Five Methods of Dealing with Overwhelm

We all experience overwhelm in our lives. Whether it’s several things happening at once and we’re caught off guard, or we end up letting certain thoughts run rampant, that feeling of “Oh my gosh, there’s too much to deal with!” can be pretty powerful sometimes.

Especially if you’re on the actuarial journey and you’re taking those exams, going to school, working out, spending time with family and whatever else is important to you.

All of it can seem like a lot at once, and you can end up feeling like you’ve just been run over by a truck.

But there are five specific things you can do to ease that feeling of overwhelm and get yourself back to being fully operational.

1) Meditate. Meditation has become one of the most popular ways to calm the mind and body. And despite what you may think, it doesn’t have to necessarily be a “woo-woo” thing. You don’t have to start out with an hour at a time chanting “Om” or whatever mantra you might have come across—all in full lotus pose. Some people simply sit in a chair to meditate, or even use a guided meditation via YouTube.

One of the simpler ways to meditate is engage in two minutes of what’s known as “mindfulness” meditation. Sit either cross-legged on the floor, or sit up straight in a chair, and just notice your breath going in and out, like the ocean waves. Any time you notice your mind wandering, bring your focus back to your breathing. Allow yourself to have those two precious minutes. You can meditate for longer periods of time if you so choose—and it’s likely you’ll want to because meditation have been scientifically proven to have a number of beneficial effects on your mind and body.
If you like music to go with your meditation, you can either go through Pandora online radio, or through Spotify. Steven Halpern, for example, is one musician who specifically creates music for meditation and relaxation, just to sum up his considerable body of work. One CD or digital album that’s helpful is Deep Alpha.

2) Start With You. One of the things that many of us tend to do when overwhelmed is cut out things that keep us on an even keel, routine-wise. These are the staples that keep us recharged, refueled and healthy. Self-care is an absolute must no matter what field you’re in. It’s far too tempting to say “Oh, this project is due, so I’ll stay up late and work on it,” or “I really need to get this thing done, so no workout for me,” or “Man, I have no time for breakfast.”

Sleep, exercise and a good breakfast are three major things you really need to keep in your routine, along with whatever else is important to you—including spending time with family.

But let’s focus on sleep and exercise a bit more.

When you get that recommended eight uninterrupted hours in, you’re more likely to be “firing on all cylinders” as they say. You’re more likely to be able to take in new information more easily. There was a study performed on executives—one group of executives was sleep-deprived, the other group had plenty of sleep. Which group do you think got more done? If you thought the ones who had plenty of sleep got more done, you’re right. You might skip sleep so you have more time on your hands, but your work quality and productivity is going to be greatly diminished.

Concerning going to the gym: not only is it essential to get plenty of exercise to stay physically healthy—you’re giving plenty of blood flow to your brain, among other things–but the mental health benefits of exercise are key to staying emotionally healthy, as exercise releases endorphins, which boost your mood. You’re more able to engage with your loved ones in a more peaceful way, as well as have a better outlook on life overall.

3) Talk It Out/Have An Outlet. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, one way to release the stress of the issues within is to have someone you can talk with—someone who really listens and willingly talks honestly with you. Now, some of you may not be “talkers.” Some of you might prefer to sit quietly and draw or practice music (playing the piano is an excellent outlet for frustration and stress!). You might prefer going to the gym and “sweating it out,” if you’re more physically oriented.

Whatever it is that’s natural for you, that allows you to blow off steam and get your thoughts off the “crazy train,” do it. Yes, the work you need to do will still be there, but if your head is not in a good place to do that work, having an outlet for stress and overwhelm is a great way to put yourself back on the path of good productivity.

4) Get Perspective and Re-evaluate. This step is rather tied in with the “Talk it Out” mode. Because when you’re stuck on a project and not feeling like you’re getting anywhere, talking it out with someone or doing whatever it is that lets you take a mental break, a step back and see the bigger picture of what’s going on can help you see that maybe you weren’t doing so badly on that project after all—that you’re actually making really good progress.


5) Just Do The Work. Sometimes we end up working ourselves into a state of overwhelm about a project we’re on via “analysis paralysis.” We think “Oh this approach is the best way,” then switch to approach B, then back to A. On and on we go like this.

Then after a few rounds of this, we realize, “Hey, the reason I’m feeling like this is because I have a lot to do, hands down.” So maybe the best thing to do is just to jump in and start doing the work. Because until you start doing something, that feeling of overwhelm is just going to remain.

A lot of people get caught up on what’s the right time to do something, such as take an actuarial exam. There’s never a perfect time to take one—there’s so much going on in your life. So you just end up having to carve out the few hundred hours to study. But before you get hung up on that, maybe the best thing to do would be to look at what the first thing you need to do—which is decide when to take the exam and just pick a date. Then you can delve into what might be the perfect study material for you, so on and so forth.


So let’s go over those five methods again:

  1. Meditate—even just two minutes a day, perhaps with a Steven Halpern track or two, can help you get your mind and spirit on an even keel so you can deal with things in a more calm frame of mind.
  2. Start With You—good sleep, a good breakfast and a great workout. Those are three major keys to keeping your life on an even keel.
  3. Talk It Out/Have An Outlet—whether you like talking about your issues, drawing, playing music or even exercising, you need to have an outlet for “blowing off steam.”
  4. Get Perspective & Re-evaluate—Get that bird’s eye view: Stepping back and looking at your projects and other things you have going on allows you to see that maybe you’re doing much better than you think.
  5.  Just Do the Work—Sometimes you just have to jump in and start the work, even if you have a pile of it to do. Going back and forth in “analysis paralysis” mode only keeps you in that state of overwhelm.

If you’re interested in learning more about dealing with overwhelm, check out Steven Presfield’s book “The War of Art.” In that book he touches heavily on the topic of what he calls “resistance,” that little feeling of something that keeps you from reaching your goals.

In our everyday lives, overwhelm is not going to go away for good. It tends to be cyclical. But the more we apply these five methods—plus any others we may come across—for helping us deal with those “crazy-train” feelings in the brain—the less that the overwhelm will actually overwhelm us.

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Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?