The Easy Two-Step Escape Plan When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Jordan Brown

Table of Contents

1. The Approach for Feeling Less Overwhelmed

a. Identify the Stress Response

b. Manage Your Emotions and Behaviors 

2. Feeling Overwhelmed and Anxious No More

What's at the core of feeling overwhelmed?

If you're like me, it's a feeling that's hard to describe when it's happening.

But you definitely know when you're experiencing it.

Anxiety is much the same way. It floats in and out of your awareness, but the gripping presence is there all the same.

And the two are connected, anxiety and the heavy feeling of being overwhelmed.

Left unchecked, they can have a disastrous impact on your health, both mental and physical.

To beat the feeling that's hard to describe, it's helpful to take a two-pronged approach.

1. Identify and deal with the source of the stress

2. Take some time to change the emotions and behaviors that are contributing to how you are fealing

Let's start with the stress response.

The Approach For Feeling Less Overwhelmed

1. Identify the Stress Response

Did you know that stress is totally normal?

And that it's healthy to have some stress in your life?

Stress helped our ancestors stay alive. Alert and oriented when stress reared its ugly head, our ancestors used it to their advantage.

But, these days, you don't need to escape from a dangerous creature, like a lion or a bald eagle swooping down to snatch your child.

These days, stress is harder to pinpoint because the feeling is there, but the danger is harder to describe.

Locate the danger

Bringing the "danger" in your life to awareness is step one in dealing with stress.

It doesn't need to be an actual, physical danger, although if it is, then you absolutely need to address that.

Being in an unsafe situation can cause anyone to feel overwhelmed.

But it's equally likely that your health is being negatively affected by taking on too much at work or at home.

Or trying to manage too many relationships.

Or not giving yourself enough time in the day to adequately complete your tasks.

To begin to locate the source of your stress, ask yourself questions like:

"Where do I feel overwhelmed the most?"

"Is there a time a day that has me feeling stressed?"

"Why am I breathing so fast right now? What's going on in this moment?"

The more curious you can be about your life, the faster you will identify the danger--and get started on a solution.

Once you've been curious for a while, you'll have data that you can use.

You'll start to realize if this is a physical health issue or an issue of emotional overwhelm.

Often, the two mix together like ingredients in a bubbling soup.

Because stomaches and migraines can be common anxiety symptoms --it's not all "in your head."

Severe stress can lead to intense anxiety, and that anxiety can manifest in all sorts of ways.

What's key is that you do what you can to identify the source of it all.

It'll do you no good to pull people out of a raging river over and over if there is a culprit throwing the people in far upstream.

That strange image can be helpful for what you need to do next.

2. Manage Your Emotions and Behaviors 

Once you've identified the source of your emotional overwhelm or your mental overwhelm, you need to think about how you might be contributing to it.

Use the Resources You Have

All the data you need is right in front of you.

Many people turn to mental health professionals at this point, but you often know your life best and can identify what's triggering your overwhelm.

One of the questions above dealt with breathing, and that's a great place to start.

If you can identify when you are breathing heavily or holding your breath, you can build interventions to counteract your stress.

It's been found that many people hold their breath when they are checking their email.

The moment right before the email appears is, strangely enough, a time of heightened anxiety.

But knowing this is half the battle.

Building awareness with what you have--your actual emotions, thoughts, and behaviors--is the first step to digging your way out.

Your physical symptoms start as enemies, but they could just as easily be your friends.

It's all how you look at it.

If you find that you're hunched over whenever you feel stressed, make an effort to sit up straight whenever you're working, talking with coworkers or family, or eating breakfast.

If you discover that pace back and forth whenever you are on a phone call, make a conscious effort to sit still, in a calm position, possibly near a window with natural light flowing in.

It's the little interventions that trigger cascading, positive effects in your life.

A stress response can trigger a relaxation response.

Feeling Overwhelmed and Anxious No More

Of course, taking this action doesn't lead to overnight change.

Like anything worthwhile in life, what you put into it will impact what you get out of it.

But emotional overwhelm is beatable.

Physical overwhelm is escapable.

And general overwhelm absolutely is manageable.

Yes, it takes heart.

It takes the courage to confront your feelings and search for the signs.

But the information is right in front of you.

And when you put in the work, before you know it, your own life is your best source of advice.

Locate the danger.

And then use the precious resources that you have to change your own life.

Being overwhelmed is, sadly, very common in our modern existence.

With a conscious effort of dedicated attention, managing and beating your overwhelm can become just as common.