What to do when you are feeling overwhelmed?

Many of us have experienced intense emotions and a sense of being overwhelmed. Some of us experience those intense emotions when we have major life events such as losing a job or a relationship. For others, feeling overwhelmed can hit us when we keep on going and going in meeting life demands, until one day we finally ‘lose it’. We might end up crying and feel like everything is just too much.

When we get caught up in these intense emotions, it might be hard for us to problem solve or think in a more helpful and balanced way. This is partly because the function of our prefrontal cortex, which is the ‘rational part’ of the brain, is compromised. Instead, a part of the brain called the amygdala, which this important in processing emotions, is on overdrive – flooding the brain with overwhelming emotion. So what can we do when we feel overwhelmed? The first thing that we can do is to calm the amygdala by self-soothing.

Self-soothing is any activity that comforts, calms, and soothes you. When you self-soothe you treat yourself with compassion, kindness, and care. We might think that a simple activity such as going for a walk might not solve our problems or change our situation. Although it might be true, a simple self-soothing activity is an important step to calm your amygdala, so that you can regain your ability to problem solve to change your situation or think in a more balanced view.

Self-soothing is normally based on our senses, however it can be done in many different ways depending on what works for each person. Below are some ideas on self-soothing activities.

 

Sight

  • Close your eyes and imagine a relaxing place.
  • Go to nature.
  • Go for a walk along the river.
  • Go to a pretty spot or a local park.
  • Buy flowers and put them where you can see them.
  • Read a good book.
  • Watch a video of relaxing nature scenery.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Look at pictures of loved ones or photos of good memories.
  • Colour in adult colouring books.

Touch

  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Get a massage.
  • Put body lotion on your body.
  • Play with and cuddle pets.
  • Relaxing in the warmth of the sun.
  • Snuggle in a warm and soft blanket.
  • Go outside and feel the breeze.
  • Cuddle and hug loved ones. 

Sound

  • Listen to relaxing and calming music.
  • Listen to a cat purr.
  • Play instruments.
  • Say comforting and validating words to self as if you are talking to your best friend eg. “It is ok to feel what you feel”; “It is hard now, but I am here for you”; “I am allowed to feel this. when I am calmer, I will be able to think more productively”

Smell

  • Light a scented candle.
  • Aromatherapy.
  • Take deep breaths and smell the fresh air.
  • Smell nice cup of tea.
  • Bake some cakes.
  • Cook some fragrant nice food.
  • Smell flowers

Taste

  • Sip fragrant herbal teas.
  • Drink hot drinks.
  • Savour a piece of chocolate.
  • Enjoy a delicious meal.

Kinesthetic

  • Go for a run or gentle stroll.
  • Do sport.
  • Rock in a rocking chair.
  • Dance and let yourself go.

Once the intensity of your emotion reduces, the prefrontal lobe will regain its ability to think in a more balanced and helpful way. This will make you feel less overwhelmed and more able to cope with whatever life throws at us.

 

Dr Cindy Theresiana
Dr Cindy TheresianaBrisbane City Psychologist
Cindy is a Clinical Psychologist experienced working with adolescents and adults presenting with wide variety of psychological difficulties. With her warm and non-judgemental approach, Cindy works collaboratively with her clients to gain a greater understanding of their difficulties, develop new skills to get unstuck from the unhelpful patterns in their life, and to achieve their goals.