Overwhelmed? These 9 Strategies May Help

By Morgan Mandriota Medically reviewed by Danielle Wade, LCSW


Wondering how to deal with feeling overwhelmed? These coping tips can help.

If you find yourself asking “How do I stop feeling overwhelmed?” then trust that you’re not alone.


According to a 2020 survey of over 3,000 U.S. residents, conducted by the American Psychological Association, 60% of participants reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of issues that America is currently facing.

Stress doesn’t discriminate. It impacts everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or location. And it can stem from many personal and systemic factors, some of which we’ll outline below.


So, here’s a friendly reminder: Though it’s not always easy, it is possible to learn skills for coping with overwhelm. Learning the potential root causes and coping tips may help you manage your stress a bit easier, no matter what’s causing it.


What causes overwhelm?

There are so many causes of stress and overwhelm, some of which include:

  • work responsibilities

  • relationship stressors

  • traumatic experiences

  • financial worries

  • political issues

  • environmental warnings

  • health concerns

  • living in a global pandemic

Emotional regulation can be extra challenging for highly sensitive people and folks living with mental health conditions, like:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • anxiety disorders

  • autism

  • mood disorders

Each person has different stress level thresholds, and no one handles stress the same way. What overwhelms one person may not bother the next.

But there are certain coping strategies that everyone can try to reduce the amount of overwhelm experienced on a daily basis and in each stressful moment.


Here’s what to do when feeling overwhelmed.


1. Reflect on the “why”

A first important step to overcoming being overwhelmed is to figure out the root cause. The next time you have an overwhelming thought, ask yourself: What’s causing you to feel stressed right now?

Once you locate the source, you’re that much closer to problem solving and feeling better.


2. Accept your feelings

Ignoring or denying your overwhelm likely isn’t going to help. It’ll just bubble under the surface until you have no choice but to see and deal with it.

Instead, acknowledge the fact that you feel overwhelmed, and acknowledge any negative thoughts. And try not to judge yourself for what you’re feeling. This nonjudgmental acceptance might help reduce any feelings of shame or guilt associated with your stress, too.


3. Practice mindfulness

When you have a million things going on, it can be challenging to focus on the here and now. But the present moment is all we truly have. Tuning into it through mindfulness practices can help to reduce your anxiety over the past and the future. Some ways to practice mindfulness include:

  • meditation

  • single-tasking, aka the opposite of multitasking

  • movement, like yoga or dance

  • mindfulness apps, like Calm or Headspace


4. Try breathing exercises

A 2017 studyTrusted Source among university students suggests that deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve mood. And a 2019 study (with a limited sample size) indicates that diaphragmatic breathing can offer physiological and psychological stress relief, too. When you feel yourself getting easily overwhelmed, try taking a deep breath and focusing on each inhale and exhale that follows until you feel more at ease.

If self-led breathing exercises like this don’t come naturally to you, that’s OK. You can listen to guided meditations as well.



5. Focus on what you can control

It’s easy to focus on all things out of our control. And doing so has the potential to increase our anxiety.


But what about the things that we do have control over?

The next time you worry about something that’s out of your hands, attempt to redirect your attention to something within your power. This may be easier said than done, but the practice of letting go of the uncontrollable can be worthwhile.



6. Take breaks

We live in a society that doesn’t exactly prioritize rest or self-care. Most of us work a full day, get home, eat dinner, shower, do chores, and get ready for bed. Then we repeat that process the next day and the next, until we get a slice of relaxation on the weekend (that is, if we’re not busy playing catch-up from the week before).


Intentionally setting time aside to take breaks can reduce the amount of stress you feel from being “on” all the time. Even a 15-minute stretch break during the workday, a 1-minute mindfulness break, or a trip to your favorite spot to watch the sunset can help.


7. Do what you enjoy

Are you doing enough of what you love? Or are you just grinding through each day trying to cross off all the tasks on your to-do list before the day ends? Make it a point to set the time aside to bring joy into your life. What brings you pleasure? You might consider:

  • listening to music

  • going for a walk

  • cooking dinner

  • watching the sunset

  • spending time with loved ones


8. Receive physical touch

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and if it’s safe to reach out for physical contact, ask a friend, partner, or family member for a hug. A 2017 studyTrusted Source study suggests that touch can reduce stress and promote overall well-being as a result.

A 2016 studyTrusted Source in Brazil indicated that massage and reiki can also help lower stress and anxiety. So if a loved one isn’t within reach, receiving physical touch through these (or other) options can work, too.


9. Speak with a therapist

If you’ve tried many coping mechanisms for feeling overwhelmed, and you still need help, consider speaking with a mental health professional. Therapy can help you identify the root cause of what’s causing your overwhelm and offer personalized coping strategies that will work best for you.


Next steps

Stress affects all of us differently. Sometimes it comes from personal sources, like relationships or work, and other times it stems from systemic factors, like politics or social justice.

But knowing how to stop feeling overwhelmed and ways to reduce anxiety when those feelings pop up can help to reduce your stress levels. Next time, try any of these coping strategies:

  • figuring out the root cause

  • focusing on your breath with deep breathing exercises

  • practicing mindfulness or meditation

  • speaking with a mental health professional

Most of all, it helps to remember that overwhelm happens to everyone. These feelings are temporary, and they’re going to pass. These tips can help you feel better sooner than later.


Original article can be found at How to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed: 9 Tips | Psych Central.

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