8 Easy Ways to Cope with Overwhelming Challenges

The part 5 of the series “How to Enjoy Challenges” addresses a situation where either the scope or the number of challenges you face overwhelm you.  All of these coping tactics are easy and immediate, and are effective at fighting back that sense of dread stemming from having more problems than you can handle.

The fourth common reason that prevents you from enjoying challenges in life is when the challenge appears too challenging, or when it makes your overall workload (the length of your to-do list) seem too big.

In the other words, it’s really not about the problem you’re facing.  It has more to do with your capacity, or your perception of it.

But when you think about it, this is actually not a very big problem.  Why?  Because you are one element in your life that you have direct control over.

When you correctly identify the obstacle, then it’s easy to generate strategies for removing that obstacle.  This is an oft-covered topic, but allow me to run you down a list that is sure to get your creative juice flowing.

Gain Perspective

You feel overwhelmed because your challenge seems bigger than your capacity, but it that really true?  Think back to your life and remember other challenges and obstacles you have overcome.  Or reflect on the lives of people you know or stories you have heard in news, of people overcoming greater challenges.  Recognize that you it’s possible and realistic for you to actually have the capacity to rise above your current challenges.  You may have done it in the past, and there are others who have done it.

Detach Values and Emotions

This hearkens back to what I said previously on embracing reality, but it’s easy to spend a lot of energy on why or how of your problems, instead of solutions.

Imagine that you’re tasked to find the answer to 2+3 without a calculator.  It won’t overwhelm you, does it?  But what if the numbers were bigger?  Like 2,437+53,798?   What if it had more digits — 7, 8, 9 digits?  At one point will you start thinking “I shouldn’t have to be doing this.  That’s what calculators are for.”

And how long will you dwell on that thought?

Challenges, obstacles, problems — these don’t show up in your life to make you feel bad.  They only do if you make them do so by judging them based on your values or emotions.  So what if you have to add large numbers by hand?  Instead of spending your time on how you shouldn’t have to do that, simply get a pen and paper and work it out.  Often, once you get started, it isn’t as difficult or time-consuming as it may appear at the onset.

Tackle the Postponed Ones First

Postponing tasks and problems tends to make them appear bigger and more difficult than they are.  It creates a baggage on your mind and nags on you.  Once you free yourself of that burden, you’ll probably find that you have a larger problem-solving capacity than you thought.

Tackle the Low-Hanging Fruits

Or the other way to get you going is to start with small and easy problems before tackling bigger ones.  I, for example, am a person who works by immersion — it takes time and effort to get me going, but once I “hit the zone” I can be quite productive.  To ease the treacherous transition, you can start by crossing off quick and easy ones.

Break Them Up

It’s amazing how a simple change in perception can dramatically alter our impression.  Walking 10 miles may seem overwhelming, but putting one foot in front of the other isn’t.  None of us can perform more than one task at a time.  Simply break up your challenges into bite-size tasks.  And take care of one.  And after that, another one.


I know, I know — this has been said before, has it?  Yet, it’s still so easy to let small and insignificant tasks detract you from big and important ones.  Stephen Covey talks about how there are 4 quadrants to your tasks/challenges, based on importance and urgency.  And the ones we often feel most compelled to take care of are the urgent, yet unimportant.  Instead, redirect your energy on tackling challenges that are important — urgent ones first, but also the non-urgent ones — and let the unimportant ones slide by the wayside.

Replenish Yourself

If your problem-solving capacity is low, it makes sense to replenish or refill it, doesn’t it?  You don’t keep driving the car when your gauge says you’re near E.  Sleep, eat good food, take a break, exercise, laugh, read inspiring books…you know what works for you.  To me, the fundamentals are food, sleep and physical movement (it doesn’t even have to be full-on “exercise”).

Get Help

Finally, if your capacity is not enough, get a boost by adding someone else on your team.  Remember that a lot of people enjoy helping, particularly a friend in need.  Give them an opportunity to be the nice people they are by inviting them to share your challenges.

Conclusion: Don’t Make It Harder Than It Is

Obviously, this is not a list where you apply all.  You just have a few tactics in your arsenal, and pull the ones that fit your style and the challenges facing you.  If you master some or all of the tactics, your capacity to rise above the challenges increase.  Just like it’s possible for a person to enjoy demanding mathematical/logic puzzles, so it’s possible for you to become a person who enjoys challenges in life.

Being overwhelmed is an emotional problem stemming from a certain perception.  In the other words, the problem itself isn’t the problem, it’s how you look at it.  Life can be full of problems and challenges, and you have the choice to either enjoy them or not enjoy them.

Which would you choose?


  1. Hi Ari,

    You have some great suggestions, as usual. In particular, I like what you wrote about replenishing yourself–and I feel that has to be done on three different fronts: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Each of these aspects are fluid and ever changing–and all three need to be nurtured.


    Melinda´s last blog post..Death of a Dream

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