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It's night, and a woman is at her desk in her home feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Her hand is on her forehead and her eyes are closed.

What To Do When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Nobody likes feeling overwhelmed, but it’s normal to sometimes think there’s way too much to deal with in our lives. There seems to be more pressure now than ever to hold on to our jobs and fulfill our social and family obligations. And with all these stress factors, it’s easy to feel like we’ve lost ourselves somewhere along the way.

Why do people end up feeling overwhelmed? Sometimes, one overriding problem can throw you off balance and compound your more ordinary daily stresses. Other times, the sheer sum of it all can make it seem like the stars are all aligned against you.

Here are some common stressors that can make you feel like you’re living against the odds:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Job changes or loss
  • School pressures
  • Financial insecurity
  • Family tensions and arguments
  • Overwork
  • Fatigue

    If you ever feel like the world is closing in on you, take heart because you’re not alone. Here are five ways to help you combat feeling overwhelmed and, if necessary, get the help you need.

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    Admittedly, this might seem like a no-brainer. In these troubled times, just holding on to your job can be overwhelming. For many people, this is compounded with kids or family responsibilities, so who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed?

    But it actually does help to stop and take a mental inventory of what’s really going on. You might feel like you can’t take it anymore when your kids start squabbling, but is the real source of your frustration something that happened at work? Or you might feel like you can’t deal with your life anymore, but these feelings could be caused by despair over a recent breakup or fear of a failing grade at school.  One major stressor can magnify all the smaller annoyances in your life and make them feel overwhelming. Identifying these major stressors can help you take better control of your feelings so you won’t feel so lost and helpless.

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    When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to take out your frustrations on the people you love the most. In the novel “Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens, a character named Tattycorum has serious anger management issues. Whenever she threatens to blow her top, her father cautions her, “Five and twenty, Tattycorum!” It’s his way of saying, “Take a deep breath and count to 25.”  

    Taking a deep breath halts the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response. It compels your body to take a break and reset by bringing more air (and oxygen) into your body. The extra oxygen can calm stress, lower anxiety and even relieve pain. It’s better to take slow, deep breaths (and count them if it helps) than spend time regretting things you shouldn’t have said.

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    A personal social network can provide valuable emotional support from friends and family both near and far. Have you ever noticed how much it helps to talk things over with a friend, someone you can trust? An objective opinion — one that’s not biased by personal involvement or heightened emotions — can sometimes go a long way toward solving your most pressing problems. And even if there isn’t an immediate solution, it’s always a great relief to be able to share your burdens, if only verbally.

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    You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: A healthy diet and exercise can do wonders for your mental and physical health. It also helps to practice de-stressing therapies such as massage or yoga. Another effective stress-mitigating therapy is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing the muscles throughout your body. And for optimum physical health, be sure to stay hydrated. Water with fruit infusions or lemonades and limeades can be especially invigorating when you’re feeling stressed.

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    If it feels like your psychological bandwidth just can’t take any more, then it might be time to see a mental health professional. With expert advice and long-term stress management strategies, you can learn how to deal with the negative emotions that trip you up. And most importantly, you can learn techniques to help prevent you from becoming your own saboteur. To paraphrase the superstar entertainer RuPaul, if you can’t love yourself, then how are you going to love someone else?

    Part of self-value is in remembering that no one is perfect. A mental health professional can help you learn how to stop blaming yourself and start giving yourself some leeway when things seem to spin out of control. By getting the understanding and advice you need, you’ll be able to do a better job of handling your problems, whether they're caused by specific people or by a combination of daily pressures

    One bonus tip: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, be sure to take some “me” time for yourself whenever possible. This may involve saying a firm “No” to others who want more than you have to give. And sometimes it’s crucial to stop, step away, and take a break from everything that’s pressuring you. Take some time to relax, pamper yourself, and get the mental and physical rest you need. Your mind and body will thank you for it.