• brittanymale

The Trap of Overwhelm

As a therapist, I often find myself talking with clients during sessions about similar concepts or issues. Not too long ago, the theme was “overwhelm”. As a therapist, I often find myself talking with clients during sessions about similar concepts or issues. Not too long ago, the theme was “overwhelm”. I think anyone would agree that there are plenty of things that we may find ourselves overwhelmed with during this current time. Despite not always living through a pandemic, it is likely that you, the reader, have felt overwhelmed. Here’s the truth: all of us experience times of complete overwhelm, and while there may be a variety of contributing factors to this, most of the time, the activity that I’m about to share with you can be applied, no matter the trigger.



The activity is called “Brain Dumping” and although I didn’t coin the name, I love using it in my life and sharing the idea with clients.

First, write down in a notebook all of the contributing factors that are driving your overwhelming feelings.


These may be thoughts, feelings, tasks, chores, responsibilities, etc. During this process, it is important not to filter yourself. In other words, don’t try to edit the list before you’ve gone through the whole process because otherwise it is likely that the thing you’ve edited out comes back into play, therefore creating the feeling of overwhelm again. This needs to be an unedited list.


There are a few functions of this task:

  • First, it allows you to have a full picture of what things are contributing to feeling overwhelmed so that moving forward, each trigger can be fully addressed.

  • It also allows you to get all of these triggers out of your mind so that you don’t have to spend energy trying to remember all of them.

  • Finally, a lot of times when I do this activity with clients in session, they realize that there may only be a few things that are contributing to their overwhelm. Until a list is created, their perception is skewed. When a list is created, it’s possible to come to the conclusion that there are actually only a few things on their mind instead of many.

Our mind isn’t always to be trusted and if catastrophizing is something you struggle with, you may find that the number of things that you actually need to focus on are less than you originally thought after doing this part of the activity. So don’t be afraid!


After you’ve made your list, start grouping them together into different categories.

Oftentimes when you review the list, you’ll find there are tasks to complete that all go together. This is called “batching”. If I have three things I need to do around my house, I would categorize all those things together so I can better plan for when I may do those things. Our ability to be productive usually increases when we “batch” similar tasks together instead of jumping around. That said, if you are someone who needs to switch it up, by all means go ahead and jump around from task to task. An example of this would be if I had work to do on my computer but after 30 minutes I know that I start getting antsy, I may plan to do some house work after those 30 minutes and then return to the rest of the work on my computer.


Next, take a look at each “batch” you’ve made and make a plan for each.

It’s difficult to explain this portion without knowing specifically what’s on your list. When I have clients do this in my office, we usually go through each batch and figure out a plan of when the client will work on this. By the time we get to this part of the brain dump, the client is usually feeling less overwhelmed because they realize that although it “feels” like there are a lot of things to do, ultimately after seeing them all on paper, they realize that there are only a few items that they can do in the moment. Creating a plan for when each item can be accomplished also helps instead of thinking that everything has to get done right at this moment.


Finally, focus on one task at a time.

Once you’ve dumped all the tasks out on paper, batched them, and figured out a plan for when each item will be marked off and how long it will take, it is important to focus on one item at a time. This is easier after doing the “brain dump” because you’ve assigned a plan to each task so you’re better able to focus on one task at a time. You cannot do two tasks at a time, this is a proven FACT (Feel free to read more about why in this article https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask) and you’re more efficient with your time if you focus solely on one.

It’s that simple.


Hopefully taking these additional steps can help reduce feeling overwhelmed and help make you more productive. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and would like more help, call Blackberry Counseling Center at (217) 471-4229 or email us at Contact.Blackberry@blackberrycounselingcenter.com.

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