When you experience emotional overwhelm, it can feel all-consuming. For the many people who will face this feeling at some point in their lives, it entails being completely overcome by intense and unruly emotion that something is too challenging to manage and overcome. When confronted with being overwhelmed, it can be challenging to think and act rationally, and even function reasonably. The experience of this feeling is uncomfortable, and the causes and effects can span across your personal and professional life.
Many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the current events. Feeling and seeing the devastating news about racial discrimination among black lives. Emotions are increasing with so much painful and upsetting images, seeing people destroying other beings. All of this can feel overwhelming.
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.
When you begin to feel overwhelmed, cortisol surges through your body and leaves you overloaded with intense 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.
Emotional overwhelm entails more than being stressed by definition being emotionally overwhelmed means to be entirely submerged by your thoughts and emotions about all of life’s current problems, to the point where you lack efficacy and feel frozen or paralyzed. Compare the feeling of being overwhelmed to being submerged after a rough wave. It’s a scary experience; you may not know which way is up or what direction to swim; you may feel stunned and unable to react. You may be unable to think or act rationally or functionally, and emotional overwhelm may impact your relationships or professional life. Whether brought on by an 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 more extended period. Sometimes, a series of hardships and challenges arising in rapid succession can trigger someone to feel overcome by unwieldy emotions.
Preventing or Stopping Emotional Overwhelm
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.
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 user acceptance as a tool to work through those uncomfortable feelings (when possible).
Reverse your overwhelmed thought processes
Feelings of unpredictability and complete despair fuel overwhelm. Those irrational thoughts build up as 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.
Take some deep breaths.
When you consciously breathe in deep, it triggers your body’s relaxation response and can come in handy during particularly stressful moments. 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.
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.
Know your resources
Besides breathing and meditation techniques to help prevent overwhelm, there is plenty of scientific research available about how stress and anxiety impact our cognitive abilities. To strengthen your ability to manage those feelings, discover what studies and recommendations resonate with you by using online search tools.
While there is no way to determine what life has in store at any given moment, there are ways to build up the mental strength to better take on life’s challenges and build resiliency. When you take time to learn what triggers stress and anxious thoughts, you can better manage overwhelming experiences before they occur. Specific forms of meditation, hypnosis, and centering techniques to help soothe your mind and emotions during times of distress. Also recommended is journaling, expressing yourself on paper; writing out your feelings helps out a lot, you can also exercise or do yoga. With the right tools and hard work, you can help minimize the occurrence and impact of becoming overwhelmed. Take time to relax and take care of yourself.