Help. I am emotionally overwhelmed.

One doesn’t have to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression to feel emotional overwhelm, which by itself can be so very consuming. Many of us will feel emotional overwhelm at some time or another, no matter our station and season in life. That feeling of being overwrought with intense, unruly and negative emotions is scary, difficult to manage, and sometimes, it feels like it’s going to be impossible to get through it.

Florine, a 28-year-old marketing manager, says she feels emotional overwhelm fairly regularly, even though she hasn’t been officially diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

“I am a very sensitive, emotional person, and I let stress really get to me, to the point that I get severe headaches thinking about everything,” she admits. “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, the world is out to get me,’ it’s not like that.

“It’s more like, ‘There’s so much to do. I don’t know where to start. I don’t remember how I got here. I don’t know how I’m going to get all this done.’”

Emotional overwhelm is different for everyone – some, like Florine, may feel like they’re drowning in daily duties, while others probably feel as though they’re being washed up in wave after wave of scary thoughts. No matter your definition of being overwhelmed, you probably feel as though you’ve lost all ability to think rationally or to be functional in your day-to-day duties.

Sometimes, overwhelm comes from mounting duties at work. Sometimes, it’s pressures from home. Sometimes, it comes after something traumatic, like a job loss, a big move, a death, or a breakup. Emotional overwhelm can be short-term, but in some cases, it sticks.

Symptoms of emotional overwhelm vary from person to person, but they can include:

  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Doubt
  • Sleeplessness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased perspiration
  • Chest pain
  • Helplessness
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Fear
  • Guilt

The stress hormone is to be blamed for such reactions – when we’re overwhelmed, cortisol rushes through our bodies, leaving us to feel incredibly anxious, and running out the “happy” hormone, serotonin.

So what can we do when we’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed?

First, we can be mindful of how we’re feeling. Accepting the anxiety doesn’t mean submitting to it and giving up – it means simply acknowledging that this is a normal, typical human emotion. It’s not forever. We’ll get through it.

Reversing or adjusting our thought processes helps too. Whenever we’re thinking something awful, let’s resort to logic: is this kind of thinking helping me at all right now? Is this reasonable? Would I talk to a friend calling for help the same way I’m talking to myself now? How can I make myself stronger, more powerful? Finally, step out of the unknown future (where our angst likes to live) and get back into the moment. Take everything one step, one breath, one task at a time.

Therapy, of course, is always beneficial. A knowledgeable and unbiased therapist can help you address your responses to your stressors. When you have a good understanding or what circumstances launch you into emotional overwhelm, it’ll be easier to navigate your way out of them when you find yourself landing right back into them. You’ll learn how to manage your overwhelming experiences rather than letting them take over. Therapy is a great way to build and exercise your mental health and mental strength, so that over time, you’re more resilient – and you can stop your emotional overwhelm in its tracks.

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