Lucas Brenner » Articles » The Four Types of Overwhelm

There are four different types of overwhelm that we can experience in our everyday lives. Although the symptoms – stress, decision fatigue, and emotional rather than rational thinking – are the same for all types, the coping strategies differ greatly. This means that we may react to our overwhelm in a bad way, which only makes matters worse.

If you know the different types of overwhelm, you can react to them appropriately. At the same time, this knowledge also enables us to recognize the emergence of excessive demands and take countermeasures in good time.

Time Overwhelm

This type of overwhelm is characterized by the fear of not having enough time. Time overwhelm occurs when a deadline seems too tight or we have too many tasks to complete at once.

There are two ways to alleviate this type of overwhelm. If the deadline in question isn't realistic, you can ask for more time and thus resolve the feeling of time overwhelm. More often, however, we just have the feeling that there is not enough time to complete a project. In this case, it helps to create a schedule and realize that the first draft our work does not have to be perfect. Our work becomes better than we could ever have achieved on our own through feedback from other people. The schedule provides a feeling of safety because you know that every step needed to complete the project is accounted for.

Emotional Overwhelm

Emotional overwhelm means that you are overwhelmed by your feelings or anxiety. Emotional overwhelm is the feeling that everything is just too much. This type of overwhelm occurs particularly when a lot happens at once and our sense of control is lost. It is therefore closely linked to informational overwhelm. Individually, the triggers of emotional overwhelm are usually not as bad as they seem, but collectively they can create anxiety. This is especially true when it's not just about tasks, but also about emotionally charged issues.

Mindfulness is the most effective remedy for emotional overwhelm, as we can center ourselves through meditation, a walk or five minutes of doing nothing, for example. Breathing exercises can also help to alleviate the fight-or-flight reflex and calm us down again. The goal of mindfulness is to look at each trigger of emotional overwhelm individually and to understand that they are not as bad as you might think. Taking a step back through sleep or distractions can also help to ease emotional overwhelm.

Information Overwhelm

Information overwhelm describes the fact that we can no longer process all the incoming information. If our email inbox is overflowing, we receive dozens of direct messages or have to deal with many comments on a project in a meeting, this can lead to our brain becoming overloaded. If the brain is no longer able to process incoming information and decide what is relevant, it shuts down, which leads to a strong emotional reaction.

Information overwhelm limits rational thinking as we lose sight of important information. The only thing that helps to counteract this type of overwhelm is a break in which we can process our thoughts and regenerate. After this, the first step should be to triage the incoming information so that we are not overwhelmed again. If you need or want to focus on a specific task, you should try to block as much incoming information as possible.

Decision Overwhelm

If many decisions have to be made in a stressful situation and there is not much time to think about the consequences or the best possible choice, it can lead to overwhelm. Decision overwhelm causes decision paralysis, which makes it difficult or impossible to make a choice. Additionally, we worry of making the wrong decision.

To ease this type of overwhelm, you should postpone non-urgent decisions as best as possible until you have more mental capacity. However, even a brief break can help. Additionally, the advice and support of people we trust or who have expertise helps to make decisions. If we make a choice as a group, it is also easier for us to live with the consequences of the decision.

Different types of overwhelm therefore require different coping strategies. Are there any other types of overwhelm that I have forgotten here? Or do you know other techniques that you use to react to feelings of being overwhelmed? Share your thoughts with me!