How to deal with feeling overwhelmed

Every human is unique, which is one of the miracles of life. We all have different passions, different abilities, and different goals. We also have different stress tolerances. Have you ever been coping well, then suddenly reached breaking point? This happens when you take on too much stress than you are equipped to handle.


Why can we suddenly feel overwhelmed?

Stress comes in many different forms. The word tends to conjure up images of extensive to-do lists, whether that is in the workplace or at home. However, patterns of negative thinking can lead to exhaustion, too; if your mind is constantly coming up with worst-case scenarios and harmful self-talk, then eventually it will reach breaking point. Your nervous system will tell you ‘enough is enough’.

Another source of stress that many people overlook is the overstimulation caused by modern life: the visual overwhelm of bright screens on the walls and in our pockets, the auditory intensity of train stations and cities, and the olfactory stimulation in the form of fragranced products can all contribute. Sensory overstimulation can be more pronounced in neurodivergent people, however many neurotypical people may also experience it.

Imagine the following scenario: your to-do list is growing longer, your mind is telling you all the ways you aren’t good enough, and you’re surrounded by loud noises and flashing lights… Suddenly, you can’t take it anymore. Does this sound familiar? Feeling overwhelmed can be an understandable reaction to excessive stimulus. After all, you are a human being, not a robot!

Sometimes ageing can increase our susceptibility to overwhelm as the human body can have a harder time recovering from stressful events. However, ageing may also help us if we have made use of our experience through reflection. Many people find that they know themselves better as they get older. This means that ageing is an opportunity to learn your stress triggers, discover the most relaxing self-care, and use your newfound wisdom to build healthier habits.

Tips to cope if you are feeling overwhelmed

1. Find a quiet place to sit and do a body-scan meditation

Focus on your feet and their connection to the floor, then slowly work your way up to the top of your head. How does each part of you feel? Where are you carrying tension? You may find that your shoulders are raised high and your jaw is clenched. There may be signs of stress you have been carrying around in your body all day without realising. Slowly work on releasing these tense areas.

2. Practise grounding exercises

A great one to do when you are out and about is the '5 4 3 2 1' exercise. Make a note in your mind of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. For the last one, you could pop a mint into your mouth and focus on the flavour. This exercise focuses on grounding you in your senses, in order to regulate your overstimulated nervous system.

3. Practise self-care

Preventive actions are more effective than reactive actions, so practise self-care before you reach the point of overwhelm. Check in with yourself throughout the day to monitor your stress levels and if you are feeling agitated, go for a walk in nature or listen to a favourite song. It’s not always possible to ‘escape’ the demands of life, but even carving out five minutes in your busy day to do something for yourself can make a difference.

4. Maintain good sleep hygiene

Sleep is an essential part of human functioning, but even more so when you are feeling overwhelmed. Your nervous system is in overdrive, so providing your body with the right conditions and enough time for sleep is incredibly important. Not everybody is able to get a full eight hours every night (especially with babies and young children) but try to prioritise sleep over staying up late whenever you can.

5. Talk to someone!

This could be a family or a friend, but seeing a mental health professional can also be a huge help. A counsellor will provide a safe space for you to discuss what is on your mind, without judging you or pressuring you to act a certain way. Keeping things to yourself is likely to make you feel even more overwhelmed. Sometimes the act of talking about a problem can act like a ‘release’, making you feel lighter and less burdened by your worries.

The most important thing to remember is that if you are feeling overwhelmed, it won’t last forever. There are many actions you can implement to feel calmer. You’ve got this!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford, Surrey, GU2 9JX
Written by Imogen Wade, MBACP, BA (Hons) and DipHe: Therapist and Counsellor
Guildford, Surrey, GU2 9JX

Imogen runs Velaris Counselling, an online therapy service for women aged 18 to 35 which aims to foster growth, acceptance and hope. She is also a published poet and has been nominated for the New Poets Prize and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.

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