How to manage when you’re feeling overwhelmed

Between work and family obligations, financial concerns, health issues —or even just too much change happening all at once—it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed. Sometimes it feels like we don’t have enough hours in the day to accomplish all we need to, or that we simply can’t cope with one more thing going wrong, and we often judge ourselves harshly for what we see as our own failures and inability to cope during these stressful times.

Whatever the reasons are that you feel like you just can’t keep your head above water, it can be a scary and sometimes hopeless feeling. According to Talkspace, overwhelm often presents as anxiety, anger, or significant worry and irritability; and can make us lash out verbally, cry, or even experience panic attacks.1

So, what you can you do to prevent or stop emotional overwhelm when it starts? Psych Central2 offers six strategies to try the next time you feel like you’re drowning:

  1. Accept your anxiety. Don’t add to your emotional burden by trying to fight the way you’re feeling. It’s perfectly normal to feel some degree of anxiety when you’re overwhelmed. Show yourself some compassion, and just let yourself feel what you’re feeling and know that it’s okay. Think of it as riding out a wave.
  2. Try to change negative thoughts. Be critical of the things that pop into your head when you’re feeling overwhelmed so they don’t add to the chaos. Pay attention to whether or not you’re having negative thoughts like, “I’ll never get all this done!” If you are, try to reframe them by instead thinking, “I many not get all this done today, but if I break it into smaller parts it will feel much more doable. I will get it done eventually.” Creating helpful thoughts instead of allowing thoughts that only exacerbate our stress to linger is a good way to calm your stress reaction and combat the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  3. Stop trying to multitask. First of all, there’s no such thing as multitasking. You can only do one thing at a time. Switching between tasks isn’t really multitasking—it’s simply moving from job to job without finishing anything. Try to change your perspective and your expectation that everything has to be done all that the same time “or else.” Prioritize and just calmly do one thing at a time.
  4. Breathe. Deep breathing encourage our body’s relaxation response, and it’s something you can do in just a few minutes to feel better almost immediately. Visit HelpGuide for step-by-step deep breathing technique instructions, as well as other simple relaxation strategies.
  5. Do something you love. To quell the feeling of being overwhelmed, immerse yourself in an activity that brings you joy. Listen to music, read a book, make art, take a walk, or dig in your garden. Allow yourself this pleasurable mental break—you deserve to feel better.

Feeling overwhelmed every now and again can be normal, but If anxiety in you or a loved one is severely impacting daily functioning, or if you’re afraid for the safety of the anxious person, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor about intervention. Anxiety is very treatable and very common. There’s no reason to be ashamed if you’re experiencing it, and there’s certainly no need to continue suffering from it.

For more information about anxiety and depression visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and for more advice on managing overwhelm, visit PsychAlive.




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