What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed and Ready to Burst

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed happens to the best of us. Whether you’re an adult, teenager or child, feeling overwhelmed happens. Although everyone’s scenarios vary, it can result in similar feelings and reactions.

Scenario 1: You’ve got a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the baby continues to cry, your older child desperately needs help with a perplexing math question, and you have lunch about to burn on the stove. It can go easily from one to ten on a scale of feeling overwhelmed. As parents, we can juggle a lot on our plates to try to make ends meet each day.

Scenario 2: You’re eight years old. You are learning this new concept called multiplication, which basically is a foreign language to you, but you have to master your first timed quiz on it by the end of the week. Your younger sibling wails in the background for not being able to climb on the couch, ruining your focus. And your mom is standing behind you, upset that she has tripped over your toys.

Scenario 3: You work for a fast-paced business. The pressure from your boss about the upcoming deadline is weighing on you heavily. But your kids are counting on you to make it to their major soccer game this weekend. You’re not sure what to prepare for dinner tonight.

Handling the overwhelming feelings

When there is so much going on and emotions run high, it is natural to feel overwhelmed. It stacks up like bricks until we get to a point of imploding or exploding. The question is what to do when you’re overwhelmed.

How does one release the overwhelming feeling of stress, powerlessness, or uncertainty?

1. Pause

When all of the emotions and tasks seem to be piling up, adding to the stress creeping up your overwhelm-meter, just stop yourself for a moment. If you’re taking on too much or if there is so much going on, I will stop for a moment. Continuing to push your agenda while everything is adding up at the same time will only perpetuate the stress.

2. Breathe

After you’ve stopped what you’re doing, take a deep, slow breath. When you’re at a breaking point, whether you’re a child or an adult, breathe in and breathe out until you feel yourself relax. Science shows that deep breaths help to calm the brain. There are connections between the neurons, breathing, and one’s emotional state.

3. Find a solution or solutions to the situation

Finding solutions to your chaotic state is less challenging once you’re calm, which is why finding a solution or solutions comes after you’ve taken deep breaths to relax your emotional state. The specifics of the solution varies for each person, depending on what it is exactly that is overwhelming you. So it is a matter of reflection:

  • What are the sources of my stress?
  • What makes me feel overwhelmed?
  • What would make the situation easier? less stressful?
  • Can I ask for help?

Visual Reminder of the Steps

It is a major challenge to remember what to do especially when you’re in the midst of feeling overwhelmed. I’m the type of person who needs a visual reminder to help me remember and to feel more grounded. My children and I love baking and desserts, so we created this poster with the acronym: PIES. Although the concept of “pies” may seem silly at the thought of this serious topic, it has become our family’s code word for whenever we catch someone feeling overwhelmed. PIES stands for:





Just as described in the steps above, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing (pause). Take deep breaths (inhale and exhale), and find solutions to alleviate your stress.

If this visual reminder looks like something that can be helpful to you, feel free to click on the image below to download a pdf poster for yourself or your family.

what to do when you're overwhelmed

Although this is not a “cure” for feeling overwhelmed because we will probably all inevitably feel overwhelmed in our lives. It is a helpful visual tool to at least remind us one type of strategy for what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed.