Everyone has experienced overwhelm at one time or another. Whether it was a particularly stressful triggering series of events or just the general creeping up of life over time. But if you’re reading this you’ve made it through. Read on to find out about the top 5 things to do when you’re overwhelmed – so you’re ready when you experience those symptoms again in the future.
What is overwhelm?
Human beings are designed to cope with some stress. Yes, you read that right: A few kinds of stress are actually good for you. Mainly because it provides a challenge and a purpose. It drives you forward.
But when you get overwhelmed with stress then the primitive brain begins to take over because it feels threatened. Your mind is trying to look after you, so that fight-flight-freeze response begins to kick in to keep you safe. Intelligently you know you need to cope with the situation. But the primitive brain is quick and powerful, sometimes you cannot get rational objective control back quickly enough.
It’s important to remember that the mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality. It’s not the events in life that necessarily provoke the primitive brain into action but your thoughts around those events. All those ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’ about that situation can really build up in your mind. This is what fills up your stress bucket.
And the more you have in your stress bucket the quicker the primitive brain will respond. That absolutely overwhelming feeling that you get is the primitive brain at work – doing a good job of looking after you.
Symptoms of overwhelm
The primitive brain has three opt-out clauses: Fight, Flight or Freeze.
And these are the things that give rise to the symptoms of overwhelm:
- Fight: Anger, frustration, being snappy, having a short fuse, being grumpy & irritable.
- Flight: Anxiety, restlessness, being fidgety, nervousness, being overly pessimistic.
- Freeze: Procrastination, low mood, tearfulness, low motivation & low self-esteem.
It’s not unusual to experience a mixture of these symptoms, too. And this can also result in a panic attack.
So, what are the 5 things to do when you’re overwhelmed?
Top things to do when you’re overwhelmed
1. Control your breathing
When you experience overwhelm, the mind sends a message to the body to panic. And the first thing it needs to do to create the fight-flight-freeze response is to take in more oxygen. That’s why your breathing often becomes short, shallow and fast.
Try to control your breathing by taking long, slow and deep breaths. This will send a message back up to the brain and let it know that you’re in control.
Move your body in whatever way you can. The fight-flight-freeze response will trigger your adrenaline levels. So, don’t just sit there and let the adrenaline course around your body.
Try and get rid of it by walking briskly, doing some star jumps or hit the gym if you enjoy that – just move.
3. Drink water
Hydration is really important for stable brain function. So don’t play into further triggers for your stress by being dehydrated.
Drink plenty of water to make sure you’re hydrated and your mind will sense the benefit.
4. Tidy up
Your environment is a reflection of what’s going on inside your mind. You’d be surprised what effect a good tidy-up can have!
So, organise your desk, sort out your living space or clean the bathroom. I guarantee you will feel a bit clearer in your mind as you see your physical space becoming more organised.
5. Take an emotional time out
If you were physically ill you would rest, enjoy some comforting food and watch your favourite movie, right? Well, treat your mental health in much the same way.
Give yourself some time off. Step away from your negative thoughts and feelings and do something nice for yourself. Anything that takes you away from your problems will be beneficial and will help you change your perspective.
One thing to keep in mind about all the possible things to do when you’re overwhelmed is that you’re not alone in this! Feeling overwhelmed is natural and something we’ve all experienced at one time in our lives – yes, even me!
It’s just the way that your primitive brain wants to look after you and help you to survive. If you think of it this way then you’ll find that you can accept those feelings for what they actually are and manage your symptoms much better.