What to do when you are overwhelmed

what to do when you are overwhelmed perspective

I am here to help you address “What to do when you are overwhelmed.” As a teacher, school principal, and now entrepreneur I understand what it’s like to feel I’m totally out of control.

drowning? what to do when you are overwhelmed

Supposedly, the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day! Depending on the gravity of each decision … overwhelm seems quite unavoidable, or is it?

As a principal I faced these common decisions within the first 10 minutes of each day:

  • What are we going to do with student X who did [insert poor decision]?
  • Email — Parent Y is concerned about Mrs. Z, who won’t let her daughter retake an exam.
  • The custodian just quit …
  • Mr. T hasn’t has been late to work consistently and is escalating student behavior in his class
  • In the office, a parent, a student group, and a teacher all want me to do something …
  • My supervisor needs a report completed in the next hour …
  • What is the MOST important task to complete today?
  • etc.

As an entrepreneur I face these decisions:

  • How do I bring the most value to my clients and tribe today?
  • Do I have enough money to invest in [conference or tool]?
  • What is the MOST important task to complete today?
  • Are my podcasts edited, show notes written, uploaded to Libsyn, and social media scheduled?
  • What can I delegate or hire a Virtual Assistant to take off my plate? Do I have operating expenses for this?
  • I haven’t seen Client B for two weeks. How can I communicate that I care and how can I help?

Of course, I have strategies that help me be productive, but those don’t help address how I feel when I am in a tailspin crashing to the ground.

In this post I share 9 strategies that I utilize daily to address “what to do when you are overwhelmed”

The most powerful of which is “The Karate Kid Strategy.”

zorro, the karate kid, and my nephew ...

internal vs external focus

In The Happiness Advantage Shawn Anchor makes two claims important to “The Karate Kid Strategy” and dealing with feeling overwhelmed.

  • the most successful people have an “internal locus of control” — they believe what they DO effects what HAPPENS in their lives
  • those with an “external locus of control” not only do not accept blame for their failures, they also do not take credit for their success

PRO TIP <img draggable= FOCUS on your actions and what you can control that will lead to success or failure

I need to take my own medicine …

Last year as a principal, it became quite clear (and very quickly) that I made a mistake. I desperately wanted to serve the community which I was hired to lead, but there were some strong cultural differences I couldn’t bridge and more importantly, a political adversary with incredible power who didn’t want me there.

Just like in the Book of Daniel, I read the writing on the wall.

My feeling was if they don’t want me here what is the point?

So I gave up …

The pressure, odds, and human beings against me felt insurmountable.

I was depressed. I was angry. And I wanted to stop being hurt.

So I stopped showing up and I didn’t give my community the full “Sunshine” experience <img class=

It was my most miserable professional year.

As a result, I stopped looking at the actions I had control over and instead focused on the external … what was out of my control. I soon grew very detached from my loves of education and leadership.

I wish I had a plant to take care of …


Yeah … a plant. If I just had a plant to water, maybe I would have survived?

When most people experience a nursing home, they experience a pretty depressing and depressed group of individuals. It’s as if people are just waiting to die and most don’t stick around that long!

But did you know nursing home residents who were given just one meaningful and simple task to do each day — to water a plant — reduced their mortality rate by 50% compared to nursing home residents who did not have plants to take care of.

If that doesn’t express the POWER of an internal locus of control, I don’t know what does!

“The Karate Kid Strategy” that I reveal in this post works because it focuses solely on what we can control as individuals.

9 strategies to win ... what to do when you are overwhelmed

Although “The Karate Kid Strategy” is the best strategy to answer the question “What to do when you are overwhelmed,” the other 8 strategies below will also help …

Talk about it

Just naming your challenges through a journal or with a set of people you trust has power in dispelling overwhelm. Plus, if you do share with confidants, they may have ideas to help.

Pray / Meditate

When feeling overwhelmed, I find it useful to pray and meditate. If I pray, it is because I want to acknowledge that I am not the boss and that I need help from a higher power. When I meditate, the purpose is to slow down my breathing and heart rate while letting go of things I cannot control.

Do Something Fun

This will take your mind off of whatever overwhelming situation you face. Be careful … you don’t want to use this strategy all the time as you will become soft. This strategy is useful to take your mind off things from time to time, not to avoid pain altogether.

Express Gratitude

Have you ever heard that you can’t be happy and angry at the same time?

I agree with this idea. By expressing gratitude (e.g. gratitude journal or thank you notes), I let positivity occupy the entirety of my mind.


Often, I am overwhelmed because I created the problem in the first place. This can be tied to ego and control. Why not delegate if I can afford to and have the authority?

Even if I didn’t create the problem I should reflect on:

  • Is this something only I can do or something I think only I can do?
  • Does this activity give me energy?
  • How much time/energy/money does this activity cost?

After honestly answering these questions, I have a greater understanding of what I need to delegate.

This method is one of the most popular articles I teach my clients. The Delegation Roadmap is the 2nd most popular tool after my “Vision Story” activity I use with clients.


I find that I get overwhelmed more easily when I am not fully rested. Sometimes the best decision is to just take a nap.

Say No to New Things

We often are overwhelmed because we keep saying “Yes” to everything.

If you are feeling overwhelmed right now, write down this script and use it as each new opportunity is shared with you:

I’m sorry, but I cannot commit to [NEW OPPORTUNITY]. I have been reflecting on where I invest my time and currently, I have too many things on my plate. If I say yes to [NEW OPPORTUNITY], I am worried that I will have committed to too many opportunities. This is a problem for me because I want to do everything with excellence and if I said “Yes” to this [NEW OPPORTUNITY] I would only deliver sub-par results.

Deal with What is in Front of You

Inaction is a form of paralysis. Take action on what is in front of you and start getting your balance back.

Where do you start? Answer this question <img draggable=

What could I complete or drastically move the needle on if I gave just a little bit of effort to?

Start there <img draggable=

The karate kid strategy: what to do when you are overwhelmed

The above 8 strategies will absolutely help you manage your feelings of overwhelm, but the most powerful strategy is "The Karate Kid Strategy." You can download it below.

in summary ...

  • There are a lot of things you can do to help combat anxiety. In this post I shared 9 strategies, my favorite of which is “The Karate Kid Strategy.”
  • Those with an “internal locus of control” are more successful than those without.
  • “The Karate Kid Strategy” works because it focuses on what is under our control and has you start there.
  • Action leads to momentum, greater control, and regained balance.

Did you enjoy this post, “What to do when you are overwhelmed?” If you did, then please share on social media and leave a comment below!

Daniel Bauer

I help school leaders create a winning culture, focus on the essential, and lead with courage and integrity.