How to Stop Feeling Distracted and Overwhelmed

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The Caring Generation® – Episode 163 March 22, 2023. How to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed in everyday life or when unexpected events derail your day. Caregivers have an unending list of to-dos for other people, which often means their needs go unmet. Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, shares how to reset and regain focus. 

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Do you ever wonder how to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed? Feeling constantly frenzied can become habitual if you are a caregiver with a never-ending to-do list who places the needs of others first.

I will share some examples of feeling distracted and overwhelmed, including how caregivers become mentally overstimulated and three things to consider—creating mental distractions, physical distractions, and daily routines—to help you reset and regain focus.

Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel

Feeling distracted and overwhelmed can be a regular part of your day regardless of your life situation. Unfortunately, many of us feel this way.

But how often do you stop to acknowledge the feeling and do something about it? I’ll use myself as an example. This past week something unexpected happened, and this event mentally distracted me from the day I had planned.

Responding to Time-Sensitive Emergencies

Years ago, as a care manager, unexpected events happened almost daily. I planned my day—and after receiving an early morning phone call about a client sent to the emergency room—me and my staff re-adjusted the day to do triage.

My staff and I responded to our clients’ most time-sensitive health-related issues. Another example of unexpected stress was a transportation company not showing up to take a client to a doctor’s appointment.

As care managers, our job was to solve problems. So we quickly shifted from one task to another and refocused to get back on track with our plans for the day or week.

The experience of responding to time-sensitive emergencies may be expected depending on your daily job or responsibilities. For example, firemen and women respond to daily emergencies—similar to doctors and staff in hospital emergency rooms.

The Unexpected Can Result in the Mind Shifting to Worry or Negative Thoughts

But what if you are not in a situation where you expect or wait for emergencies or time-sensitive situations to happen so that you can respond and do your job? If you have a relatively stable job or daily routine, you might experience an event that disrupts your emotions, mood, or sense of calm.

And, let’s say you need to go on with the list of items you had planned for the day because others depend on you. Being sidetracked or derailed can result in an emotional or mental distraction or exhaustion that sets one off in a spiral of frustration.

When a loss of focus occurs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, agitated, irritated, and frustrated. Depending on the issue that takes one off track, the mind can shift to worry or negative thoughts. Worry is common when new problems arise for which proven solutions don’t exist.

What Constitutes An Emergency?

In many of these cases, time sensitivity can be another challenge. For example, is the distraction something that you can solve in minutes? Or is this a longer-term issue that requires investigation?

If so, examining the action-time relationship might be a factor in quickly regaining focus if there is no immediate need to solve the problem.

In other situations, the interruption happens, and there is insufficient information to understand the short- or long-term effect. Let’s use a simple example. You wrote a check or paid a bill online and then realize there’s not enough money in the account because you didn’t account for other payments that haven’t cleared yet.

In this case, you might be rushing to transfer money from another account to cover the payment. Or maybe you have to wait until the next payday to cover the expense. Then, knowing the bank will hit your account with a hefty insufficient funds charge, you cringe and wait to see your bank statement.

When I managed money for clients, some had overdraft protection on their accounts, making them comfortable that whatever checks they wrote would be covered. But they didn’t look at the result of not paying close attention—huge monthly fees totaling hundreds of dollars.

I worked with my clients to create a budget. Knowing exactly what was coming in and going out gave them the Feeling that it was possible to stay within their monthly income and avoid all these unnecessary fees. So part of responding to unexpected situations or interruptions is time sensitivity.

Is the Solution Simple or Complicated?

How to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed includes other factors like knowing the status of an issue. Is the solution simple or complicated?

When you become distracted, you may be emotionally snagged in a spiral of frustration. Maybe you feel like an animal caught in a trap.

You can’t focus on the bigger picture of your actions before getting caught up in this drama. So instead, all you can think about is the here-and-now emergency to survive. Or, if you’re at work, maybe you know you have a project deadline or work to do, but your mind is not cooperating.

Feeling Distracted and Lost?

Let’s relate feeling distracted and lost to some research about getting lost in a forest or a desert and how the mind processes returning to safety. Think of feeling distracted and overwhelmed as being temporarily lost. When you are feeling distracted and overwhelmed you are lost in the sense that it’s challenging to focus on routine activities because you have a problem to solve. You want things to return to normal and feel safe in your space.

The research article about getting lost is called Walking Straight into Circles by Jan Souman and others, published in Current Biology.

The outcome of the research confirms that people tend to walk in circles when they lack landmarks to guide them. So you might wonder, what does research about walking in circles have to do with how to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed?

This research is relevant because of the correlation between feeling lost and needing a landmark or guidance to return to stability and safety. Feeling distracted and overwhelmed disrupts stability and security.

It doesn’t matter if you are a caregiver, a student, an employee, a spouse, a mother, a father, a company president, or whatever your role is in life. When balance or equilibrium goes off track, it’s like being caught off balance and trying to regain footing.

But sometimes, it’s challenging to regain balance in life without research or seeking advice. So the previous week, when my day was disrupted. I recognized that I was a little off course.

What to Do When Life Takes You Off Track

how to manage distractionsSo, I started thinking of ways to re-ground myself. Grounding is a term you may or may not have heard.

The traditional definition of grounding means being mentally and emotionally stable, sensible, realistic, and present or conscious about the present moment.

Other people relate grounding to putting the bottoms of bare feet on the ground so the body touches the earth.

Grounding can also be walking through grass with bare feet, lying in the sand, dancing, or swimming in a pool, lake, or ocean. If you have ever snorkeled or been scuba diving, there is a peace deep in the water that’s difficult to describe that is like being close to heaven.

In simple terms, grounding means living in harmony and feeling at peace. If you are a caregiver or in a high-stress job, this may differ from how you feel most days. So the question is how to move toward harmony and peace and away from feeling distracted and overwhelmed.

The first step is to recognize feeling distracted and overwhelmed and how these emotions and feelings impact your life and relationships. Then, by initiating mental or physical activities or creating daily routines, you can take steps to feel more grounded and at peace, even if events in your life are crazy and stressful.

Each person can control reactions to situations and other people. Being grounded makes it possible to stop or revise responses to others before saying or doing something regrettable. So there are simple things we can do to avoid daily distractions when we notice them.

  • Turn off the volume on your cellphone or your computer if the beeps from messages or emails disrupt the projects you are working on or if they cause you stress.
  • Background noise at home or in the workplace can be a disruption. If so, wear noise-canceling headphones or play the music you enjoy that is not distracting – spa, instrumental, jazz, piano, and other quiet or relaxing music.
  • Do not answer your phone if you are in the middle of a project, or turn off your phone during certain hours of the day so that you are not interrupted. Imagine life before cell phones made everyone so easily accessible.

So the first step is to look at your environment and set yourself up for success to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed. If you live in a busy, noisy household, this can be challenging. Feeling emotionally drained can be more common than experiencing a sense of calm.

Taking a Time Out

There may be times when, like young children, you have to take 10 minutes to sit outside or in your room in total quiet to re-center and ground yourself. If you care for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s who has behaviors, part of those behaviors may relate to feeling distracted and overwhelmed.

It’s easy for persons with memory loss to feel overwhelmed by noise or too much activity in their surroundings. So for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the solution to minimize distractions or disruptions is the same for calming the environment.

These next suggestions are for people without memory loss because creating mental distractions takes focus, executive function, and short and long-term memory, which are difficult for persons with dementia.

So let’s look at creating a variety of mental distractions to reduce feeling distracted and overwhelmed. There are options to care for aging parents that don’t totally disrupt your life.

These include mental distractions that you must plan for, knowing that there are days you want to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed. Or every day is stress-filled, and you are looking for ways to calm your emotions.

These suggestions aim to remove the focus from the frenzy, frustration, overwhelm, and distractions you experience to re-train the brain to return to a place of calm and focus.

1  The first is called photographic memory. Put a couple of photographs on your desk or carry one with you. Or you could have a magazine or a book with pictures. Look at the photo or image briefly and concentrate on the details. Then, turn over the photo, shut the magazine or book, and recite every detail you remember—or if you want to test your memory, write down the information.

2   You can also use other mathematical tools or games to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed. For example, count backward from 100 in 3s or 4s or forward in a similar sequence. Feel free to write the numbers on a piece of paper.

3   You can also create categories of things and write the words down. For example, dogs, and you list all of the types of dogs you can recall. You can do this with the 50 United States or name trees, flowers, fish, or other subjects.

4  Painting or coloring is another good mental distraction. However, this takes a longer period of time versus the quicker fixes above. If you enjoy arts and crafts or any activity where you can become lost in the activity for hours is a great stress reliever. Other activities like gardening or woodworking also fall into this category.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Activity

These activities aim to help your mind refocus so you can return to what you were doing before the distraction.

Let’s discuss two more ideas that use mental and physical distractions to help you refocus and ground yourself with exercises that cross psychological and physical distractions. One is well-known, and it’s called 5-4-3-2-1.

For this one, you might want to write down this list. See, feel, touch, hear, smell, and taste. Begin with and name five things you see. Then four things you can touch. Three things you can hear. Two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

This is a very common coping technique for anxiety. An article from the University of Rochester Medical Center describes this technique and one other you might find comforting.

This article, the 5-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety, includes a link to a video called Hand on Heart, illustrated by Melissa Nunes-Harwitt. It’s a short video about the hands-on-heart method that offers a technique to help calm you down when your heart and mind are racing.

Daily Routines to Improve Focus and Calm

When you feel distracted and overwhelmed, your mind may immediately go to problem-solving. If so, listen to The Caring Generation podcast, Episode #162 – Why is Problem-Solving So Hard?

This podcast episode mainly focuses on identifying emotions that take you off track due to unexpected events and how to regain your attention, focus, and composure. Other practical problem-solving and care management tips are available in my online webinar program Caring for Aging Parents, here on this website.

Let’s consider more ideas for how to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed that relate to creating physical distractions. The Hand on Heart method can be beneficial, as we just discussed.

You can also find daily routines from Donna Eden, an energy medicine practitioner for those interested in alternative medicine. Donna has a Five Minute Daily Energy Routine that I do every morning after I meditate. Donna’s Eden Daily 5-Minute Energy Routine uses physical movement to help you regain peace of mind and to clear your energy field.

Let’s look at a few more ideas to create physical distractions when you feel distracted and overwhelmed.

  • Take to take a break. Walk away from your desk.
  • Take a time out after a heated discussion with loved ones or a meeting that didn’t go how you expected.
  • Sit in a quiet room for 10 minutes, take a quick walk, and go outside.

Whatever activity you choose, do it alone. Do not call someone on the phone to complain or seek empathy or understanding from another person. When you interrupt another person,  you hijack their day.

Instead of taking a break to think about the event, force your mind to go elsewhere. Mentally focusing on the occasion that upset you isn’t taking a break. It’s like throwing hot coals on the fire. Your emotions will remain high, and you won’t solve anything.

Fidget Toys Distract the Mind

dealing with mental distractionsLet’s look at a few more examples. If you enjoy reading or reading for inspiration, keep a book nearby to turn to in an upsetting moment.

Read a few pages of happiness or inspiration to tell your brain that you’re not “going to go to that dark place.”

It’s possible to control responses and reactions to situations and other people. You can learn to tell the brain how to think and respond. It takes a bit of practice, but you can do it.

If you know you will be in a stressful situation, you can carry an item in your pocket or place the item on your desk. These include a favorite rock or crystal, a rabbit’s foot, a squishy toy, or a fidget toy.

Fidget toys are becoming more popular for anyone experiencing anxiety. The goal of fidget toys is to relieve stress and serve as distractions in overstimulating environments.

Fidget quilts have been around for years for persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Fidget quilts are about 12 inches x 12 inches or lap size.

They have items sewn onto the quilt squares for touching, like buttons or snaps, or ribbons that can be tied in a bow. The materials used to make the quilt can have different textures.

Fidget toys are popular for persons with developmental disabilities and those diagnosed with ADHD. If you’ve ever had a piece of bubble wrap and popped the bubbles one by one, there are fidget toys that offer this experience.

There are fidget spinners, the old-fashioned yo-yo, Silly Putty, Etch-A-Sketch, and Rubik’s cube. Research confirms that keeping the hands occupied helps the mind focus.

Creating Daily Routines to Improve Focus and Reduce Frustration

Establishing daily routines is the third suggestion to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed. Here’s a list, some of which you may be aware of but may not be doing.

  • Daily exercise is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Exercise and physical activity is the one thing that helps the body withstand the challenges of aging as long as you don’t injure yourself.

Elderly parents need help because of physical difficulties or weakness. For example, an inability to stand for long periods or poor balance makes parents a fall risk. For example, your parents need help to carry groceries into the house.

Poor endurance is another concern related to aging. For example, do your parents walk 50 feet and become exhausted?

If you want to avoid becoming like your parents – exercise and build up your physical strength, which, according to research, begins declining after age 30 if you don’t do something about it.

You don’t have to join a gym. There are plenty of exercise videos on YouTube, and as long as you live in a safe neighborhood, you can go outside to walk.

Schedule Daily Time for Yourself

  • Schedule 30 minutes of exercise into your day. Don’t allow yourself to make an excuse about why you can’t exercise. On the contrary, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Meditate in the morning and evening to relieve stress. Meditation is scientifically proven to be good for your health and your mind.
  • Keep a complaint or worry journal. Stop and quickly list the issue on paper if your mind continually circles around stressful topics. Then look at your list during your designated worry time which may be 6 to 6:15 pm daily.

Scheduling complaint or worry time helps you train your mind to understand that certain things happen at certain times, and you won’t allow worry to sidetrack your day.

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Every day write on a piece of paper three things you are thankful for. This activity trains the brain to be more positive. Appreciation is an excellent antidote to stress and worry. You can also keep a journal and write down other information.
  • Intention setting is another daily routine that can be very positive. When you wake up, before you jump out of bed to start the day, think about your plans and how you want your day to go. Say, “my intentions for today are: and list them out. I will be patient and kind to everyone I meet. I will compliment someone. All of my interactions with others will go smoothly. I will complete this one thing.”

Then at the end of the day, review your day. Did it go well? Did something unexpected happen? If so, how did you respond?

By intentionally managing time and emotions, drama or unexpected events will become less concerning. When you make time for self-care, you will know how to manage these occasional struggles.

But rather than having your entire day derailed or sidetracked by distractions or the unexpected, you will know exactly how to stay on track.

Environments Can Create Emotional Wear and Tear

Dealing with emotions, whether a caregiver, the person who needs care, or any person in any situation, can be difficult when there are no tips, resources, or routines to fall back on. This is why asking for help and reaching out to others is beneficial.

Environments pose constraints or limitations. For example, the place where you live, the families in which you grew up, where you went to school, and where you work all affect your mental and physical health.

For example, I am the person I am today because of my experiences and the amazing people I have met. Of course, not all the experiences were good—but I learned from them. For example, my mother was in poor health most of her life. She died at age 69. The experience of watching her suffer from health problems greatly affected how I think about health and well-being.

So, being open to outside experiences makes it possible to consider new ideas and thoughts daily. Additionally, being kind to others and ourselves is easier when gratitude exists.

And no matter what you see on the news—don’t believe everything you see and hear. The news intends to influence you to think the way the individuals who present the information want you to think.

Become a thinker and a question-asker. Become discerning. Investigate the pros and cons.

Choose to Think Differently

Be willing to think differently, and you will be able to stop feeling distracted and overwhelmed by all the world throws at you. By focusing on what you want in your life and what you don’t, you can and will progress toward having the life you want.

So many caregivers share their stories about giving up everything to care for others. Making this sacrifice is a choice.

family caregiver support programsYou can choose differently. Caregivers look back and regret losing years of their lives and the opportunity to build a career, get married, or have a family. Instead, they focus their anger on siblings or other family members who didn’t help.

What does this resentment accomplish? Nothing. Each person is responsible for their thoughts and their actions.

If you don’t like your present situation, make a plan and choose differently. For example, I know feeling distracted and overwhelmed can be exhausting.

This podcast and hundreds of other episodes of the Caring Generation offer information, education, resources, tools, and options to end ongoing emotional drain that can include feeling hopeless. I’m here to give you hope that you can create a better life one day at a time.

Looking For Help Caring for Elderly Parents? Find the Information, Including Step-by-Step Processes, in Pamela’s Online Program

©2023 Pamela D. Wilson All Rights Reserved




About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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