How to deal with feeling overwhelmed

How to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

By Mental Health First Aid USA on March 17, 2021

Let’s get real: there are times in life when you’re going to feel overwhelmed. Whether it be with work, school, social obligations or just life in general, we all feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed at some point. It’s important to give yourself grace when you have these feelings. Try not to brush them off or push through whatever is causing you to feel anxious – your mental health matters and if you’re feeling the squeeze, understand that you can take a step back.

We understand that recent events along with the COVID-19 pandemic have made things complicated, and it can be difficult to juggle all of your responsibilities at the same time. When you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, remember that you can always revisit your self-care plan. Self-care plans are personal, which can be just the thing for when things feel like too much. Try some of these tips when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Take a deep breath and step away. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, a quick way to begin to alleviate those feelings is by doing breathing exercises. If the thing that’s overwhelming you is in front of you, try taking a step away from it to create some separation between you and whatever is making you feel this way. Deep breathing exercises are a great way to promote relaxation and lower your stress response. Need some breathing exercise guidance? We’ve got you covered.
  2. Create a “no” list. Protecting your time and space can help give you a sense of control over your schedule. If you don’t want to do something or have been dreading that virtual happy hour, don’t feel like you have to go. Replace the activities you don’t want to do with something that you’ll enjoy. Healthy boundaries are crucial for your wellbeing!
  3. Be kind to yourself. Remember that feeling overwhelmed is OK, especially now. It also helps to remember that feeling overwhelmed doesn’t have to last. Give yourself some grace – if you don’t get to that chore or have to ask for an extension at work, you can. Your mental health should be a top priority.
  4. Ask for help from a loved one. Your social support network is there for you to lean on if you need to vent or talk things through. Reach out to a friend for a virtual chat or pick up the phone and call a family member.
  5. Write it out. Writing down why you feel overwhelmed or anxious is another great way to help alleviate those feelings. It helps to do this unstructured – having a written stream of consciousness allows you to express yourself freely and getting those thoughts out of your head will be a relief.

If you need more inspiration, take a look at this extensive list from Upworthy containing 101 things to try if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Remember that the feelings you’re having are temporary and with the right coping mechanisms and support, you can take care of yourself when things feel overwhelming.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) can also help – here are some blogs to read if you or a loved one is feeling anxious or stressed and needs some support:

  1. How to Help Someone With Anxiety
  2. 4 Self-care Tips for How to Deal with Anxiety
  3. How to Create Your Own Self-Care Plan
  4. Five Ways to Support a Loved One with Anxiety or Depression



Kelly, M. (2021, February 11). 10 easy breathing exercises for anxiety. Verywell Health.

MHFA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA for Adults Assisting Adults. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Wright, A. (2016, June 20). 101 ways to take care of yourself when the world feels overwhelming. Upworthy.

Get the latest MHFA blogs, news and updates delivered directly to your inbox so you never miss a post.

How to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed: 9 Tips

Wondering how to deal with feeling overwhelmed? These coping tips can help.

If you find yourself asking “How do I stop feeling overwhelmed?” then trust that you’re not alone.

According to a 2020 survey of over 3,000 U.S. residents, conducted by the American Psychological Association, 60% of participants reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of issues that America is currently facing.

Stress doesn’t discriminate. It impacts everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or location. And it can stem from many personal and systemic factors, some of which we’ll outline below.

So, here’s a friendly reminder: Though it’s not always easy, it is possible to learn skills for coping with overwhelm. Learning the potential root causes and coping tips may help you manage your stress a bit easier, no matter what’s causing it.

There are so many causes of stress and overwhelm, some of which include:

  • work responsibilities
  • relationship stressors
  • traumatic experiences
  • financial worries
  • political issues
  • environmental warnings
  • health concerns
  • living in a global pandemic

Emotional regulation can be extra challenging for highly sensitive people and folks living with mental health conditions, like:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • anxiety disorders
  • autism
  • mood disorders

Each person has different stress level thresholds, and no one handles stress the same way. What overwhelms one person may not bother the next.

But there are certain coping strategies that everyone can try to reduce the amount of overwhelm experienced on a daily basis and in each stressful moment.

Here’s what to do when feeling overwhelmed.

A first important step to overcoming being overwhelmed is to figure out the root cause. The next time you have an overwhelming thought, ask yourself: What’s causing you to feel stressed right now?

Once you locate the source, you’re that much closer to problem solving and feeling better.

Ignoring or denying your overwhelm likely isn’t going to help. It’ll just bubble under the surface until you have no choice but to see and deal with it.

Instead, acknowledge the fact that you feel overwhelmed, and acknowledge any negative thoughts. And try not to judge yourself for what you’re feeling. This nonjudgmental acceptance might help reduce any feelings of shame or guilt associated with your stress, too.

When you have a million things going on, it can be challenging to focus on the here and now. But the present moment is all we truly have.

Tuning into it through mindfulness practices can help to reduce your anxiety over the past and the future.

Some ways to practice mindfulness include:

  • meditation
  • single-tasking, aka the opposite of multitasking
  • movement, like yoga or dance
  • mindfulness apps, like Calm or Headspace

A 2017 study among university students suggests that deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve mood.

And a 2019 study (with a limited sample size) indicates that diaphragmatic breathing can offer physiological and psychological stress relief, too.

When you feel yourself getting easily overwhelmed, try taking a deep breath and focusing on each inhale and exhale that follows until you feel more at ease.

If self-led breathing exercises like this don’t come naturally to you, that’s OK. You can listen to guided meditations as well.

It’s easy to focus on all things out of our control. And doing so has the potential to increase our anxiety.

But what about the things that we do have control over?

The next time you worry about something that’s out of your hands, attempt to redirect your attention to something within your power. This may be easier said than done, but the practice of letting go of the uncontrollable can be worthwhile.

We live in a society that doesn’t exactly prioritize rest or self-care. Most of us work a full day, get home, eat dinner, shower, do chores, and get ready for bed. Then we repeat that process the next day and the next, until we get a slice of relaxation on the weekend (that is, if we’re not busy playing catch-up from the week before).

Intentionally setting time aside to take breaks can reduce the amount of stress you feel from being “on” all the time. Even a 15-minute stretch break during the workday, a 1-minute mindfulness break, or a trip to your favorite spot to watch the sunset can help.

Are you doing enough of what you love? Or are you just grinding through each day trying to cross off all the tasks on your to-do list before the day ends?

Make it a point to set the time aside to bring joy into your life. What brings you pleasure? You might consider:

  • listening to music
  • going for a walk
  • cooking dinner
  • watching the sunset
  • spending time with loved ones

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and if it’s safe to reach out for physical contact, ask a friend, partner, or family member for a hug. A 2017 study study suggests that touch can reduce stress and promote overall well-being as a result.

A 2016 study in Brazil indicated that massage and reiki can also help lower stress and anxiety. So if a loved one isn’t within reach, receiving physical touch through these (or other) options can work, too.

If you’ve tried many coping mechanisms for feeling overwhelmed, and you still need help, consider speaking with a mental health professional.

Therapy can help you identify the root cause of what’s causing your overwhelm and offer personalized coping strategies that will work best for you.

Stress affects all of us differently. Sometimes it comes from personal sources, like relationships or work, and other times it stems from systemic factors, like politics or social justice.

But knowing how to stop feeling overwhelmed and ways to reduce anxiety when those feelings pop up can help to reduce your stress levels. Next time, try any of these coping strategies:

  • figuring out the root cause
  • focusing on your breath with deep breathing exercises
  • practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • speaking with a mental health professional

Most of all, it helps to remember that overwhelm happens to everyone. These feelings are temporary, and they’re going to pass. These tips can help you feel better sooner than later.

Personal experience: a psychologist from St. Petersburg on how to cope with the constant feeling of fatigue and depression


With dysthymia, you almost always feel tired and quite depressed. These symptoms are not so pronounced as to speak of depression, but they can seriously increase during exacerbations. Cognitive-behavioral psychologist of the Quality of Life Center Victoria Tsebrenko spoke about her personal experience of living with a condition similar to dysthymia and ways to help herself.

How dysthymia manifests itself and its exacerbations

According to the latest estimates, 3.3% of the population suffers from dysthymia. This disorder is officially included in the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases 10th Revision), it can be found in the section "persistent mood disorders". Even if you have not been diagnosed with this by a doctor, but you often feel depressed and tired, it is important to know how to prevent your condition from worsening. For example, I do not have an official diagnosis of dysthymia, but its manifestations are as close as possible to what I feel.

In a person with dysthymia, a feeling of depression and fatigue in a blurred form is almost always present, and at some moments it becomes more noticeable. This is a fairly constant condition, the symptoms of which may overlap with those of depressive episodes. Their severity is not so strong as to speak of depression. But noticeable enough to impair the quality of life. Due to the blurring of symptoms, a person may consider dysthymia as part of his personality, character, or feature of the rhythm of life. And when, against such a background, even greater declines in activity and mood occur (periods of exacerbations), a person simply cannot understand that something is wrong with him. Although at these moments he needs to take care of himself, seek help.

How does this smooth transition from a conditionally normal, background state of depression to a more severe one take place? In the background, you almost always feel sleepy, especially if you slept less than 7 hours. There is little interest and motivation in even the most beloved things, but there are flashes of high interest. Ordinary situations can trigger painful thoughts, such as: "I'm not doing well, I'm doing everything wrong." However, in a conditionally normal state, these thoughts are easier to track and stop so as not to plunge into a dangerous, depressogenic thought pattern.

It happens that a person is a little sad for most of his life, with “beaten” emotions. Against this background, even greater declines in strength and self-confidence occur.

During episodes of dysthymia, you begin to experience physical fatigue and exhaustion, regardless of the amount of rest and sleep. You can lie in bed all day and watch a series that makes you sick. Much more situations cause a painful assessment of yourself and your actions: if you experienced hopelessness, felt weak and stupid in a normal state, then during the period of exacerbation this seriously intensifies, it is much harder to suppress such thoughts. You often experience irritation, it is difficult for you to empathize with other people, even those closest to you.

When you feel tired and overwhelmed, this inevitably leads to a deterioration in the quality of your work. You negatively evaluate yourself and your work, trying to solve the problem with the help of processing. Symptoms in the form of fatigue and depression add up in a vicious cycle, support each other and reinforce. This cycle looks like this: “Tired and depressed - Fewer tasks done - I don't work well. I'm not doing well. I should do better. - Start working harder. “Fatigue and depression.”

The workhorse mode, as a rule, is turned on in relation to areas that require you to be as hyper-responsible as possible. You turn a blind eye to everything else - it is dangerous that, first of all, what brings you real pleasure, gives you a feeling of a full life. Communication with loved ones, hobbies, playing sports - all this you sacrifice, trying to make time for "really important things." Because of fatigue and depression, it begins to seem that you basically don’t like anything. Here is another closed loop. "Fatigue and depression - Leave only the most necessary, reduce pleasant activities - Mood and strength decrease - Negative forecasts increase "I will not like this, I will get even more tired" - Fatigue and depression. In order to help yourself cope with dysthymia, it is important to break the vicious circles: on the one hand, do not overload yourself with tasks, on the other hand, do not refuse entertainment, communication and a pleasant stay. Do not trust too much the feeling of tiredness and sadness: return to life activity and pleasant rest, even if there is less joy from them now.

People during depression and exacerbation of dysthymia often turn on mental chewing gum, which consists in painful, unproductive thinking. Often a person is too fixated on his well-being, on feelings of fatigue and sadness. This adds even more suffering, leads to the fact that you merge even more into a state of depression. It is important to train attention switching. Yes, you should pay attention to the symptoms of dysthymia, but don't get too stuck in them. Remember that episodes of aggravation end and even with limited strength, we can still do a lot.

So, here's how to notice the worsening of dysthymia in order to help yourself in time:

  • Irritability appears: everyone wants something from you, but you can no longer and do not want to.
  • More and more often you refuse to meet people you like, you are less engaged in any business
  • Drowsiness accumulates. Spend more hours in bed.
  • What to do

    • The first thing you need to understand is that rest is not a prize for a job well done, not a privilege, but a vital necessity. Our body and in particular the brain cannot fully function without enough sleep and rest. And the sooner we come to terms with this limitation of our body, the less often we will fall into a dangerous trap. You also need to understand that we are all really different. In no case do not focus on the work schedule, the amount of workload and rest from other people.
    • Do not compare yourself with yourself in more even periods. Yes, a month ago you felt more strength, energy and optimism. Now you can’t live at the same pace, you don’t have to try to “push”. We cannot always rely on the maximum of our capabilities. Stop scolding yourself: you do not choose this state, and in general you can’t influence it that much. Yes, it is normal. No, you are not weak and not a whiner.
    • Do not plunge into the state: notice fatigue in order to balance work and rest, but learn to be distracted from it, switch attention. Mindfulness techniques can help you with this. Don't trust fatigue and bad thoughts too much: you may actually be able to do less and worse right now, but still quite a lot.
    • Don't play all-powerful: delegate, refuse work that can be abandoned. Get plenty of rest, but keep it in moderation - if you notice that passive rest makes you feel even worse, it's better to get up and do something simple
    • Recognize the limitation of effort. If you have already tried a lot, but it did not help to cope with the condition, seek the help of a psychologist or psychotherapist. All patients, even in depression, always doubt: do I really need help or am I just being lazy and pretending. I can say that making a specific diagnosis is an important thing. But you do not need a diagnosis to feel good about yourself, have the right to rest, adequately assess the condition and ask for help in time.

    Follow our news on Telegram


    Katerina Reznikova,

    How to overcome depression | BroDude.


    Autumn is a cruel and hating time. However, we like it. All these endless downpours and temperature changes are good for the male body, and if not, then there are always wheels that will help you overcome any disease. Any, except sincere. But this time of the year is famous for the abundance of all kinds of “depressus” that falls on your head. There are days in our week when any little thing can destroy a positive attitude. If you like to knock over a couple of dozen shots of high-grade, dubious liquor, then you probably know that, in addition to purely physical ailments, the next morning you will be in for a total moral suppression. And how to deal with it?

    First, let's define for ourselves that depression and depression are two different states. If depression can be called systematic and permanent, then depression has a fleeting essence. From alcohol, it manifests itself quite often, because alcohol, you probably know, is quite a vigorous depressant. Depression is better treated more thoughtfully and more seriously, otherwise there would be no need for dudes like psychologists. But to remove depression, you need not so much, for this it is not even worth delving into causes and effects. It doesn't matter. You could be upset because of the usual squabble on the road or a brain-crushing attack from your new girlfriend, or maybe you were cheated in a store or a mobile operator called at the wrong time. You yourself know from what you can become discouraged, so let's not invent something new. And we will not advise you something like: “Meet your problem face to face!”, “Conquer it!”, “Stop whining!” After all, this not only does not help, but such advice is often a complete vacuum.

    Yes, a man should be able to cope with his problems, but some things are not as simple as they seem, and sometimes it is better to solve them in roundabout ways, somehow drown out their negative effect. The problem may not go away, but in the meantime it will become much easier to solve. Tested on myself and my friends.

    1. Take care of the work that you have always put off

    In general, this is probably the best state when you can meekly and conscientiously deal with household chores. For example, washing dishes, cleaning, cleaning the hood, or rubbing the folds of your mutant dog. All this on another day would be done reluctantly, even nauseatingly. And now you need to distract yourself from negative thoughts. And what will contribute to this better than dull and monotonous physical work? It's a fairly simple activity, and one can easily convince oneself that it's wildly useful as well. While doing household chores, you can easily limit the activity of your thought process to zero, you can stop thinking altogether. And this will give you the opportunity to quickly restore your psychological strength.

    2. Watch something unbearably stupid.

    TV is your friend when depression gets the better of you. A great moment to turn on some hell of a show that you just recently spit on. You can look, for example, some Japanese TV channel, or wrestling, or NASCAR races. The main thing is that in the course of viewing you do not have to think. That's not necessary at all. Imagine that you didn’t even finish two classes, feel like a redneck who was shot in the brain in Vietnam. As a rule, at such moments you can get some kind of revelation about the importance of certain things. Life will seem simple enough to you not to worry about it.

    3. Look at something unbearably smart

    We act from the opposite. Have you ever been surprised that the most notorious alcoholics for some reason like to watch programs about animals and their life in the savannah? Here you go to one such house, and he sits and watches how a crowd of lions tear apart some unfortunate zebra to pieces. And you know, this method really works. Although we prefer to watch films about space or something more futuristic. When you are depressed, you become noticeably dumber. Thoughts cannot gather into something structured and understandable. Therefore, it is necessary to find the source of all this somewhere on the side. Why would you do that? Then, that smart men who tell you about atoms and black holes are very good at taking you away from your useless problems. And again, you need to abstract from the reasons for your despondency.

    4. Read comics

    Advice from a friend BroDude. When sadness covers you with a head, it's time to read comics. Just choose them wisely. No complicated graphic novels a la Alan Moore. Of course, they are all cool, but it is better to find something simpler. In general, simplicity is your best friend in the fight against depression. And also try to read something non-cynical, where there will be less evil and dirt. Look to classics like Garfield. This comic has been released almost every day since '78, and the jokes haven't changed at all in that time. It's damn unusual and nice that there is something so reliable in the world. So many wars have passed since then, and this red cat still eats his lasagna and rots his master.

    5. Go to some eatery

    It doesn't matter which one. You can choose any local fast food restaurant, which is full of motley people. Order a burger there, chemical soda and watch people.

    Learn more