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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Ask for and accept help to overcome.

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

A woman stands with her head in her hands surrounded by arrows going in different directions

What does it mean to you to feel overwhelmed? Like a juggler who can’t keep all your props in the air? Like you’re drowning? Or buried?

Ask a student or faculty member at the end of a semester, an employee going through a reorganization or job change, or a parent juggling work and home, how they feel, and you are likely to hear a description of feeling overwhelmed.

What does it mean to be overwhelmed?

To be overwhelmed is to have more than we can manage realistically. It can affect us physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Our health in all these areas suffers when we are overwhelmed. We are pulled in too many directions to keep our life in equilibrium.

The causes of overwhelm extend way beyond too much to do. The stress of losing a job or a loved one, other traumatic experiences, physical and mental illnesses, financial stresses, social and political upheaval, relationship conflicts, and more can all contribute to feeling overwhelmed.

In turn, feeling overwhelmed makes coping with the overwhelm even worse, because we tend to lose our ability to focus and concentrate, we experience cognitive fatigue, mental slowness, an inability to problem solve, and much more.

How can we productively overcome overwhelm?

There are many things we can do to both prevent and overcome overwhelm. This post is the first in a 3-part series. To make my suggestions easier to recall, the suggestions in this first post begin with A, the ones in the next post begin with B, and the suggestions in the third post begin with C.

The alphabetical order does not reflect the order in which to initiate each step – do them all and in any order to be successful. Each suggestion can be implemented to prevent becoming overwhelmed or can be undertaken to overcome overwhelm.

Ask for help to prevent and overcome overwhelm.

Asking for help prior to drowning in overwhelm is far superior to waiting until we are already feeling submerged. Get in the habit of allowing others to help you.

Take a good look at what you “need” to do every day and every week. What could others do?

If you share a household, are the other members doing their fair share of the work? Children benefit greatly from learning how to cook, clean, and do laundry. Partners need to shoulder equitable loads. Create task lists together and expect follow-through. Hiring help also counts if affordable.

In the workplace, are you taking on more responsibilities than others? Could coworkers assist you, and in turn, you assist them? Create a workplace environment in which helping others and asking for help becomes the norm.

In other settings, like community organizations, are you the only one who raises your hand to get a job done? Ask for help, don’t be a committee of one. Remember the proverb, “Many hands make light work.” It is true.

Stop now. Who can you ask for help? What can you ask them to help you with? Do it. Ask for help.

Accept help to prevent and overcome overwhelm.

Some of my mother’s best advice was, “Don’t turn down good help.” I shared that advice with hundreds of new mothers for many years when I worked in the WIC program. I would tell them that when you have a new baby in the house it is not uncommon for someone to offer to bring a meal or run an errand for you – say yes!

Other times people often offer to help are when you experience an illness or death in the family or a tragedy. When someone says, “How can I help?” Have an answer. Everyone is rewarded. You get much-needed help, and they get the satisfaction of contributing to the welfare of others.

You might be surprised how many times you hear the phrase, “Can I help you?” Do you generally, say, “No, I’m fine”? If you need help, say, “Yes, that would be amazing. Could you…?” and provide specific ways they can help you.

Stop now. Commit to noticing when others ask if they can help. Say yes. Accept help.

Don’t try to do it alone. Delegate. Share the load.

When we allow others to help carry our burdens, we are less likely to be overwhelmed. Additionally, we can break tasks down, build boundaries, and create and communicate clear expectations. Stay tuned for the remaining posts in the series to learn these strategies to prevent and overcome overwhelm.

“Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. It’s one of the bravest things you can do. And it can save your life.” ~ Lily Collins

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