Dr Jozelle Miller
April 5, 2022
Coping with life

DO YOU OFTEN feel overwhelmed with life?

Overwhelm, meaning everything suddenly seems too much, and you don’t believe you can manage.

When confronted with being overwhelmed it can be difficult to think and act rationally, and even function in a normal way.

The experience of this overwhelmed feeling is uncomfortable, and the causes and effects can span across your personal and professional life.

In this article, we’ll discuss what can cause you to feel overwhelmed, how to recognise it, and things you can do to prevent or stop it.

What Causes Emotional Overwhelm?

When a person believes the stressors are far too great to manage, they become overwhelmed — which means that any number of causes are possible.

Common reasons for feeling overwhelmed:

Whether brought on by exceptionally stressful time at work, a traumatic personal experience like losing a loved one, or another inciting factor, emotional overwhelm can occur for a short burst of time or over a much longer period. Sometimes, a series of hardships and challenges occurring in rapid succession can trigger someone to feel overcome by unwieldy emotions.

Common experiences that can lead to emotional overwhelm can include:

  • Relationship issues n Physical or mental health illness
  • A demanding job
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Financial distress and insecurity
  • Significant life changes
  • Time constraints
  • Death of a loved one
  • Personal traumas such as abuse
  • Habitual lack of sleep

Symptoms of Feeling Overwhelmed

When a person is experiencing an overwhelming feeling, it can take shape in a variety of ways. In each instance a person is generally more likely to be overwhelmed by negative emotions — anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt — and it is often difficult to understand and verbalize the exact source of the stress. The reason a person’s physiology responds so strongly to these negative feelings is the release of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” When you begin to feel overwhelmed, cortisol surges through your body and leaves you overloaded with intense emotion and anxiety. At the same time, our serotonin stores, the chemical that helps our bodies fight off depression and anxiety, start to deplete.

This combination causes the intense feeling of total despair associated with being overwhelmed.

Often, overwhelm is as uncomfortable as it is uncontrollable. It rears its head as anxiety, anger, or significant irritability and worry. Doubt and helplessness also make their way into a person’s normal thought process. Physically, it can manifest when a person lashes out verbally, cries, or has a panic attack. These negative feelings are often paired with a quickened heartbeat, perspiration, shortness of breath, or even chest pain.

How to Prevent & Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

No matter the reason, if you feel the onset of overwhelm, there are some ways to help address the emotions both on your own and by leveraging outside support.

1. Accept the anxious feelings

Fighting off all-consuming emotions likely doesn’t do much to ease them in a particularly anxious moment. Try to remember that anxiety, to a certain degree, is a “normal” part of the human experience and use acceptance as a tool to work through those uncomfortable feelings (when possible).

2. Reverse your overwhelmed thought processes

Feelings of unpredictability and complete despair fuel overwhelm.

Those negative thoughts build up anxiety and can cause a person significant distress. Stop those damaging thoughts before they become habitual ruminations by honestly asking yourself if that way of thinking is unreasonable or unhelpful. At the same time, try to find alternative, more positive thoughts.

3.Take some deep breaths

There are plenty of grounding techniques you can use when feeling overwhelmed that involve deep breathing exercises. When you consciously try deep breathing, it triggers your body’s relaxation response and can come in handy during particularly stressful situations. Additionally, practicing yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your body’s response to anxiety, as each exercise helps you to focus your breath.

4. Be in the moment

If your thinking is focused on what the future holds — whether in a few minutes or several years down the road — it may make you more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed. Think about one moment, task, and experience at a time, in the present moment, to help remove the possibility of uncontrollable thoughts that may or may not come about.

5. Know your resources

Besides breathing exercises and meditation techniques to help prevent overwhelm, there is plenty of scientific research available about how stress and anxiety impact our cognitive abilities.

We’ll conclude this article in next week’s edition