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5 Reasons Why You Feel Overwhelmed by Work, University, And Life

March 8, 2020 - Anci - 16 min read

Imagine the following situation. It may sound familiar:

You’re getting sick of your 9-5 job. Although you like and get along with your colleagues, and you’ve grown professionally, you don’t feel fulfilled anymore. Every morning, when you walk through the office door, you start getting anxious, feeling unfulfilled, and something inside you tells you that you can do better than this.

You have a dream of starting your own (let’s say) marketing business for too long, so you decide it’s time to give it a go. But, soon enough, you realize you don’t know where to start. So, the first thing you do is Google “how to become a freelance marketer,” and you get 7,610,000 results (I’ve just Googled that in case you want to verify). 

You start to plow through tons of posts about what it takes to become a successful marketer. You dig deeper to understand how to become the CEO of your own empire that you’ve been dreaming of for the past few years. 

So you go on and write down all traits, skills, and abilities you should abound with. And it goes something like this: As a successful marketing freelancer you should be a proficient copywriter, SEO should be your middle name, you handle email marketing and campaigns like a champ, graphic design means no biggie, you know how to code a stunning website (anyone getting the Wix vibes?), you take and edit photos like a pro, and social media is a piece of cake

All of a sudden, a wave of overwhelming feeling creeps in and swallows you. You gulp, close the laptop, and start to think, “Maybe my comfy-zone job doesn’t look that bad after all.

The truth is we can’t avoid feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious at all times in our life. Some situations, especially those that matter the most to us, will be overwhelming – in both positive and negative way.

But, some of those feelings can be acknowledged and managed. Let’s look at the five main reasons why you may feel overwhelmed, whether it being by your job, by quitting your current job and starting something new, by college, or just by life in general.  

Reason #1: Feeling overwhelmed by not knowing where to start

If I’m ever getting a tattoo, I think this could be my go-to phrase. No, but seriously. Not knowing where to start, from something as simple as organizing your closet, through picking the best mortgage-deal, to starting your own business, is a natural part of life, of being a human. 

We know what we want and where we want to be in life, but we don’t know how to get there. Life doesn’t come with a manual. But luckily, you don’t have to know it all. You don’t have to have it all figured out from the very beginning. 

Yes, it’s true that the more you know, the better advantage you have compared to others. But what we often forget is that even the most successful people, the ones that we admire so dearly, started with no to very little knowledge of something.  

It was with time, work, dedication, experience, endless tryouts, errors, and mistakes that got them where they’re now. We all begin from different starting points, and we all come from different backgrounds but remember: work beats talent anytime.

Alright, I admit this part was unnecessarily cheesy. But sometimes we need to hear and remind ourselves what we already know – getting started will ease up your mind. 

Whenever I want to write an article, I face the same challenge each and every time – not knowing where to start. I know how to write and what I want to write about. But what I don’t know is how I should approach a certain topic? Will anyone care about my experience? Aren’t there hundreds of other, better posts covering the same issue? Am I even entitled to write about something like this? 

Well, if you are reading this post, it means (you are crazy for reading such long article, and I love you for that) I didn’t end up just staring at the blank Word page, getting willingly distasted by the newest overpriced clothing collections, celeb interviews, and videos of cute snoring kittens, like million times before. 

It means that I started by writing something, anything. And once I started, it was way easier to keep going. Naturally, facing something that you want, but don’t know how to get there, is frustrating. But the only way to get there is through.

I was facing the same amount of frustration, anger, and anxiousness exactly a year ago, when I had to choose to either write a 180,000-character thesis and study for my finals, or quit school, and throw 2,5 years of my life away. 

To give a little background of my situation at that time, I was the WORST procrastinator and binge eater you can ever imagine. The only way I knew to cope with stress and anxiety was to postpone, binge, postpone, and binge some more. 

So, I had to choose whether to quit or to push through. I panicked, and my mind got into the “let’s binge, let’s procrastinate, let’s do anything to avoid this fuc*ing misery” mode. But, I’ve decided to push through because the vision of living my life knowing I gave up and let the fear won as a coward was too painful.

In January of last year, I had the first consultation with my supervisor. I felt like a piece of sh*t because I knew I was already too behind to create something I wouldn’t have to be ashamed of. But, I took the first step. 

Little did I know, it’s going to be the “last” step for a while. As much as I “wanted” to start writing, I had no actual idea of where to start. I felt too overwhelmed by the 180,000-character monster. Since I didn’t know where to start, starting anywhere seemed like a pretty good option to me. So I did. I began googling theses with similar topics, and then I reached out to actual organizations doing more or less the same thing that I was supposed to cover in my thesis. 

And to my surprise, I’ve received a kind response from those organizations. I arranged a few Skype calls with their representatives and learned more about the topic. Before I even knew it, I had tons of information and ideas I wanted to cover. This brings me to the second part when I started to feel overwhelmed by having too much information. 

After days of feeling helpless and spiraling back into ‘let’s procrastinate, there’s no better time than now‘ mindset, I drew something like a mind map. It looked terrible, but it did help me to sort out what I knew, what was essential to cover in my thesis, and what I could leave out without hindrance. 

Fast forward to hot June morning and me leaving the university building with a master’s degree in my hand (figuratively).

As much cliché and Pinterest-like as it sounds, things do always seem impossible until they’re done

Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start when doing something new is normal. But by breaking the task into smaller pieces, and actually staring, ANYWHERE, helps to make every task a little less scary. 

Think and try to remember things that you’ve accomplished. Surely, some of them also felt impossible at the beginning but made you feel proud once you ticked off of your list.

At the end of 99% of tasks, you will look back and realize that it actually wasn’t that hard. Or maybe you will realize that it was, indeed, much harder than you thought. But, that’s awesome, because you actually did it, and no one’s going to take that away from you. 

So my advice to you is if you don’t know where to start, start anywhere.

#2 Feeling overwhelmed by the workload

Just a few days ago, I found myself getting anxious and overwhelmed by all the things in my planner. It was only 8 in the morning, and I was already failing at keeping up with my schedule.

I planned to get up at 5:30 and head straight to the gym. But, once the alarm rang, I kept hitting the snooze button over and over and ended up waking up an hour later. I promised myself I’d make it up on Saturday (falsely), just like I did for each skipped morning run or workout a hundred times before. 

We often get too overwhelmed by the insane amount of things that we add on our to-do lists. It only leads us to back off like cowards once we encounter the real amount of work, and falsely promise ourselves we’ll do it later. 

By planning too much, we only set ourselves up for failure. We plan way too many things for each day, and we overbook our schedules completely ignoring the fact there are still just 24 hours in each day.

Trust me when I say I know what I’m talking about. I am able to plan literally every hour of my day to the bits, but without leaving any space for basic things such as eating, using the bathroom, getting places (#doteleportsalreadyexist?), or I don’t know, breathing?! Although it may give me the #girlboss vibes at times, it just sets me for failing later.

By postponing one thing, you’re already postponing everything else, which only means you won’t be able to finish something else on your list. And so on, and so on.

I’ve recently listed to Adrienne Finch’s podcast, and she mentioned that by saying YES to one thing, you’re saying NO to something else. Although it wasn’t necessarily directed towards feeling overwhelmed, I think it can be perfectly applied to the postponing habit. 

If you say YES to postponing the thing that you need to do (that you planned yourself to do), you are subsequently saying NO to another item on your list. There will only ever be 24 hours each and every day. By overbooking yourself and pretending you’ll manage it all, you’re not going to make the day longer or more successful. 

The more you put on your plate, the more likely you’re about to freak out and get overwhelmed by the amount of work that you already know you won’t be able to finish (unless pulling two all-nighters, downing 5 Red Bulls, and booking a ride on a time machine). 

Being busy doesn’t equal to being productive. Doing less but doing it thoroughly outweighs doing more of crappy work. 

I still suck at planning too many things and sometimes act like the day has 30+ hours. Then I usually end up doing nothing at all. But, it’s all about progress, and I found a few things that seem to be quite helpful when I’m falling into the I’ m-gonna-do-it-all loop.

Personal tips

  • Plan less to finish more
  • Write down things you need to get done and strike half of them off
  • Go through the remaining items on your list and cut it down again
  • Only when you know no more stuff could be left out, prioritize
  • Make sure to have no more than 3-5 things on your list (it’s tempting to write more stuff down so you can check them off later, but it’s better to get 3 things done properly than having 8 unfinished tasks)

#3 Feeling overwhelmed by the lack of time

Honest shoutout to anyone who starts a side hustle while having a full-time job, who’s taking care of their family, who’s working out, having a social life, and still managing to look like a human being.

Working a 9-5 job myself, I find it extremely difficult to make the side-business my priority (or honestly, maybe I’m just too lazy and unorganized). When I’m at work, I’m super motivated, and I’m like, “Okay, Anna, you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life, do you?!” 

I plan all the things I’ll do once the clock strikes 5, but once I get home, my mind is like “I need a rest, I’ve been working for 8 hours straight, for Christ sake.” 

The world gets busier and more confusing every day. Distractions are just one tap away, anywhere we are. Public places, transports, offices, gyms, they all have a WiFi to keep us entertained and continuously present. 

With distractions literally at our fingertips, we often feel busy and believe that we don’t have any spare time. But, try to remember how much time have you spent this week scrolling through Facebook and Instagram? How many videos you’ve watched when falling into the YouTube spiral? Or maybe reading your favorite blogs (is it mine as well?)? How many hours have you binge-watch your favorite Netflix show? 

I admit I’m guilty of all those things, and I’m pretty sure you are too. I mean, balance is the key, but I know I could quite easily save at least an hour a day and dedicate it to something more meaningful and productive. 

Now that we know that most of the time we just think we don’t have any free time, how can we plan it?

Well, first count how many hours of free time you are actually working with. Is it an hour? Three? Eight? For me, it’s two hours in the morning and three to four hours in the evening.

Then, write down the things that you need/want to do, and estimate the time you’ll probably need for each activity. And just a little personal tip – expect things to take longer (for example, don’t expect to write a thoughtful post in an hour, like me, lol). 

Once you know how many hours a day you have for your activities, and what those activities are, it’s time for the planning part. There are many ways how to approach this, but here are my four personal favorites:

1. Don’t plan things for exact hours 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll plan yourself a French lesson for tomorrow morning, and the last thing you want to do the next day is to have a French lesson. Therefore, what I found more helpful is to create different timeframes for when you want to do those things. 

Let’s give you an example. You may have free time from 6 AM to 9 AM, so instead of planning jogging from 6:00 – 6:45 and eating breakfast from 7:15 – 7:25, put all those things in one block, and just do them within that windows in whatever order fits you the best. I personally find these time blocks much less pressure, and providing me enough “freedom” to choose when I’ll do certain things. Jordan Page has a great system for it, so if you want to learn more, check out her article.

2. Don’t focus on too many little things

Trust me, I’ve done that, and at the end of day 1 (which is also, not so surprisingly, the exact number of days I’ve managed to stick with it) I felt like I want to die. Not because of exhaustion, not because I felt overwhelmed, but because of how extremely cringy and pointless it was. Instead of devoting more time to one thing, I’ve split my day to little pieces to manage to go for a run, do yoga, meditate, read a book, have a French lesson, work on my blog, and play piano for 30 minutes. I’ve just rushed from one task to another, ticking checkbox after checkbox (I’m not going to lie, that part felt pretty great, lol), BUT not devoting any extra thought into what I was doing. At the end of the day, I didn’t even know what I was doing, why I was doing it, and haven’t enjoyed it a single bit.

3. Don’t plan your whole week in advance

Now you probably think I’m crazy (which is highly possible), but another thing that I found not-working for me is planning the whole week in advance. Sure, I’m all for planning things you already know you’ll have to do on certain days (such as dentist appointment, turning in your essay, presenting your idea to colleagues, going on a date, etc.)

But life is life. Plans change, moods change, priorities change. You can’t plan spending two nights dealing with a family crisis, feeling sick, or having an emergency task to do. Things happen; life happens

What I found to be helpful instead of planning the whole week at once is to plan the first three days of the week on Sunday. On Wednesday evening, I check how did I do, what I have or haven’t accomplished (any why in case of the latter), and how I could do things better for the next time. I acknowledge if there are any changes I need to do for the upcoming days, and change priorities of my tasks if necessary.

Then, I plan the rest of the week with that feedback in mind. 

4. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take

This is typical for new unexplored tasks that you have never done before. At work, I often get new assignments to do, and I’m like sure, I can finish all three today. By the end of the day, I’m usually happy if I managed to complete at least half of one of them. 

But don’t fool yourself that it can’t happen just because you’re doing something the millionth time. We often get too comfortable and maybe too confident in our habits that we completely fail when unexcepted things happen. 

Therefore, add maybe an extra half an hour, hour to whatever new task you’re doing just in case you’ll get stuck. If you manage to finish earlier, you’ll have more time for other tasks or to take some extra rest.

#4 Feeling overwhelmed by the expectations

Do you know the quote “Comparison is a thief of joy?” I think that equally suitable is expectations are a thief of joy.

I believe anyone who uses social media found themselves in doubts about their appearance, about their accomplishments, about their popularity and status, about their dreams, goals, and visions; pretty much about every aspect of their lives.  

I’m good as long as I don’t open Instagram. Because when I do, and I see a literal swarm of successful-like people, I quickly fall into the doubt-myself spiral and end up in “Why am I even trying, there’s no point” mindset.

Let me pause here for a bit. Successful people (no matter how you define them and whatever success means to you) were here before you and will be here long after you. It’s only that with social media, we get to see them more often. And it’s easy to get distracted by their achievements and start comparing our achievements and failures to theirs.

Since this is something I still deal with regularly, they only piece of advice I can give you is this: Whenever you feel overwhelmed by comparing yourself and your journey to people on social media, take a break

Take a break from social media and the internet. Stop worrying about other people for a second and think about what it is that you want and why have you decided to go for it in the first place. Think about why it makes you happy. What we see online are successful, wealthy, beautiful, lean, famous people. Their lives seem to be perfect, and there’s always an inspiring story behind their success. 

But what we often do not realize is that what we see is the “end product” (in reality, there’s no such thing, we all continuously change, develop, and grow). We see a successful person who’s got their sh*t figured out. What we forget is that behind every story is a long bumpy journey full of obstacles, failure, tryouts, hard work, and experience. No one has ever woken up knowing it all and having every single tool they needed to achieve their dreams. Yes, some may have a talent, some have dedication, and others have resources. But it all means nothing without pushing through and walking the road on their own. 

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Ever. Because you won’t. No one in this world is perfect, even though we all try to put the picture-perfect facade of ourselves out there. Aiming for perfection will most likely only leave you doing nothing at all because you already know you’ll fail. 

Don’t expect things to be easy or perfect the first time, the tenth time, the thousandth time. You’ll get better and better each time you do something. But you’ll never stop evolving.

And remember that your journey isn’t any more or less meaningful just because you do or don’t share it online. It’s still your journey that should, by all means, be most valuable to you. And if it’s not, maybe it’s time to reconsider what it is that you truly want. 

#5 Feeling overwhelmed by feeling overwhelmed

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it happens. To me. All the freakin’ time. I wake up in the morning, already feeling there’s so much to do that I just want to crawl back into bed, curl up under the blanket, and fall asleep. On other days, when things seem to be getting surprisingly good, maybe even too good, I get anxious just from the fear that I will probably scr*w things up later and will probably end up anxious anyway.

What helps 99% of the time is to stop and go for a walk with someone. Ask a friend your partner, or your parent out. Go for a walk, enjoy nature, and talk. Talk about things that bother you; talk about why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. By saying things out loud, we sort our thoughts, and we often feel like a weight is being lifted from our shoulders. Hearing yourself saying, “This is what bothers me, this is how I feel,” can help you to summarize the mess of thoughts that made you feel so overwhelmed. And getting advice or another point of view can be extremely helpful. 

Here are a few extra personal tips I’ll leave you with:

  • Sometimes you just need to slow down. Things take time and practice. 
  • Remember that nothing’s worth your health and peace – not even the fanciest job in the world should it make you stressed out. 
  • Get offline. From my personal experience, disconnecting myself from the internet makes about 70% of all my problems disappear.
  • Do not compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Ever.
  • Plan less task that you know you can complete 100%, rather than going berserk and ending up with not even a half done.  
  • Time is one of the few things we can’t buy, so use it wisely.

What tips have you identified with? Comment below your experience and opinion. If you like this article, don’t hesitate to share it!

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About Binge on Self-Love

Binge on Self-Love initially started as a blog aiming to help people struggling with binge eating and no self-love. It's a project supporting all people who want to learn to accept, to encourage, and to love themselves. Self-love, being a phrase talked about so often that you're probably sick of hearing it, is one of the hardest abilities we all should adopt.

xo Anci

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