Are You Paralyzed by Overwhelming Feelings? Stop Procrastinating

Person in blue lacy top with long dark hair leans back against wall, holding necklace, thinkingMany of us linger on the things we wish we could do better, more frequently, or at all. Sometimes, we find ourselves feeling “stuck” and unable to move forward—or in any direction. Delving into what keeps us in this state, paradoxically, feels like it may only fan the flames. When this occurs, we might notice we are frightened, nervous, anxious, or confused. More often than not, there is a sense of overwhelm in this condition. The overwhelming feelings then cause us to feel even more paralyzed and we find ourselves more and more rooted in the sense of inability to take action toward the things we look to build in our lives.

This process raises the question: How do we stop procrastinating? Each of us may have experienced an occasional bout of discomfort with intermittent procrastination, yet some find themselves continuously battling the cycle of overwhelm and procrastination with most of their goals and deadlines. With repetition, not only can this become exhausting, but it can feel almost threatening to strive for goals as well as take on projects—even if they are required of us.

An important thing to keep in mind is procrastination is representative of a bigger underlying factor. In order to address procrastination, it becomes imperative to look at the underlying issue. Often, feeling overwhelmed presents as procrastination. In other words, if we are feeling engulfed by what might be required of us, it may feel impossible to take any action toward those tasks. To facilitate circumventing procrastination, we need strategies for keeping overwhelm at bay.

One reason we may feel overwhelmed by our tasks and goals may be that we are intimidated by carrying out the task or what it might entail. We may find ourselves thinking the task is too complex or that the stakes are too high. This can lead us into a numbed state or hiding from the activity. At times, we might even find ourselves fixated on it, even becoming irritable, and yet unable to take any action. From this point, as the deadline approaches, we may find ourselves becoming even more and more rooted in fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and inaction.

The antidote is to break the task down into much smaller chunks. As we become overwhelmed, it can become more and more difficult to take notice of the smaller pieces of a task or activity. Overwhelm tends to come from stacking too many parts of the same task together. It can be invaluable to break tasks down to the point of noticing the obvious things you can do that are in front of you. Making use of coping skills and mindfulness tools can help us find an aspect of the task to break down in this way. In doing so, we begin to tip the mind-set scale away from the shut-down and paralyzed state that the overwhelmed feelings brought on. Furthermore, we begin to show ourselves that we can make progress—even if we are not quite done, we have started.

Feelings of overwhelm can lead to a state of paralysis. This, in turn, can compound the stress and anxiety we might experience in response to challenging tasks.

This leads us to an additional strategy for overcoming overwhelming, paralyzing feelings: getting started in the smallest increments possible. We often find ourselves believing we must devote big blocks of time to effectively complete our tasks. Yet, this approach can preclude us getting started and increase our anxiety, stress, and sense of feeling overwhelmed. Getting started with a restricted 5-minute block of time can allow us to begin making a dent in the task in a less pressured way, allowing us to even perform better than we otherwise might have.

Another consideration as we navigate our tasks when we are overwhelmed is where to start. Many of us convince ourselves that we must start with the first step. Yet, this first step may feel elusive to us or perhaps we are just unsure of what it is or how to do it. It may help to start with aspects of the task we do know how to accomplish. As a result, we find ourselves having begun, which alleviates some of the pressure, stress, anxiety, and difficult feelings. At the same time, we begin to see progress and our confidence in our ability to keep moving forward may increase.

In the same vein, if we find ourselves making mistakes along the way, it can be helpful to keep moving forward and correct our mistakes as quickly as possible. Doing so begins to train our mind that forward movement and correction are the way we respond to errors rather than with defeated inaction. Hence, we come away with a mentality that mistakes are not what ultimately matter, but rather, our reaction to the mistakes.


In sum, feelings of overwhelm can lead to a state of paralysis. This, in turn, can compound the stress and anxiety we might experience in response to challenging tasks. With this in mind, we can take steps to ensure overwhelmed states are mitigated so we can continue to build on what we value in our lives.

If you need help managing stress and overwhelm, consider working with a therapist who can teach you the skills you need to stop procrastinating and start moving forward.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Karen g

    October 24th, 2017 at 10:28 AM

    You are so right! When at all possible I will try to break down the most overwhelming tasks into smaller parts so that I feel like I can make some progress and get them accomplished. When I look. At the big picture I’m like ugh, I’m never going to be able to do this. But when I make it a more simplified step by step process for myself, things tend to go a little more smoothly for me. Plus I just enjoy being able to mark things off of my to do list!

  • Casey

    October 24th, 2017 at 3:16 PM

    I read this and thought that you could have been writing every bit of this about me!
    I try so hard to run and hide from the things that I don’t feel comfortable doing, I guess in some way hoping that if I just avoid it then it will all go away.
    I know that logically this is a huge mistake, that it is only going to pile on even harder if I don’t go ahead and take care of it.
    But the fear and anxiety that usually surround it for me leave me waiting until the last possible second to finish those tasks which I know are going to prove to be the biggest problems for me.

  • Joe

    October 25th, 2017 at 9:45 AM

    I don’t know, I have tried and tried to preach this lesson to my own kids but they all say that they work best when under a little bit of pressure. Ok so that is NOT how I work the best so where did they get this trait from??

  • Tabitha

    October 27th, 2017 at 11:23 AM

    I sure do hate to admit this but defeated inaction could possibly be my middle name :/

  • Mike

    March 1st, 2022 at 1:42 PM

    It’s much worse than this. There’s no way out of indecision except for absolute hell on earth that never stops. One has to take action without thought, and then never, under any circumstances, return to comfort – and or systemic/technological dependency. Never, or you’ll pay a price 10 fold of the original hell you made it out of.

  • Kami

    March 10th, 2022 at 3:37 PM

    I agree with Mike here. If I don’t have anything to do I automatically start overthinking and my mind becomes overloaded with thoughts and I can’t do anything because all I do is be trapped inside of my head. How do I get out???

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