Keeping up with work. Paying rent. Feeding yourself. Dealing with family issues. Maintaining relationships. Dealing with the 24-hour news cycle. These are just a few of the things that might be swirling around in your head at any given moment.
Feeling overwhelmed is one of the less enjoyable aspects of being human, but it happens to everyone at some point. And it’s not unusual to occasionally find yourself thinking I can’t take it anymore, especially when you can’t seem to catch a break.
If you’re constantly on edge or feel like your bubble’s about to burst, practicing mindfulness can be a big help.
“Mindfulness itself is simply the process of paying attention in a nonjudgmental manner,” says psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin, MD. You can practice it in many ways, from focusing on your breath to walking around the block while noticing the colors and sounds around you.
Feel like practicing mindfulness is just one more thing to stress over? Try the 10 tips below for building it into your daily routine.
If you need help now
If you’re considering suicide or have thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).
The 24/7 hotline will connect you with mental health resources in your area. Trained specialists can also help you find your state’s resources for treatment if you don’t have health insurance.
If you find yourself overwhelmed and anxious, one of the fastest ways to ground yourself is to focus on your senses, says Lakshmin. “Any activity that brings you into your body will help minimize the anxious chatter in your brain.”
This can be as easy as sitting in your office chair, sliding off your shoes, and putting both feet on the floor. “Feel the ground under your toes,” says Lakshmin. “What does it feel like?”
Listening to music or actively taking in all the surrounding smells on a walk can be a grounding exercise.
A quick mindfulness exercise like a body scan can be really helpful in dealing with stress, according to licensed clinical psychologist Annie Hsueh, PhD.
“You can scan your body from head to toe, and when you notice any tension in your muscles, simply release that tension.”
How to do a body scan
You can practice this exercise on the bus, at your desk, on the couch — anywhere, really.
- Find a comfortable place to sit where you can have both feet firmly on the floor. Close your eyes.
- Bring awareness to your feet and how they feel touching the floor.
- Slowly bring that awareness all the way up, through your legs, torso, chest, and head.
- As you become aware of different areas of your body, notice any places that feel tense or tight.
- Release the tension if you can, but don’t stress if you can’t. Simply acknowledge it and move on.
- Gently open your eyes.
You’ve heard it a hundred times, but pausing and taking a deep breath can make a world of difference, says psychiatrist Indra Cidambi, MD. “When you feel overwhelmed, your breathing becomes shallow and anxiety spikes.”
The next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed:
- Try closing your eyes. With one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, focus on deep breaths from your diaphragm.
- Count to five between each inhale and exhale.
- Repeat at least 10 times, or more if needed. This will immediately slow your heart rate and provide a much-needed oxygen boost to your bloodstream.
It’s easy for your mind to be hijacked by constant notifications from your phone. They might not feel like much of an interruption, but over time, they can deplete your attention and emotional resources.
If possible, turn off notifications for things that aren’t absolutely necessary, such as news alerts, social media notifications, and your work email (especially after business hours).
You can take it a step further by making a conscious effort to turn off your phone for a set amount of time each day.
Sometimes, the best thing to do when you’re overwhelmed is to step away for a few moments, says Cidambi.
“There are clear links between sunshine, nature, and mood. Even a 5-minute walk around the block can help you return to your tasks more refreshed and focused,” she says.
According to Cidambi, you should also avoid leaning on substances like alcohol or drugs to help manage your feelings. “While it may provide a temporary relief, the after-effects can exacerbate anxiety, overwhelm, and stress,” she explains.
Plus, these substances can both tamper with your sleeping and eating habits, which won’t do your mind any favors.
The next time you’re tempted to reach for a beer in a moment of stress, take a moment to go through this list and see if there’s something else that would work for you.
Hsueh recommends self-soothing by focusing on your five senses to help reduce emotional overload. Grab something that your senses find comforting and keep it around for moments of high stress.
Find what soothes you
Consider these questions to help you find soothers for all of your senses:
- Vision. What’s something beautiful that you see around you? Do you have a favorite piece of art?
- Hearing. What sounds are pleasant or soothing to you? This could be music, the sound of your cat purring, or anything else you find calming.
- Smell. Do you have a favorite fragrance? Is there a candle you find particularly soothing?
- Taste. What’s your favorite taste? What food reminds you of a happy memory?
- Touch. Do you have a favorite blanket or chair? Can you take a warm bath or put on a favorite sweater?
Journaling is an incredibly effective tool for managing stressors. “This allows you to work through your feelings and even develop a plan for managing them by simply putting pen to paper,” says Cidambi.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to put pen to paper. To make things easier, just pick one or two things that are on your mind or focus on a single emotion.
Feelings of anxiety and overwhelm often stem from feeling out of control. Stay two steps ahead of yourself by identifying potentially stressful situations ahead of time.
Of course, you can’t do this with everything, but if you know you have a big meeting next week, arrange from some extra support or carve out some time to de-stress afterward.
You could also:
- Ask friends or family to help out with childcare when you know you have a busy day.
- Pre-plan some meals to remove that burden.
- Alert your partner that you might need additional support.
- Tell your colleagues that you’ll be busy on a specific project and aren’t going to be open to taking on more work for a few days.
Don’t underestimate the power of leaning on loved ones when you’re having a hard time. “Turn toward your friends or family for support,” says Hsueh. “You can even let them know how best to support you — would you like them to complete a task with you, do fun activities with you, or listen to you vent?”
Working with a therapist can also help you identify what’s overwhelming you and develop tools for dealing with stress and anxiety. Concerned about the cost? Our guide to therapy for every budget can help.