, set an effective and confident goal. Effective goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). You want to make sure that you just start somewhere and start small, remember you can always build on behaviors later. Be as specific as possible about what you will do to achieve this goal, when and how much or how often.

An effective goal gives you a clear plan of how you will accomplish a task. When we are feeling overwhelmed, that’s exactly what we need; your overwhelmed feeling is naturally going to decrease when your confidence increases. When feeling consistent and secure with one goal, move on to another priority on your list.

Take it to a calendar

Next, apply your list and goals to a calendar. Go ahead and mark the delay items further out so you don’t forget about them. This will give you a sense of relief knowing that you don’t have to keep that bookmarked in your brain. Look at your usual week and day and identify where the larger priorities may fit in. Applying your priorities to a realistic schedule and having a plan for accomplishing them demonstrates that it is possible to accomplish these things; this alone boosts confidence.

Find support

Use a lifeline: phone a friend, recruit a family member, call a professional, etc. We all need support. And, when it comes to dealing with the difficulties of diabetes, this is especially helpful. You are not alone in dealing with diabetes and anything else that may be overwhelming you. Many people are currently and have been through the challenges you are facing right now. Tap into that support, learn from what worked for others, be the support for others in need.

There are many different types of support. Consider what you need most right now. You may just need a sounding board or maybe you need some practical help or education. Maybe its professional support such as talking to a dietitian about healthy meals.

Keep moving and get outside

Engage in any physical activity. This could be big or small, such as a 10 minute walk or a spin class. Physical activity is a natural stress-reliever and antidepressant. Plus, it helps to boost your energy, mood, and confidence! And when we have more of those things it will reduce overwhelming feelings.

Get outdoors for some fresh air. You are generally more likely to do more deep, nourishing breaths when you are getting fresh air outside. This helps you to get more oxygen to the brain which, in turn, helps you think more clearly. Deep breathing also helps to slow down your heart rate and reduce stress. Both of these things can be beneficial but I highly recommend getting activity outdoors for combined benefits, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

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