Overwhelm is a 20-foot wave crashing into you. Repeatedly. Psychologist Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, described overwhelm as “feeling completely overcome in mind or emotion.” When we think a stressor is too great for us to manage, we feel overwhelmed, she said.
Feeling overwhelmed has many faces. According to Deibler, overwhelm might manifest as an intense emotion, such as anxiety, anger or irritability; maladaptive thought process, such as worry, doubt or helplessness; and behavior, such as crying, lashing out or experiencing a panic attack.
Anxiety seems to be the most common, according to Kevin L. Chapman, Ph.D, a psychologist and associate professor in clinical psychology at the University of Louisville, where he studies and treats anxiety disorders. For instance, you might experience a fast heartbeat, sweating, tingling, chest pain or shortness of breath, he said.
What causes overwhelm?
“The possibilities are endless,” said Deibler, who’s also director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC. And it varies by individual, she said. Overwhelm can peak from a long to-do list we can’t seem to finish or an emotional event like a birth or death, she said.
Whatever the reason behind your overwhelm, here are six strategies to help.
Suggestions for Preventing or Stopping Overwhelm
1. Accept your anxiety.
Has fighting your feelings of overwhelm ever helped you erase them? Probably not. More likely, battling your emotions only boosted them. According to Deibler, “It’s ‘normal’ to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, or imminent.” Think of acceptance as riding out a wave, she said.