How to cope with overwhelm

how to cope with overwhelm - work your way

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyse you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” – Bernice Reagon, Historian


There are only so many hours in the day, yet when you’re self-employed, there are a million and one things that you need to squeeze into it.

You produce the work, set deadlines, manage projects, deal with IT disasters, negotiate, re-negotiate, stay up as late as you need to AND organise a household too.

Perhaps when you first started working for yourself, your new-found work flexibility seemed rosy.

But now, with so much stuff to deal with on an ongoing basis, does work feel like a drudgery?

I know only too well what overwhelm feels like.  It is only time and experience that has taught me how to deal with it.

This is what I’ve learnt:


Evaluate your goals and priorities

I’ve learnt that you need to have a clear vision for your business.

What do you want to DO with your business? Where do you want it to take you? What would you like to leave behind?

Having this clear in your mind from the outset will help you to work with a purpose and on purpose.

If you’re only working to pay the bills, you’ll find yourself chasing after whatever comes your way – taking any offer, no matter the financial, emotional or physical price.

Trust me, I DO understand the challenge of just trying to survive.  I get it, that at times, you feel you can’t be choosy.

It’s just that if you’re close to melt-down, somethings gotta give.



It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have the skills, knowledge or experience to do everything yourself in your business, so learn to delegate as early on as you possibly can.

If you are on a tight budget, swap skills or barter.  But frankly, there will come a time when you’ll need to pay for expertise.

Firstly, it will save you valuable time and energy, but secondly, consider it as a long-term investment.  For example, if you pay to have a well-designed website, as opposed to slapping up any old thing just to save yourself the money, you’ll portray a more professional image to prospects, which in turn, will attract a better quality of client.

It’s just as important to delegate household chores too.  My family no longer treat me as the “stay at home mum-cum-housewife with a little job on the side who should be able to do the housework in between”.  

They count themselves lucky that dinner is (usually) ready on time, because I’m so busy working that nothing gets done around the home during weekdays until after 5pm when everyone can chip in to help!


Learn to say ‘NO’ more often

I’ve learnt that at times, you simply need to say ‘NO’.

And more importantly, to NOT feel guilty about saying no, either.  In business, if you’re saying no to a client or colleague, then you should always temper it with an offer of an alternative solution, or at the very least, find someone else who can help.

Otherwise, you need to be realistic as to what you can feasibly manage by yourself.


Get Organised

Sometimes, overwhelm comes from being disorganised.

No set priorities for the day or week, will have you reacting to whatever little tasks you remember to tackle, or to whatever problems come your way, so you end up feeling as if you’re constantly on the go.

Instead, create a system where high priority items come first – such as promptly sending off your invoices, chasing up payments, or following up leads.  Less important items, such as catching up with your social media updates should be lower on your list – unless of course, social media IS your business.


Work with your natural rhythm

I can’t work any later than 8pm.  As much as I’ve tried to, I’m far too tired.

I am, however, quite happy to rise as early as 5/6am as it’s when I’m at my most alert and have more energy, so that’s when I tackle more challenging tasks.

Try to find your natural energy levels throughout the day, and structure work accordingly..

I’ve found that it’s counter-productive to work beyond the point when I’m flagging energy.  Even if I have managed to achieve what I set out to do, the quality of my work will have suffered.


Take time to recharge

I now take a lunch break every day – even if it’s just for 30 minutes – and I like to step away from the computer altogether.

The break helps me to take a fresh new look on whatever it is I’m working.

In general, even if you’re not working, as a parent and carer, you’re still constantly juggling the demands of a family.

Cultivate your own interests outside of the business and take time out to do something you thoroughly enjoy.

And when you’re ‘off’ try to unplug completely.  Do you remember how people managed to get hold of you if you were out and about, before mobile phones were invented?  That’s right.  They didn’t.  Until you got back home!


Systemise your processes

As far as my own work is concerned, I’ve learnt that it’s as much about what I do as the way that I do it.

Take a look to see where processes can be systemised – in other words, where you can create a system to handle repetitive tasks.

These are some personal examples that I’ve applied to my own business:

  • Editorial Guidelines for guest or sponsored posts (this obviously saves me writing up an email each time someone makes an inquiry)
  • Software to prompt me when an invoice is overdue
  • A standard template to chase up overdue payments

You get the idea – there are plenty of other examples you could use:

Even something as simple as a  “Frequently Asked Question” sheet for your clients, or a page for your website, will save you time if you find you’re answering the same types of questions time and again.

Taking the time to put a few of these systems in place might take a few hours to implement, but they’ll help you run more efficiently in the long run.


Accept there doesn’t have to be ‘perfect balance’

There doesn’t have to be a perfect balance – whatever that means – and you don’t have to be constantly in control.

There are times when I need to consult with a client during half-terms, the summer holidays, or late evenings.

Thankfully, with planning, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I don’t beat myself up about it, or curse myself for being a ‘bad parent’.

I’ve learnt to embrace it as true work flexibility.  Less work-life balance and more work-life blend.

There isn’t an ‘off’ switch when it comes to coping with overwhelm.  It takes patience, being kind to yourself, honouring and valuing yourself.

But carefully putting these measures into place will, in time, help you to become better at coping with it, if not avoiding it altogether.


How do you cope with overwhelm?  What tips would you add?




I’m Mary Cummings, a freelance journalist, author, ghostwriter and online educator. I help creative freelancers find their work sweet spot - that’s work on their terms, projects they love and clients who are a dream to work for.

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