How to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed with Life: 7 Steps

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“Are you okay?”  

How often has someone asked you this and you felt like crying because you just don’t know? In life, we don’t always know if we are okay. We often feel overwhelmed. You have a sensation of someone choking you all day long. It’s like a rock in your throat and you just can’t swallow or spit it out. But that’s life, right? 

The reality is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Feeling overwhelmed is perfectly normal, and you don’t have to put up a brave face for the world and look like you’ve got it all together—you know you don’t have things all perfectly sorted. You are human, and you are allowed to feel overwhelmed with life. 

Somehow, things have piled up on your plate (which is now looking like a puzzle that’s been glued back together after life broke it). Only this time, you feel like your plate is just going to shatter. Your helping of drama, negativity, and challenges in life has suddenly become a double scoop… and you’re not coping. What now? 

Giving up isn’t an option. Find your way through the anxiety with these steps to overcome that feeling of being overwhelmed. 

What Does It Mean to Feel Overwhelmed?

When you have an emotional reaction because you feel that everything is too much to handle, you feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is a reaction to the amount of what you are dealing with. 

To be overwhelmed by the situation you are facing, or an experience you are enduring, requires that your natural ability to cope is pressured into failing. Being overwhelmed isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s a confluence of being strained beyond your current ability to cope and a feeling of not being able to function. (Perhaps you even turn to unhealthy ways to try and cope.)

Feeling overwhelmed often comes with a type of mental paralysis that leads to a serious drop in productivity, which in turn, exacerbates the situation. Being unable to move forward, you add guilt to the burdens you already carry, which makes you feel even more overwhelmed, creating a vicious cycle

However, feeling overwhelmed doesn’t have to be indefinite. It is possible to regain control and find a way forward so you can feel able and stable again as you regain control.  

Reasons for Feeling Overwhelmed

Several factors contribute to being overwhelmed and feeling like you’re not coping. It’s never a single incident or event that causes the feeling of being overwhelmed but rather a string of things that pile up like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

Some factors that contribute to feeling overwhelmed may include:

  • Physical Exhaustion and Mental Fatigue

While sleep may not be a high priority when you are being superhuman to achieve all the tasks required of you, it is vital for maintaining your brain chemistry and renewing your coping skills. Sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and physical exhaustion all contribute to that feeling that you simply can’t set one foot before the other.  

  • Stress and Pressure 

If you are suddenly placed under severe stress, such as by finding out your loved one is in hospital, your ability to cope becomes compromised. The resulting stress and pressure will lead to a type of mental break if you don’t get out ahead of the storm. 

  • Failure of Systems and Friends

It’s hard to go through life without friends and with no or limited social networks. When you do find someone you can count on (romantic or otherwise), you are devastated if something happens to end that relationship and remove their support that propped you up. 

Relationship strain is one of the main causes of feeling overwhelmed. Some other causes of dwindling confidence that eats your ability to cope away include:

Becoming ill and losing out on time can also seriously escalate your stress reaction. Being responsible for many who depend on you will also cause severe stress and anxiety. 

When Feeling Overwhelmed Escalates

You may wonder what happens to cause feelings of being overwhelmed when the pressure is turned up on you. Of course, your anxiety levels will spike more, and you will struggle more and more if you stop trusting life. 

If you are a sensitive person, you may also experience a feeling of overwhelming responsibility for all aspects of your life. Those who have developed thicker skin may seem to cope better with a “who cares” attitude in life, but inside, the anxiety still gnaws at their ability to handle stress. 

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Being unable to move forward, you add guilt to the burdens you already carry, which makes you feel even more overwhelmed, creating a vicious cycle. 

Eventually, we all have moments when we just feel like there’s no way forward, that we’re sinking, and that we are not okay. And that’s okay. Despite what you may believe, you are okay (or will be).

Anxiety will pass, desperation can be soothed, and you will cope. But having a guide to help you deal with overwhelming feelings is going to save you from serious mental stress and trauma.

7 Steps to Help You Deal When Feeling Overwhelmed With Life

When you feel that anxiousness and restless malcontent that comes with feeling overwhelmed, you can help yourself get back on track and carry the load you’ve got (no matter how impossible it seems). These steps will help you with the guidance you need:

1. Breathe Consciously

When you feel anxious, you start to breathe shallowly, snatching at breath, doubting that there’s even enough breath for you in the world. Yet, breath is free, always there, and essential for life. Breathing correctly will help your body cool down, your mind settle, and give you a time-out until clarity returns. 

If you feel yourself beginning to fret and worry escalates until you start to breathe shallowly, you know that feeling of not being okay and feeling overwhelmed is a few seconds away. You can reset the timer on your emotions by breathing mindfully. 

Try these two simple breathing exercises (they only take a few seconds each), and help slow down the race of life. 

  • Box Breathing

To deal with feelings of being overwhelmed, it helps to refocus your mind by breathing. Symmetry is a great mental distraction to use. 

Simply close your eyes to shut out any stressors from around you. Next, breathe rhythmically by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Notice the cooling and soothing feeling when you inhale and the relaxing warmth when you exhale as you do this exercise. 

While you breathe, follow this count:

Inhale while counting from one to four. Pause for a count of one to four, then exhale for a count of one to four, and pause once more for a count of one to four. Repeat this cycle of inhale, pause, exhale, pause three to six times. 

Continue breathing normally and deeply after this activity as you continue your day, feeling stronger and more vital. 

  • Eight-Four-Seven Breathing

Another great anxiety-busting breathing exercise to help you feel less overwhelmed is to slowly and steadily exhale through your mouth for a count of one to eight. Follow this with an inhaled breath through your nose for one to four seconds. Finish up with a pause of seven counts. Repeat this exercise two more times for full benefit.  

2. Find Your Why

Now the initial feeling of being overwhelmed has been calmed, ask yourself why you felt overwhelmed. What has been pushing you to the limit and upsetting your mental calm? By finding the reason for your anxiety, you will be better able to deal with it and resolve the root cause of the overwhelming feeling. 

Consider your environment, your own body stasis, friends, family, and the pressures of your work or the situations you face. Find the cause of your anxiety, and you will be able to take steps to cancel out the negative pressure in your life.  

3. It’s Okay to Be Not Okay

Own up to your feelings of struggling and feeling negative. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t a sin. It’s not against some law, and it’s NOT a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be ashamed of feeling like you’re not coping. You’re not alone—many of us don’t cope at times in our lives and we also feel pressured beyond our means to cope in those moments. 

Acknowledging you are not feeling good about a situation or your ability to deal with it is the first step to managing your world and experiences better. Admit you are overwhelmed and struggling. Accepting you are not perfect will allow you to more easily accept help and manage better. 

4. Offload and Reorganize

When you look at the overwhelming feeling without emotions, you will notice it’s almost like placing weights on a scale. You have X amount of time and skills, but on the other side of the scale, you have Y amount of things to do. If X can’t balance Y, then you need to offload

The real challenge is letting go of things you feel like you should be doing. Examine all the things you do and manage in your day, decide which of these you absolutely have to do, and shift the ones you simply can’t anymore to the side. 

Shifting tasks out of your life that only bring negativity, such as watching the news can help improve your anxiety levels.

A friend may phone you daily to vent, mentally and emotionally draining you. While you want to be there for them, you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do it daily.

Discuss with your friend that you are not doing too well and that you haven’t got time to speak with them daily, but that you can meet them for a glass of wine and pizza on Friday nights and a coffee on Sunday afternoon. 

Learn to say “no” to things you can’t balance on your scales. 

5. Step Away

The feeling of being overwhelmed isn’t a permanent state of being. When you give it space and time to be acknowledged, you realize feeling overwhelmed is not even something to fear or be ashamed of. You can experience it in that moment, and then choose to step away from the moment. 

If you can, you may choose to think of the anxiety and stress that cause the feeling of overwhelmed as friends who wait outside the door for when you’re ready to carry them again.

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Breathing correctly will help your body cool down, your mind settle, and give you a time-out until clarity returns. 

But now, in this moment, you can choose to close the door and breathe until the overwhelmed has settled and you feel able again. 

During this period of stepping away from your anxiety and stress, you can use mindfulness to help rebalance your scales. Take this time to meditate, journal, use positive affirmations, and move out of your mind with physical movement like yoga and Tai Chi. 

6. Capture the Feeling and Look at It in Black and White

Journaling is a powerful tool for working things out and finding solutions. Use your journal to capture the feelings leading up to the point where you felt overwhelmed. Detail how you feel during the overwhelming period, and then begin to write what you could do or how you could move through it. 

When you look at these feelings in black and white, it’s easier to remove your emotions (which are probably a mess at this point) and see just what needs doing to steer clear of the trauma that’s blocking your highway in life.

7. Substitute Feeling Overwhelmed for Something Better

Being responsible is something we can’t just dump, at least not forever. However, we can substitute the feeling of being stuck and not coping for something better until the moment of feeling overwhelmed has passed. 

Consider swapping out the feeling of bitter resentment and feeling spread thin with laughter and doing something you love. It only takes a few moments for the chemicals in your brain to realign.

By listening to a favorite song or watching a video of cute cats on YouTube, you can give your brain an oxytocin boost, feel better, and cope better when the song is done or the video has ended. 

Final Thoughts on Feeling Overwhelmed With Life

Dealing with the pressures that are on you is a challenge that only you can understand. It may feel like you’re alone in it… but, you’re not. We’re all dealing with stuff and that means we are rowing in the same boat, and together, we can win the race. 

But it is okay to rest your oars – take a breath, listen to a song, offload some unnecessary baggage and step away for a moment to rest and recover. Doing so will enable you to row on with renewed vigor and a more positive life outlook.  

If you want to learn more about the mindfulness tools that can help you in those moments of feeling overwhelmed, read our articles on mindfulness activities.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Here are some more HappierHuman posts to help you handle it:

Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.

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