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6 Ways to Overcome Overwhelm

Even the most flexible music educators can feel overwhelmed. Here are some ways to feel confident, even in the face of swirling change.

“I’m just so overwhelmed.” Bet you’ve heard — or said — that lately. Life sometimes feels like bailing water from a leaky rowboat.

But lately, the waves have been coming higher and faster with remote teaching, changes in classroom protocols and general anxiety about the world at large. If your emotional life is a boat that’s been taking on water and threatening to capsize, there are several things to keep in mind. You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed — in fact, it’s to be expected considering these circumstances — and there are things we can do to help ease the feeling.


overwhelmed mom on laptop while two kids are running around the roomWhat are the Signs of Overwhelm?

Emotional overwhelm can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, grief, traumatic events or even a pileup of a lot of little things that sneak up on you all at once. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?

  • Feeling shut down; you don’t want to deal with people you normally do want to connect with like your friends and family.
  • Having a hard time focusing on your job, or even basic stuff on your to-do list.
  • Losing your cool over things that wouldn’t have bothered you much before.
  • Feeling utterly exhausted all the time, even when you are technically getting enough sleep at night.
  • Changed patterns in eating or sleeping (too much, too little).

Overwhelm can cause physical problems like headaches, work-related woes like poor performance, and emotional changes. So, it must be addressed.

Overcome Overwhelm with a Key Phrase

When you say or think, “I can’t take this anymore,” it only reinforces negative thinking. Instead, try saying: “I can do this today.” That was the advice clinical psychologist Dr. Rheeda Walker gave to Mashable. She explains that focusing on short-term solutions helps diffuse the frustration we feel when we have a lack of control over longer-term solutions.

peaceful-looking woman sitting outdoors with eyes closed Overcome Overwhelm by Checking Your Expectations

How we think something should turn out greatly affects our perception of what is actually happening.

Neuroscientists label these expectations as “prior beliefs,” and research out of MIT has found it affects how we behave. Our brains start reverse engineering or leaping ahead, based on something we’ve experienced in the past. This can be efficient — you can open a can of tuna without remastering a can opener every time — but for more complex situations, we tend to make assumptions. Ever pictured yourself in a house you’d made a bid on, before the offer was even accepted?  Or fantasized about a new teaching job, before the interview even took place?

The problem is that as reality unfolds, our expectations don’t always match the outcome, and this disconnect can cause feelings of stress and disappointment. Having expectations can rob us of the joy of the present.

The solution is to note when we are having expectations, and remember to live in the now, using mindfulness as a tool. Here’s a six-minute breathing practice for living mindfully.

Overcome Overwhelm by Looking at the Bigger Picture

One day is just one day and won’t matter much in 10 years. Some people find that keeping a five-year, one-line journal, where you jot down just a few thoughts per evening, can provide a sense of context as we move through life. It helps to reflect back, “Ah, last year I was so stressed out about X and Y…” and take comfort realizing that most things do in fact get resolved, no matter how sticky the situation is at the time.

Overcome Overwhelm with Self-Compassion

Sometimes we are our own worst critics, beating ourselves up if the rhythm section got lost or the clarinets were off pitch. Be compassionate with yourself.

This is especially important if, in addition to workplace stress, you are dealing with caregiving. That’s because working parents and people taking care of elderly relatives are particularly prone to feelings of overwhelm. Researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, has a series of free guided meditations and exercises that teach self-compassion techniques.

man standing outside in front of bridge with earbuds and holding cell phoneOvercome Overwhelm with a Playlist

Spotify actually has an Underwhelming Playlist for Overwhelmed Individuals, consisting of white noise. But seriously, as a music educator, who knows the power of music better than you? Create a playlist of music that makes you feel calmer, or on the flip side, tunes that will rev you up to tussle with the world. Does that translate to soothing birdsongs, Kendrick Lamar or a Puccini aria? Only you can decide.

Overcome Overwhelm with Powerful Knowledge

According to business speaker and author Scott Mautz, uncertainty is naturally unsettling. “Neuroscience research teaches us that uncertainty registers in our brain much like an error does,” he explains in an article for Inc. An error is something we naturally want to fix or solve because it makes us uncomfortable.

Simply knowing that we aren’t wired for so much change and uncertainty all at once — such as teaching remotely, juggling new online learning platforms and crazy news cycles — it’s no wonder that we’re overwhelmed. But knowledge is power. Armed with this knowledge, try some restorative exercise like gardening, walking, bicycling or yoga — all of which are low-impact and soothing.

Lastly, remember that a few sessions with a mental health professional can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Check with your healthcare plan (telehealth is increasingly available) or teacher’s union for information on available mental healthcare benefits. There are also online options such as and

Always remember to take good care of yourself.

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