Knowing The Difference Between Overload And Overwhelm Could Be The Secret To Better Mental Health

Are you overwhelmed or overloaded? 

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the constant go-go-go of life, and it’s natural to complain about the overworked environments we often find ourselves in. But being overwhelmed and overworked is a serious problem that we need to learn to deal with and prevent before it gets too bad. 

Knowing the difference between those two words could be the key to avoiding burnout before it begins.

What is the Overwhelm?

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In order to diagnose which of these states of overwork you’re dealing with, you first have to define each. 

Lifestyle and wellness coach Joanna Shurety says some signs to look for, if you think you might be overwhelmed, are being ‘on’ all the time, suffering from a racing mind, not being able to get good sleep, and getting easily distracted. 

Psychologist Dr. Laura Williams states that overwhelm is usually caused by emotional dysregulation. She says, “Feeling overwhelmed is that point at which strategies to manage our busy lives have not been implemented and we’re trying to keep on going regardless. This has a detrimental impact on our ability to cope — and we switch from feeling overloaded to being overwhelmed.” 

Another way to look at overwhelm is noticing when your to-do list and tasks rule your life versus when you rule them. If you’re constantly changing plans, canceling activities that feed your soul, and are always on call, you’re more than likely dealing with overwhelm.

In other words, overwhelm occurs when you’ve been too overloaded for too long.

What is Overload?

Overload is the step before overwhelm. Joanna Shurtey says, “Overload is what we accept onto ourselves, and overwhelm is what we feel about the situation.” While both are valid, overload is more of an easy fix than overwhelm, even though it might still be daunting to speak out about your mental health. 

Many people start to notice they’re overloaded when they begin to feel their sense of control on their to-do lists and tasks slip away from them. 

How Do I Fix This?

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It’s important to know when you’re overloaded because that’s the time that you’re able to speak out and stop the cycle before you get overwhelmed. Overwhelm is closely linked to burnout, so if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, it might manifest itself in not being able to complete the simplest of tasks. 

However, if you find yourself overloaded and not able to enjoy your life or have a work/life balance with all the things on your task list, there’s still time for you to speak out and put your personal boundaries into place. 

Something to remember is that everyone has their own work threshold that they can handle, and it varies. There might be some weeks when you can go above and beyond and be a superhero in work, life, and relationships. But there are also other weeks when you can only (healthily) accomplish the bare minimum and you’re scraping by to do just that. 

You are completely justified in both of those realms and you’re allowed to set different boundaries for different days. As we move forward into the colder and darker months, our productivity is most likely going to drop a bit, as well as our moods

If you’re relating to this article a bit too much, there are some simple steps to take to ease your mental load.

1. Distinguish Where You’re Being Overloaded or Overwhelmed

While this article focused a lot on work/life balance, it’s important to remember that work isn’t the only place where people feel overloaded and overwhelmed. You might be a single parent or the only stay-at-home parent. You might be the person in the relationship that’s always cleaning up after everyone. Figure out which parts of your life are weighing on you and your free time the most.

2. Speak Up

Once you’ve distinguished which section of your life feels the most overwhelming, speak up about it. If you’re struggling at work, tell your manager or boss that you might need to be assigned less in a day. If you’re having a hard time with household chores or parenting, talk to your partner and try to figure out a way that both of you can equally shoulder the burden. If it’s something else, reach out to people all around you. People are surprisingly helpful – they sometimes just need to be told where they can help.

3. Say No

Setting boundaries and learning to say no is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding lessons you can learn. If there are things on your to-do list that you don’t necessarily need to do, cut them off of it. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of saying yes to too many things, begin to say no. No one is going to punish you for telling them when your plate is full, and everyone will be thankful you did so in the long run.

4. Do Things that Feed Your Soul

Everyone recharges differently. When you’re not working and when you don’t need to do anything, invest in yourself and start doing things that feed your soul. Starting to take steps to do these things will not only help you recharge, but they’ll also make you fall in love with yourself again and enjoy life. 


Did you know the difference between overwhelm and overload before? Are you suffering from one of these right now? Comment below!

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