The 7 Early Warning Signs Of Overwhelm

Overwhelm is one of the biggest drivers of our stress levels and fatigue. It can be super sneaky and difficult to spot, let alone tackle head on, so it stops wearing you down.

In this article I want to help you understand why we can be so vulnerable to getting in to overwhelm, and arm you up with your very own early warning system, so you can deal with it before it takes a hold.

Why is it so tricky to spot the overwhelm?

The biggest challenge when it comes to kicking overwhelm into touch is to recognise it in the first place.  It can be hard to spot and it’s very easy to ignore, until it’s got a hold of us.

Overwhelm can come and go, so on the good days, when we are feeling a little better, we shrug it off and tell ourselves ‘it’s not that bad’!  On the bad days we are racking our brains to figure out how we can stop feeling so bad.

Overwhelm can be that slow, low level kind of stress.  The stuff that you tell yourself is ‘ just normal’ and part of life, and it really shouldn’t be bothering you as much as it does.

Which means that we park the whole lot in the ‘this just normal life’ box.  Until we get sick.  Or we burn out.  Or something else happens, that forces us to face the music.

So what do we mean by overwhelm and how can you spot the early warning signs before it makes you suffer?

What does overwhelm really look like?

Now we know overwhelm can be sneaky, and dress itself up like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, how do you know that overwhelm is the real reason you’re feeling so yuck and stuck?

Here are some classic tell tale signs that could mean you are at risk of the overwhelm monster:

  • Always being on the go. 
  • Feeling like you’re on the hamster wheel of life. 
  • That to-do list that you just never seem to get on top of….no matter how hard you try. 
  • Feeling like it’s an impossible task. 
  • I can’t work it out.
  • I can’t stop worrying. 
  • You find it almost impossible to switch off.  
  • Feeling like you have failed before you have even started. 

So why do we let ourselves be this busy?  Why do we line ourselves up for this amount of intensity of life?  And what really drives us into this overwhelming behaviour?

What sets us up for getting into overwhelm in the first place?

There are lots of reasons and they are nearly all to do with wanting to be a good and valuable human being! And that’s a good thing, right?!

☝We feel we let people down if we don’t do it all.

☝We want to be good at what we do: being a mum, a colleague, a volunteer, a team member.

☝We value hard work, contribution, and perform.

☝We want to make a difference.

☝We want to feel like life has meaning and purpose

☝We want to be awesome!!

☝We don’t want to let anyone down. 

All of these beliefs, values and desires are what drive us forwards, at an ever increasing pace. 

What can you do right now to help yourself.

Now don’t yell at me, but I just need to ask you this:

When WAS the last time you sat down with your feet up and feeling totally happy and relaxed?

When WAS the last time you felt confident in the knowledge that all your work is done and all the loose ends are tied up? 

When WAS the last time you knew that nothing more needs to be taken care of?  

For most of us that’s a distant memory!!  

So how can we help ourselves? You need to get good at spotting those early warning signs!

The 7 early warning signs of overwhelm

So let’s get you armed up with the knowledge and insights you need to spot that sneaky overwhelm before it gets a hold:

Regularly Feeling Stressed or Distressed

The emphasis here is on the regular.  We all get stressed at times, but constantly feeling on edge is something quite different.  When the stress becomes too much we start to resent the pressure that there is always something more to do.  That we are never ‘done’.  Usually we tend to ignore it or override feelings like this.

No Time for Friends or Family. 

Are you one of those people who has to organise meeting a friend for coffee weeks in advance?

Do you have a timetable on a ‘date night’ or else you would just be passing ships at night?  Or do you plan ‘quality time’ with your kids, or else it just wouldn’t happen? 

Yes, of course there is a certain amount of organisation to be done.  As they say: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.  But if everything in your life has to be timetabled, planned and arranged.… just take note!  And keep a careful eye on yourself that you are not heading out to overwhelm.

Backlog of Little Job and Chores

The next ‘sign of overwhelm’ is more practical. Things start to pile-up such as administrative tasks, unpaid bills, housework, DIY.  These are the things that keep getting shoved to the bottom of the to-do list, because they are not as important, urgent or interesting as all the other things on that list. This means that you start to lose things, the house starts to look a bit neglected and unloved, the car MOT is suddenly overdue and so on. All those little things, that mean we are not quite on top of our game.

Your Self Care Gets Moved to The Bottom of The To-Do List.

Pulling back on your self care is another early sign of overwhelm. Placing the needs of others, of our jobs, of the ‘greater good’ etc before our own is risky business.  We all have a need for rest and sleep, for good nurturing food, for exercise, and for meaningful time with those we love. 

Lose Your Mental and Emotional Flexibility

As the overwhelm deepens, we start to lock down and become more rigid, in our thinking and in our emotions. This means we are less able to think creatively, solve problems or see other points of view. 

Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

As we get more overwhelmed, tired and feel more isolated, our confidence can take a real nose dive. We become harsh, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Instead of recognizing our need for rest, ease, play and joy, we tell ourselves off!  I should try harder! I should be more productive!  I should be more original.  I should be better than this.  And guess what this does to your feeling of confidence or self worth?

Tired and Fed Up.

Eventually everything comes together in such a way that we lose our energy, our joy and vitality. It’s a combination of everything, and it all started with such good intentions!!

The good news is….

Now that you know the 7 early warning signs and you know how sneaky that overwhelm monster can be, you have the ability to do something about it, and not go down the chronic overwhelm stress route.


Ready to reclaim your energy vitality and happiness..........then let's talk!


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