How to deal with emotional overwhelm

The feeling of overwhelm is something we can all relate to when it feels like there's too much going on for us to handle.  It can be a difficult experience without effective tools to deal with your emotions consciously and effectively. 

Emotional Overwhelm may look or feel like... 

Too much on your plate...

Taking on more commitments than you can handle...

Too much going through your head...

Unable to sleep...

Feeling stressed and worried about the never ending to do list....

Reactions and outbursts of emotion...

Over-powering roller-coaster of emotions...

So how can we cope at times like this when we feel overwhelmed and want to either run away from our responsibilities or break down, curl into a hole and cry?

Image source: Deposit Photos IZF

Image source: Deposit Photos IZF

We feel overwhelmed when we are suddenly washed over by a strong sense of emotion. It might be what we tend to judge as negative emotions such as hopelessness, despair, fear or worry or we may become overwhelmed at positive emotions such as joy, gratitude or love.

For the purpose of this post, I'm going to discuss some practical steps on how to manage emotional overwhelm, in what we perceive to be negative emotions such as stress, worry and frustration.

Some of us sensitive souls can become particularly overwhelmed due to sensory overload. That is simply receiving and processing too much information at once and perceiving it to be stressful. 

For example overwhelm may occur when we see the mess on the floor, the crumbs on the bench, the bills not paid, the dishes not washed, the friend that needs our help as well as the list of things not done. This can provide sensory overload right there, and it is no wonder we sometime become overwhelmed when we are not aware of how we are perceiving and filtering what comes in to our awareness.

Our brains are taking in around 1 million bits of information per second. We are automatically designed to filter, delete and distort this incoming information so we are not constantly bombarded by sensory overload. The information that does come through to us from the external world runs through our in built filters based on our values, beliefs and meta programs. So what we actually see and experience is based on what we expect and our perception.

For example if your filter is looking for what's wrong, out of place or not done your brain automatically searches for information through that filter to find evidence of this while deleting or distorting information about what's right or what has been done. 

Crazy right!

So knowing this, how can you manage emotional overwhelm so it doesn't have you packing your bags and running for the hills or breaking down into a mess on the floor when things become too much.


8 Practical Strategies to support you to deal with emotional overwhelm when it strikes


First, pause and recognise that you're feeling overwhelmed and take some big deep belly breathes. Learn to recognise your early warning signs such as irritation, agitation or frustration.


Step back outside of the situation so you can see it from a different viewpoint. When we get intensely involved in our situation, we are so far in it that it can be difficult to see a higher perspective. You might find you actually need to physically remove yourself for a moment, take some time out, change your environment, go for a walk or move or shake your body. 

Pleasure and Play

Take time out for play and pleasure, do something (ANYTHING) that allows you to get out of your busy mind and connects you into the moment. It might be painting, singing, dancing, surfing, playing with your dog or getting a massage. Whatever it is for you that brings you into presence. It can be as simple as looking up to the clouds in the sky for a minute or two or taking a couple of hours out to surf, paint or create. 


Do something that brings you into full presence in the moment. The key here is that whatever it is that you do, it brings you out of your logical thinking mind and allows you be fully engaged in what you are experiencing in the here and now. This is a space where your mind is free from the past or the future. It is a fully embodied experience, that you may experience as being in the flow, or in full sensory awareness of that which you are engaged in.  

Perception of pressure

Check in on the pressure you're placing on yourself. Once you've paused, stepped back and given your mind some breathing space by becoming present, you can come back to the situation from a calmer state of being and form a new perception. Check in and observe your thoughts that may be contributing to feeling overwhelmed. If you perceive your situation to be full of pressure and stressful it will be. If you perceive everything to be urgent - you will feel stressed. From a calm, more relaxed state you can choose to know that not everything is urgent and important right now and you can now let go of the excess pressure you are placing on yourself. 

Perfectionist Trap

Make friends with your inner perfectionist, read more about that HERE.  Let go of the false trap of needing to be perfect. There is no such thing. Let yourself off the hook now and allow yourself to be real, human and imperfect.

Practice Patience & Compassion

Learn to be patient, kind and compassionate towards yourself. Substitute pressure and high expectations for self compassion, and understanding that you are doing the best you can and that you are in fact no different to any other human on this planet. Check out Kristin Neff for some amazing free resources for self-compassion.


Get clear on what is important now. With a clearer, calmer and more patient mindset you are better equipped to determine what is important to you now in this moment. You can determine your priorities in order of importance and choose to stay focused on one thing at a time rather than getting caught up too far in the future with what needs to be done or rehashing what happened yesterday.

Pack away the excess

Pack away what you don't need right now. Here is a great, practical strategy to help you literally pack away what is hanging around in your over-active mind that you don't need right now. This will allow you to bring your awareness back to whatever it is you need to focus on now.

  1. Bring your awareness to the now and notice everything that is filling up your now.
  2. Then imagine everything from the past being packed away and compartmentalized exactly where it needs to be, so that if you need to access it, it will be right there for you packed up in the past.
  3. Then look to the future and imagine everything being packed away neatly together and stored exactly where it needs to be ready for you to access in the future.
  4. Then come back into your now and notice what is there now and what single thing requires your focus and presence right now.
  5. Breathe and allow your body to relax and soften knowing that all is taken care of as you let go of the past and future, while you focus on right now.

As always there are many ways to deal with emotional overwhelm, here I have simply shared from my own experience, knowledge and perspective. I trust this has given you at least one idea or take-away to help you deal with emotional overwhelm more effectively in the future.

Please share in the comments below your favorite tip or take away that you're going to use in the future or that you already use successfully. 

Love Jacinda xx