How to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed
When you’re overwhelmed, that can be the only thing that you’re able to focus on -- it’s the very nature of it. It takes the place of what’s good in your life, and doesn’t allow you to see any of the things that are going right. The only focus is on what is wrong.
Thankfully, overwhelm will pass, even if it feels like it’s never ending. Better yet, there’s some proactive steps you can take to help with feelings of overwhelm, and we’re here to walk you through them and hopefully show you how to employ them so you can get a sense of calm back into your life sooner than later.
What Does Being Overwhelmed Feel Like?
For many people, dealing with constant stress can feel like a normal part of life. So many of us have been programmed to think that being busy is a good thing, and if you aren’t busy, you’re not doing enough.
Unfortunately, that myth can be very dangerous on both a mental and physical level. You might not even realize that you’re overwhelmed because of this mindset that’s been ingrained in us.
To help you be better able to identify when you’re overwhelmed, we want to share a few of the most common signs:
- Developing frequent tension headaches. As we’ll learn in a bit, the body holds onto stress physically just as much as it does mentally. Often, that stress turns into tension headaches. If your neck and shoulders are tense and sore and that pain creeps up the back of your neck and into your head, you may be dealing with a tension headache. These are a common sign of being overwhelmed or stressed out.
- Isolating yourself more and more often. It’s a normal human response to want to hide when you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Most of the time this is because we don’t want to feel like we’re a burden to the people around us that love us. However, trust that the people that care about you will never feel that way. If you can feel yourself isolating, take a look at your stress level, and do something small to reconnect with loved ones, even if it’s just a quick text or call.
- Getting more easily frustrated. People who are overwhelmed tend to have a much shorter fuse than those who are dealing with life’s stresses in a healthy, manageable way. This tends to lead to snapping at the people close to you (often for no real reason), getting angry at yourself for small mistakes, or completely overreacting to things that would ordinarily not bother you much.
- Talking negatively to yourself. Negative self talk is a huge part of feeling overwhelmed. We tend to blame ourselves when things aren’t going the way we want them to, thinking that it’s because we’re not good enough or capable enough to handle things. That’s just not true.
- Changing eating patterns. People who are overwhelmed with stress tend to have serious (though often unconscious) changes in their eating patterns, either eating too much or not enough. If you’ve noticed a significant change in what or how you’re eating, it could be due to mental or emotional overwhelm.
- Changing sleep patterns. The same goes for sleep patterns. People who are going through stress tend to either sleep too much (which can be a sign of depression) or not enough. Unfortunately, this also tends to compound the effects of mental health difficulties.
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Everyone goes through short-term stress. It’s a normal part of life, even though it doesn’t feel great and we try to do what we can to ease it. However, if that stress continues for long periods of time (known as chronic stress), it can have lasting implications.
Stress creates an overflow of cortisol in the system. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It is a natural reaction to the activation of the body’s fight or flight system, which is how we respond to anything our brain considers a threat, whether it’s a viable threat or not.
The longer that those hormones stay in the system, the more they are able to really wreak havoc.
Over time, chronic stress can put you at a much more increased risk of developing health conditions, including:
- Weight gain or obesity
- Memory impairment and concentration issues
- Digestive problems (like nausea and diarrhea)
- Heart disease
- Sleep issues like insomnia
- Headaches or migraines
Recognizing the signs of stress and putting a stop to your stress before it becomes a chronic issue can not only help you feel better on a mental level, it can also help you on a physical level, too.
Coping With Overwhelm: Practice Mindfulness
One of the most important things that you can do for yourself is to find and practice healthy coping mechanisms for when you feel overwhelmed with stress. This includes being able to identify negative coping mechanisms so that you can replace them. Both are equally important factors, and should be given equal time and consideration.
Mindfulness can help with both. Developing mindfulness practices is a great way to help train your brain to learn to be more present in the moment, so that you can get some clarity on what exactly is going on and stressing you out.
It all starts by finding a quiet place that you can sit by yourself, undisturbed, for at least a few minutes at a time. You don’t need any special equipment or training, although some people choose to invest in a meditation cushion to help provide some extra comfort. Once you’re in your space, sit comfortably. If sitting is uncomfortable for you, you can try lying down. The end goal is to make sure that you’re physically comfortable so your body doesn’t distract you from what you’re trying to do in your mind.
Start with practicing just a few minutes at a time, especially if you’re feeling particularly stressed out. You don’t want to do anything that adds to your frustration level, and the early stages of meditation can be difficult as you look for your own groove.
Just find your comfortable place, either close your eyes or soften your focus, and pay attention to your breathing. Count your breaths, both in and out, for as long as you can. When thoughts occur (and they will), give them a brief acknowledgment, and then release them and move on. Don’t give them full attention, don’t let them distract you. Note their existence, then let them go and move back to focusing on your breath.
Don’t worry, this will definitely get easier over time. Thoughts always happen, particularly stressful or worrying thoughts, but mindfulness can help you be able to distance yourself from them so that you can live in the present moment. This can help a lot with feeling overwhelmed because it is a reminder that things change and no feelings can have complete power over your life in a way that is harmful.
Coping With Stress: Monitor Your Diet
Your diet can play a significant role in how your body manages your stress level. When you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you get the vitamins and minerals that you need to be able to function properly.
Unfortunately, when people are under a lot of stress, they tend to let their diet fall to the wayside. Many don’t eat nearly as much as they should, and others turn to comfort foods (which tend to be fatty and/or fried) to help them cope.
Turning your focus to your diet and nutrition can really help you change the way you physically and emotionally deal with stress.
For instance, we designed our PYM Mood Chews to be full of many of the essential nutrients that we know can help people deal with stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. GABA, L-theanine, and Rhodiola all work synergistically to help support mental health. These nutrients as well as others conducive to emotional wellness can also be gained from a healthy diet, as they are present in whole foods like mushrooms and broccoli, as well as various plants and teas.
Coping With Stress: Get Out of the House
Isolating yourself is a common defense mechanism when you’re feeling overwhelmed. When we retreat into the house, however, we also deprive ourselves from many of the things that we need to be able to turn things around to lead a happier, more peaceful life.
For instance, getting out of the house allows you to be able to develop deeper, more long lasting relationships with the people close to you. When you allow them in, whether that is just going out to get coffee or just sitting on the couch with them and watching TV together, you open up more. That can also give you an outlet that you can use to vent. Getting all of the negative out of your head can naturally help you reduce the impact that stress has on you.
Exercise is also a great way to help cope with stress. It builds up your confidence, helps give you something that can distract you and allow you to get out your own head, and also naturally releases various hormones and endorphins that have been known to improve your mood (like dopamine).
Even just a few minutes of exercise a few times a week can help, but more is even better. The fresh air and change of environment can bring a lot more positivity than people expect.
Feeling overwhelmed is a normal part of life, but when that stress continues for long periods of time it can significantly impact emotional wellness. With the help of healthy coping mechanisms, like supporting mental health with nutrition and practicing mindfulness meditation, you can gain control and learn how to acknowledge the overwhelm, and then let it pass.