3 Ways to Care for Yourself when Feeling Overwhelmed

March 15, 2021

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Written By : Aisha R. Shabazz, LCSW

Even though society is growing increasingly tolerant for how much time people spend relaxing, it’s still pretty clear that knowing HOW and WHEN to relax, especially when overwhelm is swirling all around, is a challenge for most people.

I don’t think that it’s impossible to learn how to manage life during moments of chaos, dread, and turmoil but it certainly takes a different type of energy and effort to push overwhelm out the door and invite in other feelings to the party with open arms.

Here’s a guide to help you explore how to stop feeling overwhelmed:

Talk It Out

Even if you consider yourself a reserved person, verbalizing how you feel with words can have an impact on the way you engage with a chaotic experience.

Who should you talk to? Any sentient being will do – a caring friend, neighbor, or family member, loving pet, a houseplant. Even talking out-loud to yourself is shown to have a positive impact on health & well-being.

And you’re thinking to yourself – Really?! I’m NOT going to start talk to myself.

Well, what do you think solo podcasters do all day? They talk to themselves!

I rest my case!

I also want you to keep in mind those moments when you’re not in the mood to talk.

If you’re overwhelmed by a particular topic, let’s say a current event that triggers strong emotions, you can opt out or defer having a conversation about it until you’ve had a chance to sort through your feelings.

For example, you’re reaching your threshold for engaging in another deep discussion about the most recent social injustices, especially those that are being covered on every social media platform, news station, and online periodical.

Your equally compassionate and socially conscious friend reaches out to you and wants to talk about what’s going on, try this:

Socially Conscious Friend: “Can you believe that it’s been one year since…”

You: “Yea, I can’t believe it. It’s actually overwhelming for me to talk about at the moment. It’s really important to me that we stay informed – I just need a chance to recharge. Do you mind if we change the subject?

If your friend practices as much self-awareness, kindness, and compassion as you do, they’ll understand and honor your boundaries without taking your request as a personal affront.

Reduce external stimuli

Stick around long enough and you’ll become really familiar with the long list of words that I like to use and don’t like to use – consider it my own version of Say This/Not That.

With that said, instead of the word overwhelmed, I like to think about the concept of being overstimulated.

“sometimes when we’re overwhelmed, we’re actually overstimulated”

Considering that we have 5 major senses: 1. sight 2. smell 3. taste 4. touch 5. sound , think reducing the input to one or more of these senses.

If all our senses are activated and receiving information over prolonged periods of time, receiving 5 different types of messages at once, can overwhelm or overstimulate our mind and body, leaving you feeling drained, irritable, etc.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, think about which of your 5 senses could use a timeout, so that you can take the time to recharge with kindness and self-compassion.

Side note: I consider intuition and awareness as additional senses but I’ll elaborate on that in a different post.

Tune into one sensation at a time

Now that you’ve reduced the amount of stimuli you’re receiving, you can take that a step further and try to practice tuning into one stimulus or sensation at a time.

For most people, especially for the professional multi-taskers of the world, focusing on one thing at a time is not easy.

BUT, one way to make learning a new skill more manageable, try the next best thing. So, if you’re used to focusing on 3 tasks at once – listening to music, cooking, and FaceTiming with a friend – remove one item off the multi-task list for a brief period of time.

For example, if you usually schedule your weekly catch-up session with your bestie during your 60-minute meal prep and you have that amazingly curated playlist that’s exactly 60 minutes long,

Try this –

  • Start the playlist and meal prep 10 minutes before you call your friend. – music & meal

  • Chat with your friend for 40 minutes – meal, music, & chat

  • When the music stops (nostalgic flashback to musical chairs), that’s your signal to:

    1. Wrap-up your call

    2. Schedule your next catch-up with your bestie

    3. And enjoy your delicious meal.

How does that sound?

Just because the world keeps spinning, doesn’t mean overwhelm has to swirl around you at the same speed.

You can slow down the pace at which overwhelm, information, and external stimuli are being received.

When it seems like overwhelm is chasing you down, in some instances, you can stop overwhelm, even for a brief moment, so that other feelings (and reflections) can enter into the room.

If you’re interested in taking a few more moments to feel & reflect, checkout my Reflections playlist on Spotify.


Hi there!

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I know, I make it appear super doable but that’s because it is! And to be fair, teaching people how to do things differently is what I do best.

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Disclaimer: This mental health blog is for informational purposes and is intended to help destigmatize mental health. It is strongly discouraged to use the information contained in this blog in a coercive manner. This information is not intended to diagnose or serve as a substitute for treatment from a licensed mental health professional. 

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