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Life Struggles

How to Cope When Overwhelmed by Emotions

Feeling Overwhelmed with Emotions & Life?

If we were to survey people by asking the following question, how do you think they would respond?

Q: Are you feeling overwhelmed?

I’d venture to guess that there will be differences in answers depending on various factors…

  • Perhaps there would be contrasting responses between people who kids and those who do not?
  • There could be differences between genders? Being single or in a relationship likely also plays a role as well.
  • Or, what about employment status? Would people with full-time jobs have less overwhelm than people who are struggling to make ends meet while under employed? Or the other way around?

While we could make a long list of different situations that would influence answers to this question. For the sake of time, we will keep it at that because it really doesn’t matter which scenario applies to you

We all struggling in one way or another.

We just have differences in what those struggles are depending various factors and influneces in our lives.

What I really want you to know and understand is this: Someone else’s struggle does not invalidate yours. Just as your struggles do not invalidate another individual’s problems.

Are you Overwhelmed by Emotions Right Now?

Since you are reading this, I suspect you are currently in a sitation that is causing you some distress.

You are feeling overwhelmed with emotions and life — and likely seeking out a way to cope or move past this difficult time..  

First off, I want you to know that you are not alone. For myself, feeling emotional overwhelm is a lot like the movie Ground Hog’s Day. I wake up every single morning and find the overwhlem to be on repeat. When it the thick of these emotions, it can be difficult to see a way out.

What emotions come up with overwhelm? What does it look/feel like? 

  • Frustration
  • Anger/Irritable
  • Annoyance
  • Resentment
  • Anxious
  • Sadness
  • Helpless
  • Isolated/Alone
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Procrastination
  • Inability to focus
  • Stress
  • And more… 
“I’m in a glass case of emotion.” Ron Burgundy, Anchor Man

{Side note, just writing this is giving me all the feels. It is also making me want to avoid the situation. As in, I want to stop writing. That said, you can add avoidance to this list.}

Why Do We Reach this Point?

Oh, wow. This might be a loaded question. There will certainly be big differences in everyone’s experience.

To kinda ‘talk out’ the answer — by writing — I often reach a point of feeling anxiety and emotional overwhelm because of expectations. These are often expectations I place on myself, but may also come from external influences, such as family, friends, daily life, commitments such as kids’ activities, etc…

Even the thought of having to make dinner every night of the week causes me to feel overwhelmed. Just add it to the this of all the other things I need to do everyday.

As with anything in life, our individual triggers will vary greatly from one person to the next. So, there may be a situation that causes your loved one (or bestie) to sprial, but doesn’t cause an issue for yourself.

Some potential negative overwhelm triggers — You pick which you relate to the most:

  • Being really busy or feeling rushed
  • Several appointments stacked up back to back
  • Anxiously waiting test results
  • Several people asking you the same question — especially when they can find the answer themselves or a topic that you don’t want to discuss with others. Examples of the latter include: ”When are you going to get married?” or “Are you going to have kids?”
  • Managing the family’s calendar and trying to schedule appointments, activities, and athletics
  • Deadlines coming up and your schedule is full of other commitments keeping you from doing what needs to happen

Um, maybe some of these things are my own personal examples… 

How to Cope When Overwhelmed by Emotions?

1. First, take a time out.

  • Consider doing some breath work or meditating. You may even sit in silence for a little bit. Whatever you do, this is NOT the time to distract yourself. As in, mind-numbing practices such as mindlessly scrolling through social media, zoning out in front of the TV, or consuming adult beverages or taking drugs (if this drugs or alcohol are a struggle for you, please see the note at the bottom of this post).
  • If the thought of taking a time out causes you to freak out a little bit, try and scale back the concept. It’s not about taking the whole day off. Or, taking a time out while the house is burning down. Instead, focus on making this a practical time out — even a five minute break to calm down and collect your thoughts can be hugely beneficial.

2. Reflection.

While journaling, driving or taking a shower — reflect on the following questions:

  • What has led you to the point of feeling overwhelmed? Was it a multitude of factors? Or, was there one specific situations or occurrence that caused you to hit a breaking point?
    • You might not have the answers right away. That is totally fine. But, continue to ponder the questions until you figure it out.
    • If you are unable to identify a trigger, consider taking notes (even mental notes) on a regular basis about how you are feeling or things that are coming up. These can help you to identify trends.
  • What thoughts recur in your mind when you are overwhelmed?
    • Some times we hear the words of other people on repeat. For example, perhaps you had a parent say you ‘would never amount to anything.’ Your thoughts might end up on repeat something like ‘maybe that person was right.’ Or, maybe your find yourself validating those harsh words spoken to you, such as ‘{Parent’s name} was right. I am a failure.’ Even if it is not true.
  • How does this make your body feel?
    • Are you feeling any sort of tension? Are your shoulders tight? Do you have a knot in your stomach? Maybe you feel physically ill or nauseous? Did your head recently start hurting? Take note, especially if the onset of these physical manifestations had a quick onset and/or go away under new circumstances, location, or presence/absence of someone.

3. Back to basics of self-care.

  • No, we are not talking massages and facials 8 Sunday Self Care Ideas to Help You Have a Better Week. We are talking about making sure you are showering regularly, getting adequate sleep, eating three meals a day, staying hydrated, being physical active (different than “working out”), etc..
    • As an example of this, I personally focus on a small list of things that I consider to be my basic needs. Here is a quick list of those:
  1. Making my bed. Often times, a messy house triggers me to feel overwhelmed. At the same time, depending on what is happening at that moment, a deep clean of the entire home is not feasible. By making my bed, it creates a place in the house to retreat away from the disorder
  2. Meditating, this helps me to calm my mind and reduce the physical manifestations of stress on my body, or
  3. Physical activity, bonus points if it involves nature.

If you are open to reconsidering your relationship with self-care, you might find some helfpul thoughts and/or tips by reading this article.

4. Trim the fat. Er, uh… uncessary commitments.

  • What sort of commitments can you cancel or defer until you have less on your plate and are able to handle the additional demands? If we learned anything from the start of the pandemic, it is that life can be better with less on our calendar.

5. Action plan.

  • What is one small thing you can do right now that will give you a quick win/success? This will help you to get the ball rolling in a positive direction. Instead of feeling as though you are never going to get anything done.
    • DON’T: Jump to a deeply involved task with this one. No goals of a “fresh start” or cleaning out all the closets in your house.
    • DO: Scale it back and focus on the tiniest of tasks that will help you move the needle forward. In the book Getting Things Done the author suggests making a list. Anything that can be done in under 2-minutes gets done right then and there so it doesn’t get added to your list. Do you have any 2-minutes tasks that can be completed as your small win right now?

6. Lean on a friend (or find a therapist!)

  • Sometimes talking it out with a friend can help you to figure out the steps you need to take as a part of your action plan. Or, maybe you just need to talk about the stressors in your life to help you move past them.
  • Most importantly, when you lean on your friend, make sure to clearly communicate your needs. Do you need them to just listen and empathize with you and what is happening? Or, do you need them to help you actively think of ways to feel better? Friends can be great at doing both, but they don’t know what you need unless you communicate your needs.
  • Therapy. Sometimes our friends don’t know how to help us with our struggles. In some cases, we may not trust anyone in our lives to share our most fragile thoughts, issues, or concerns. In that case, a therapist is definitely beneficial. (Raising hand — I participate in therapy and it has helped tremendously!!)

In summary, life and emotions can feel overwhelming for several different reasons. While our struggles are uniquely ours, that doesn’t mean we are the only one suffering. There is absolutely a way out of these struggles. Take a break, get back to basics, and lean on a friend are a few ways to help you cope.

If you have a go-to method to help you cope with overwhelming emotions, let us know! Leave a comment below.

Hugs – Kristi

A Word About Mental Health & Addiction – Take Care of Yourself…

If you have found yourself struggling with mental health issues, I strongly encourage you to seek out therapy. While struggling with emotions can feel like something you can do on your own, there is a time and a place for a therapist.

If you are suffering from addicition, please make sure to seek out a treatment center or program. It may be helpful to reach out to a trusted loved one or friend and ask them to help you find a online therapy, an addiction treatment program or health center. You can also call 1-800-662-4356 or visit the Department of Health and Human Services website SAMHSA for more information on addiction.

Last Updated on March 16, 2022 by Kristi Coughlin

About Author

Oh, hey there. You’ll probably find me eating a piece of pizza and overthinking life. The good news for you — I’m sharing some deep thoughts about the many life lessons learned over the years. Airing A-L-L the dirty laundry is because we gotta let go of that shit in order to find true happiness. Tell me, are you ready to let go to bring about happy in your life?

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