How do I stop feeling so overwhelmed?
Wow, so 2020 has been quite the year and I keep hearing from everybody I speak to just how overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out they are. These are people in my personal life as well as my clients, literally everybody has been impacted in some way by the pandemic and people were dealing with an awful lot on their plates before Covid was even a thing. To be honest many of us have been running at full capacity, taking on more and more and leaving little room to properly care for ourselves and tend to our emotional wellbeing... meaning we were already teetering on the edge and now we're feeling wiped out, exhausted and paralysed.
Many of us will experience emotional overwhelm at some point in our lives and the modern world of technology & social media, combined with never ending to do lists & the pressure to keep up with everybody else creates a situation where we feel backed into a corner & our minds feel as though we can't cope anymore. Overwhelm often looks like extreme and intense emotions such as anger, anxiousness, depression, irritability combined with feeling stuck, paralysed and unable to move forwards or take steps to feel better. The emotions and the helplessness completely takes over and we can find it difficult to focus, process information & even act like or feel like our normal rational selves.
Emotional overwhelm can be caused by many different life triggers, such as stress, bereavement, loss, traumatic life events, relationship issues etc, and it may a combination of things that tip you over into feeling overwhelmed. I believe this has happened during the pandemic, people were dealing with a lot already (life is like that isn't it?) and the pandemic itself is emotionally overwhelming, causing huge amounts of uncertainty, stress and anxiety. Because overwhelm effects your ability to think rationally it can be difficult to pinpoint what your problems are or where to begin in addressing them, this is when talking to someone else like a sensitive & empathic friend or a therapist can really help.
Tips for Addressing Emotional Overwhelm
1. accept your emotions and stop fighting them
We all experience negative emotions at times and it can be very tempting to shut them off, push them away and deny our true feelings. Unfortunately fighting off negative emotions does not rid us of them, in fact if they remain unacknowledged then they can grow in intensity and begin to seep into our lives in all different unforeseen ways, and they may become very difficult to control or contain. Accepting your emotions and naming them will help you to notice what you are experiencing and will allow the emotions to move through your body, it will also allow you to communicate with others and access help.
2. change how you speak to yourself
How we speak to ourselves is very important as those are the words we hear inside our minds day in day out, and they have a huge effect on our self esteem and how we feel about ourselves. When we are overwhelmed it is easy to slip into thoughts like "I can't do this" or "I'm never going to complete this to do list" or "I'll be letting everyone down", which can make us spiral further into negativity. Instead try reframing these thoughts with kindness & compassion.. for example "I can't do this" becomes "This is a challenge but I will give it my best shot" or "I'm never going to complete this to do list" becomes "I may not be able to complete this list today but I will tackle the most important task first, and I will accomplish some of it."
3. prioritise & be realistic about how much you can accomplish each day
It is important to reframe your thoughts when you are feeling overwhelmed but it is also crucial to not add to the overwhelm by giving yourself too much to do and putting yourself under more pressure than is necessary. Be realistic about your to do list and estimate how much time each task will take and put them in order of priority. That way you can create a to do list that is actually achievable and you can focus on each task individually, knowing that you are making progress without having to worry about the big picture which only adds to feeling overwhelmed.
Breathing deeply and consciously can help to calm your nervous system and is a simple trick to bring you back to the present moment as well as communicating to your body that you are safe and it does not need to prepare to flee or fight. There are many different breathing techniques but the one I find easiest & most effective is to fully exhale first, slowly and calmly before taking a breath in for 4 counts, and then releasing that breath for 6 counts. The trick is to always have a longer exhale than inhale and to control the breath so that it is long and slow. Read more about breathing and the calming effects of the vagus nerve here.
5. focus on the present moment
Conscious breathing can help bring you back to the now but why is it important? Well, you can only achieve so much right now and so focusing only on the task in front of you will help you to feel less overwhelmed. Anxiety arises from worrying about the future and the uncertainty and unpredictability of life, but if we are truly in the present we aren't able to feel anxious about things that have not happened yet. If you find it difficult to be present start with a grounding technique, like naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste to make you aware of your body and experience right now.
Can Therapy Help When Feeling Overwhelmed?
Therapy can help when you feel overwhelmed by providing a safe space where you can explore your emotions and uncover the root causes and core beliefs that have contributed to how you feel. Understanding yourself better will help you to manage the negative thoughts that contribute to feeling overwhelmed and will help you think about and develop coping skills for you to use in the future. Nobody's life is perfect and there will always be times in our lives when we are dealing with far more than we feel able to manage, but seeking professional help can equip you with skills to feel calmer and more in control when shit inevitably hits the fan. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your life in 2020 then therapy can help to relieve some of that stress and help you to think more optimistically about the future.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, stressed or depressed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
Alternatively, please come connect with me over on Instagram - I would love to get to know you further.