6 Strategies to Help with Overwhelm
Overwhelm occurs when a stressor is too great for someone to manage, i.e. an emotional event like a birth or death, a sudden life change like loss of a job or homelessness, or a long to-do list that you can’t seem to finish. Feelings of overwhelm can be experienced in many different ways. It can manifest as an intense emotion such as anxiety, anger, or irritability; poor thought processes, such as worry, doubt, or helplessness; and behavior, such as crying, lashing out, or experiencing a panic attack. Anxiety is one of the most common symptom of overwhelm. It can appear as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, tingling, chest pains, shortness of breath, or a combination of any of these symptoms. Whatever the reasons behind the feelings of overwhelm, here are six strategies to help relieve or prevent those feelings.
1. Accept your anxiety. Fighting your feelings of overwhelm tends to make the feelings of anxiety worse. It is normal to experience some feelings of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, or imminent. Think of accepting your anxiety as if you are riding out a wave.
2. Change overwhelm-inducing thoughts. Thoughts of feeling out of control or unpredictability are common with feeling overwhelmed. Thoughts that are unreasonable or unrealistic can create feelings of anxiety. It is important to pay attention to what you say to yourself during these times. Self-defeating thoughts (“I’m not good enough”,” I’m not smart enough”, “I’ll never get this done”) are damaging and will lead to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. When these thoughts occur, stop what you are doing and take a break. Go for a walk, listen to some favorite music, or watch a comedy TV show or movie to get your mind off those thoughts. Try writing some positive affirmations that you can post around your house or in your car that you can read when those thoughts start. That can become a mantra that you say over and over to yourself that will eventually replace the self-defeating thoughts.
3. Change your multi-tasking mind set. Multitasking means that you are doing too many things at once. This can create feelings of overwhelm. If you have a long to-do list, do 2 or 3 things on your list and take a break. Then do something to reward yourself for completing those items on your list such as have some candy or chocolate, go out for lunch, or take a long bath.
4. Focus on right now. When you are consumed with what may happen in the next few minutes or months, you can’t appreciate the present moment. Try to schedule a time to think about the future so you can enjoy the here and now with your family or friends.
5. Take a deep breath. With the feelings of overwhelm come feelings of anxiety. The anxiety can cause your breath to become short and shallow. When beginning to feel this way it is important to take time to breathe deeply which encourages your body to relax. Take several deep breaths counting to 3 when breathing in and out. This can be done anywhere and at any time when feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
6. Take action. Engage in an activity you enjoy, reading a book, writing, or taking a walk. Think about ways you can solve the stressors that triggered your feelings of overwhelm.