What To Do When You Start Feeling Overwhelmed By Life
We all start feeling overwhelmed by life sometimes. Whether one big event pushes us over the edge into feeling flooded or it's simply that we reach our tolerance for lots of smaller stressors, it feels awful to be overwhelmed.
We can lose confidence in ourselves, struggle with low mood, and begin to think of ourselves as helpless victims.
In this article, we'll give you concrete steps to take when life is overwhelming. We'll start out by helping you to better understand what causes you to become overwhelmed, and by assisting you in spotting the key signs.
From there, we'll move on to six techniques to calm yourself down when you're feeling overwhelmed, ranging from methods of influencing your subconscious mind to ways of letting your body know that there's no need to be afraid.
Our goal is to empower you to deal with feeling overwhelmed when it happens so that you no longer have to panic or feel helpless.
What Causes You To Start Feeling Overwhelmed
There are so many different things that can contribute to feeling overwhelmed.
Here are some of the most common triggers:
- Social and relationship issues: For example, conflict with a loved one, or feeling isolated.
- Health issues: For example, struggling with your mental health, receiving a new medical diagnosis (or struggling to get one), feeling poorly because of a bad diet, or accepting the aging process.
- Career issues: For example, having a demanding job, lacking job security, being passed over for promotion, or knowing your job doesn't reflect your true purpose.
- Loss issues: For example, grieving the loss of a loved one, adjusting to the end of a relationship, being made redundant at work.
- Financial issues: For example, coping with debt, trying to secure a mortgage, not receiving money back from someone who owes you, or not having enough money to take care of yourself in the ways you'd like to can all bring up feelings of overwhelmingness.
Define ‘Becoming Overwhelmed’
How do we define overwhelming experiences, however?
What does it mean to be overwhelmed?
The key thing to know is that becoming overwhelmed is about being more than stressed.
All the examples in the above section can also trigger stress, but stress is at a lower pitch than feeling overwhelmed.
When something is overwhelming to us, we get completely lost in it – all of our thoughts and feelings begin to revolve around whatever problems are troubling us.
This intrudes regularly during our daily life and stops us from being able to generate productive solutions to our difficulties.
Signs Of Feeling Overwhelmed
When feeling overwhelmed, you can respond in a variety of ways. What's common to all of these responses, however, is that you feel flooded by an emotion – often, anger, guilt, fear – or a mix of emotions.
The following signs of becoming overwhelmed will help you pick up that it's starting to happen to you:
- Mood swings
- Feeling tearful
- Physical anxiety systems (e.g., fast heartbeat, breathlessness)
- Trouble sleeping
- A desire to self-medicate with food, drugs, alcohol, or sex
- Pessimism about the future
- A sense of disempowerment or lack of control
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities.
If you notice several of these signs, it's possible that something – or more than one thing – in your life is overwhelming you. And once you realize this about yourself, the next step is to generate an effective response that helps you calm down and take control.
How To Calm Yourself Down When You’re Triggered
At this point, you have a better self of what emotional overwhelm actually is, and we can move on to key strategies you can use to regulate your feelings.
Here are five actionable techniques that you can try the next time you're overwhelmed.
For each, we’ll give some indication of the specific sorts of cases in which the suggestion might be especially useful. You can try one at a time, or pair several effective exercises together.
All of them are designed to calm you down and help you get a clearer sense of what you think, what you feel, and what you need to happen.
Admit To Your Worries And Anxiety
Quite often, we become overwhelmed in part because we've tried to push certain emotions down – which only makes them stronger.
For example, if we're stressed out about a relationship, we might try to distract ourselves and deny our discomfort, until eventually, it builds to a level where we become flooded.
To stop anxiety and not be overwhelmed by anxiety, then, we actually have to learn to let anxiety in before it gets too unmanageable levels.
Try, then, to develop a practice of admitting to yourself when you feel worried or anxious.
You might write it down, or say it loud, along with a matter-of-fact explanation.
Meditation is suggested for almost any type of emotional difficulty, and for good reason.
However, research shows that less elaborate mindfulness exercises are just as powerful, and can be easier to do when you're feeling overwhelmed.
In particular, breathing exercises can assist you in calming down, getting your body back to a relaxed state where you can get a realistic perspective on your situation.
Breathing techniques come in all different flavors.
Among the most effective is simply breathing in for a slow count of five, then out to a slow count of seven.
Notice how your heart slows, and so does your mind.
Change Your Mind’s Focus
When you're overwhelmed, your focus narrows down to just your specific problem, and it can feel like that's all that exists.
To gain perspective on the true importance of this difficulty, you need to become “unfocused”, broadening out your perspective. The simplest way to do this is to start doing something physical.
This might be exercise, fidgeting with a comforting object, or doing a repetitive activity like knitting.
Try to connect with the simple, calming bodily sensations associated with your simple task, and you'll begin to notice that you feel less flooded.
Mental activities can also work, such as doing a puzzle or reading a book.
Leave The Area When Feeling Overwhelmed
Sometimes, in order to move past feeling trapped and panicked by whatever you're dealing with, all you need is a change of scenery.
Getting out in the fresh air is especially powerful – walk with nature, notice its beauty, and get some distance between you and your overwhelming feelings.
If it's cold outside, even 5-10 minutes can make all the difference.
When you return home, you should have replenished some of your resources and gained some objectivity.
In contrast, starting at the same four walls while you wait to hear back from an angry friend or a potential new employer is enough to make you feel utterly miserable.
When we're overwhelmed, we tend to get stuck in a negative loop, viewing ourselves in a critical light.
Using affirmations – positive sentences you repeat to yourself – can help to counteract this.
According to the Law of Attraction, for example, we can take more control of our self-image and also of how others see us by using affirmations to support our goals.
Think about what would help you get out of the situation that's overwhelming you – whether it's spiritually connecting to someone, having more time to yourself, or feeling physically better.
Then say an affirmation that reflects this – “I feel healthier every day” or “I give and receive love freely.”
Hopefully, you now feel like you're in a position to do something positive when feeling overwhelmed.
Anxiety can be incredibly difficult to overcome, however, and so it pays to have extra, especially powerful technique up your sleeve.
This is where self-hypnosis can come in, helping you to dig deep into your subconscious and change the outdated, limiting beliefs you have about yourself and your power.
With our stress and anxiety-busting self-hypnosis program, we aim to get you to a calmer, more balanced place than ever before – a place where you feel ready to tackle problems head-on and feel confident in doing so.
So, if you want to feel better about yourself and have more control over your feelings, this could be the extra step that you need to support longer-term happiness.