What to Do When Everything is Piling Up on You

Do you find that every task, no matter how small overwhelms you? Do you feel like everything is too much for you and you're barely able to fulfill your obligations? If your to-do list keeps growing, here are some strategies that can help.
What to Do When Everything is Piling Up on You
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 16 October, 2023

Maybe, not long ago you were an example of human efficiency. You woke up in the morning feeling energized and, almost without realizing it, you effortlessly fulfilled every one of your obligations and objectives for the day. However, in recent months, all you seem to be able to do is postpone your tasks.

Added to this continued procrastination, you feel guilty. Indeed, as if not being able to cope with your tasks wasn’t enough, you have an uncomfortable added emotional bonus. Guilt punishes you for not being decisive and productive. It’s like living in a really small and cramped mental space with no oxygen.

It’s only natural to feel overloaded and to slow down occasionally. But, what happens when you’re unable to assume the slightest responsibility and it seems your world is falling around your ears? Let’s find out.

You need to know why you’re feeling so overwhelmed. It’s highly likely to be nothing more than a level of stress you’ve accumulated over time but haven’t managed.

Stressed woman with her hands on her head representing when everything is piling up on you
Although stress sometimes allows us to be productive, most of the time it ends up overwhelming us.

Why is everything piling up on you?

When everything is piling up on you, you feel trapped by negative thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, and indefinable physical ailments. It might manifest as tiredness, an upset stomach, a headache, or even trouble in falling asleep. Worst of all is perceiving that your productivity and the ability to meet your day-to-day obligations are failing.

If you identify with this situation, you should know that the feeling of being overwhelmed is a really common state. After all, we live in uncertain times and this context has a great impact on a psychological level. However, it’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, there’s a well-known acronym (VUCA) that has been used for decades to describe this type of situation.

Indeed, according to a study conducted by Georgia State University (USA), volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are the states that usually define any challenging situation, There are also other added factors in our current social context that can mediate this perception. For example, the feeling that everything is piling up.

Reasons why you feel this way

As a rule, the main reason you feel like everything is piling up on you is stress. The moment your environmental demands overwhelm your physical, emotional, and intellectual resources, you get overloaded.

There are also more triggers:

  • Dealing with a conflict or relational problem. It could be with your partner, family members, colleagues, etc.
  • Having lost someone in the last few months.
  • Health problems.
  • Financial problems.
  • Having suffered a traumatic experience.
  • Suffering from an undetected psychological disorder, such as depression.
  • Being at a transitional stage to which you’re still adjusting.

When life overwhelms you and you feel like you can’t handle too much at a time, you need to set boundaries and avoid the trap of believing you have to try harder.

boy in nature thinking about when everything accumulates
Taking a break in a natural environment will allow us to relax our minds.

What can you do when you find everything piling up?

When you feel overwhelmed, your obligations overwhelm you and almost anything makes you irritable. Therefore, it’s obvious that you have a great deal of reframing to do. The most important is linked to your psychological ‘furniture’. It’s time to put each piece of furniture in its place, open the windows, and let your mental spaces oxygenate. Only then will you be calm enough to recover your energy.

Here are some useful strategies:

1. 5-4-3-2-1 technique to focus on the present

When everything is piling up on you, your mind keeps thinking about what it should be but isn’t doing. You become obsessed with what might happen tomorrow and the day after, resulting in completely catastrophic ideas. If that’s how you feel, this mindfulness-based grounding technique will help you.

The goal is to calm your mind and focus it on the here and now.

  • Name five things that you’re surrounded by now.
  • Name four things you can hear.
  • Take note of three things you can touch.
  • Smell the pages of a book or scented candle.
  • Put something nice in your mouth to savor.

2. Turn off cognitive biases like “I have to try harder”

You’re used to being able to handle everything but the time has come when you can’t do it anymore. Your body and your mind have told you that enough is enough. This is a wake-up call for you to correct many of the biased ideas that you’ve been reinforcing.

It’s time to accept that the “I have to try harder” or “I have to do everything or I won’t feel good about myself” kinds of thoughts are negatively affecting your sanity.

3. Prioritize

If everything is piling up on you, it’s time to analyze what’s deflating your spirits and strength. You could take a pencil and paper and make a list of the priorities in your life and those that are secondary. Prioritizing what’s important and putting aside what’s stealing your free time, tranquility, and sense of satisfaction is an essential health exercise.

4. Start with small steps

At the stage when your whole life is tied in a knot and everything is suffocating you, we recommend giving yourself a break. You must disconnect. However, you shouldn’t resort to absolute inactivity and hibernation. It’s better to keep moving, but slowly. Take one step at a time.

When you feel unable to do anything, put aside your tasks, but try to set yourself a goal every day, however insignificant it may be. For example, buy a book, go for a walk, spend some time in the mountains or a forest, meet someone to talk with… All these are basic tasks. You can gradually add more complex ones to get back on track. But, do it calmly and make sure you prioritize.

Finally, in the event that you’re dealing with a particularly stressful situation and you feel overwhelmed by any of your tasks or obligations, don’t hesitate to consult a specialized professional. Although these situations are frequent, they’re usually temporary experiences that resolve themselves after a few days. Therefore, if you’re having difficulty coping with this kind of state of mind, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bodenhausen, Galen V.; Peery, Destiny (2009-03-01). “Social Categorization and StereotypingIn vivo: The VUCA Challenge”. Social and Personality Psychology Compass3 (2): 133–151. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00167.x
  • Dhabhar FS. The short-term stress response–mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018;49:175-192. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004
  • Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI Journal. 2017;16:1057. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
  • Harvard Business School. How to deal with constantly feeling overwhelmed. Harvard Business Review

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.