How to cope with feeling overwhelmed
Many of us can identify with experiencing feelings of overwhelm: it is a universal experience that can feel all-consuming and challenging to manage at times.
In its most basic form, overwhelm can be described as a build up of stressful, worrying, or anxious feelings, which can overpower your train of thought and state of mind. This can leave you feeling unable to cope, with symptoms including loss of concentration, and thinking irrationally or illogically, either for a brief moment or for an extended period of time. Overwhelm can have an impact on our physical health as well as our mental health, and can often be felt physically as tension in muscles and joints, or an increased heart rate.
However, just like other forms of anxiety, overwhelm is a very common feeling that many people experience throughout their lives in different situations, and it is something that we can manage. If you are struggling or know someone who is, keep reading and discover three simple techniques for coping with, and overcoming, overwhelm.
3 coping strategies to help beat overwhelm
The circle of choice
The circle of choice is a technique that allows you to regain control over your thoughts and feelings. Grab a pencil and paper and write out everything you’re feeling overwhelmed about. This will help you to gain a sense of clarity on your current circumstances. Ask yourself two simple questions, looking at the list you’ve written down - what is in my control and what is out of my control?
Then, draw out two separate circles on another page, keeping your list nearby. Write the first question above one circle, and the second question above the other. Start by listing out what is in your control in one column. This part of the exercise will enable you to feel like you are gaining back a sense of control. Secondly, list out what feels out of your control in the second column - it’s not possible to control everything in life, so instead focus on how you can positively respond to these circumstances.
You may not be able to control everything in your life, yet you can always take control of how you choose to respond to situations, even if you can’t change the circumstance at hand.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that you have a choice. This exercise helps to give you a sense of stepping back into the choices that are available to you, find greater clarity, and move away from the foggy feeling of overwhelm.
Ask yourself empowering questions
Often, when we’re overwhelmed, a key contributing factor is feeling out of control in your circumstances. An effective way to manage this is to take a step back and ask yourself the question - “What is getting in the way of me feeling in control?” Whether it’s a challenging conversation you’ve had, unmanageable workload or an issue in your social life. State what your boundaries are and then ask yourself - “Have these boundaries been breached?”
To allow yourself the opportunity to recall and name your boundaries can be an empowering tool. In effect, this can help you to explore a renewed sense of purpose, and prevent overwhelm from escalating in the future.
Give yourself permission to gain a new perspective
When we are experiencing overwhelm, it can feel incredibly challenging to take time out of our commitments to get some breathing space. However, in doing so, we can help ourselves to gain a new outlook and overcome feelings of worry.
If you feel like you struggle to do this or don’t have the time, try setting aside just a few minutes to start with - perhaps while you’re boiling the kettle, or walking from one place to another. Attach some time for reflection onto a task you already do in your day to day life, and over time this can inspire you to carve out other pockets of time in the day for yourself.
Using these gaps of time, wherever you can find them, allows you the opportunity and space to reflect on your feelings. Taking the time to do this not only helps to reduce stress levels, it creates the space for you to identify what created the overwhelm, and how you can prevent it from escalating.
In these moments of reflection, allow space for the practice of self-care. This comes in many forms, whether it’s breathing exercises or other Mindfulness practices, this can help you to bring yourself back into the present moment and gain a new perspective.
Allow yourself the time to step back and reflect
All of these strategies for coping with overwhelm include setting aside time to reflect.
It’s easy to get caught up in work, social commitments and the constant news cycle, to name a few, however the first step you can do to begin addressing those feelings of overwhelm is to take a step back.
Remove yourself from what is causing you worry or stress, and try one of the techniques above to help beat and prevent overwhelm from manifesting and taking over your day.
Find out more ways you can beat feelings of overwhelm over on the Calmer blog.
Tania Diggory is an entrepreneur, international Mental Health & Wellbeing speaker and Founder and Director of Calmer. Tania is a leading expert in the field of burnout prevention and is the Author of This Is Calmer: Inspiration, support and encouragement for the entrepreneurial mind, and Working From Home: The Complete Calmer Guide To Remote Working. As a qualified NLP Practitioner, Mindfulness Teacher and Mental Health Trainer & First Aider, Tania has trained and consulted over 300 companies since founding Calmer in 2016.
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