Your emotions & healing overwhelm

This is the second post in a series called A holistic guide to troubleshooting your overwhelm. See the first post here.


Your feelings create the experience of your life.

Whether you feel joy, focus or overwhelm determines how your day goes. When the emotion of overwhelm comes up in your life often, it not only sucks up your precious time and energy, but it also feels awful!

Overwhelm affects your ability to make decisions and to follow-through on your schedule and big ideas, which, in turn, affects your impact in the world, ultimately disempowering you.

With so much uncertainty and change happening in the world right now, learning to manage overwhelm effectively can go a long way to helping you feel more control within your own life. And more at peace.

Last week I explored overwhelm and it’s connection to the body, as well as ways to help relieve overwhelm via the body using an Ayurvedic approach.

In this post, I’m going to explore the role of the emotions in creating and reducing overwhelm.

What is overwhelm anyways?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines overwhelm as such:

  1. to cover completely, to submerge
  2. to overcome by superior force or power
  3. to overpower in thought or feeling

Can you relate to any of those definitions?

For me, overwhelm feels like a fuzziness in my brain. An inability to think straight accompanies it, as well as a desire to make a sugary snack and chill out in front of a silly show.

Sure that would be fun, but the time I would spend doing the baking and the watching would take me away from the valuable work I was trying to do and wouldn’t be helpful for my clients.

It would also put overwhelm in the driver’s seat of my day and that’s not a habit that I want to encourage.

My own definition of overwhelm goes something like this:

Overwhelm is an emotional state that disconnects you from your own clarity and power. It reduces your ability to think and make decisions, which leads to uncertainty, hesitation and paralysis.

People who are in overwhelm often say things like:

  • I’m stuck
  • I can’t handle this
  • I don’t know – (this is THE favorite phrase of overwhelm)

So, let’s take a look at two ways of understanding overwhelm as an emotional strategy for coping with life.

Overwhelm as protection

All of our emotions have a darn good reason for existing – including overwhelm.

When your brain comes “face-to-face” with something uncomfortable, it always tries to react in a way that will preserve your existence.

Because overwhelm can keep you from taking action, the brain uses this feeling as a way to keep you from doing things that are scary, uncomfortable or unknown. It’s simply doing it’s best to keep you safe.

Overwhelm is a natural response to challenge in your life, it doesn’t actually mean that you don’t know or that you’re stuck.

It just means that your brain is trying to keep you safe by triggering an emotion of overwhelm.

That’s a nice thing for the brain to do.

But it’s not useful.

Especially when you’re trying to grow and do new things.

If you relate to this, never fear! I have help in the Solutions section below.

Self-assessment

  1. Do you often feel overwhelmed when doing new things?
  2. Is overwhelm a habitual feeling for you?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, then your brain is most likely using overwhelm to protect you.

Overwhelm as a mask

Humans have rich emotional responses to our circumstances. Often overwhelm appears as a mask or blanket to keep us from feeling other scarier emotions like fear, self-doubt, anger, sadness, grief, etc.

When a client comes to me with chronic overwhelm, they often have a difficult time processing emotions (although they rarely realize it).

Some of them have stuffed their emotions away for years because they haven’t fully processed losing a loved one, divorce, betrayal, trauma, etc.

Some of them think they need to smile and be nice instead of talking about negative things.

And so they don’t.

This doesn’t make the feelings go away. Instead, they sit under the surface, hidden in the dark corners of the self. Pushed away  yet omnipresent.

In order for those emotions to stay repressed, you have to change your behavior. Like having a big mess in the middle of the living room, you have to walk around it, ignore it, pretend that it’s not there.

And when someone or something reminds you of it, you have to protect yourself.

That’s where overwhelm comes in.

It’s like a bunch of soft cotton in the brain. Muffling your feelings. Numbing things out until whatever triggered you fades, waiting for the next time it needs to flood your brain with fluff.

As you can imagine, this strategy can hold you back from being your big, bold, beautiful self.

As humans, we are supposed to feel negative feelings. We’re not supposed to feel good all the time.

Life is 50/50.

Which means feeling good 50% of the time and not-so-good the other 50%.

The trick is to learn to allow negative feelings so that you:

  1. Don’t react to them (avoiding, numbing out with food, drink, tv, etc)
  2. Process them fully so they don’t gunk up your system with overwhelm and fluff

When you’re willing to feel the bad feelings underneath the overwhelm, you’ll be able to move through them in a much more efficient way that will help keep you in the driver’s seat or your emotions.

Self-assessment

  1. Do you have a hard time talking about an event in your life?
  2. Do you think something has gone wrong if you feel a negative feeling?
  3. Do you try to avoid negative feelings or get out of them as quickly as possible?

If you answered yes to any of these, then overwhelm may be a strategy for not fully processing negative emotions.

Solutions to feel better

  • Use overwhelm as a trigger to help you step into the driver’s seat of your mind and become aware of your thinking. 

    When you catch yourself in overwhelm (either because you notice you feel it or because you’re thinking a thought like “I don’t know”), pause and take 3 deep breaths.Notice any disempowering thoughts and DECIDE to not believe them.

    Instead, decide to believe something more empowering, like “I actually do know what to do, I just need a moment” or “I can figure this out” or “All I need to do is what I’m doing right now.”

  • Acknowledge underlying emotions.Ask yourself “what feelings are underneath my overwhelm”?

    Acknowledge whatever comes up.

  • Process your emotions. 

    Allow yourself to fully feel any negative emotion. You might do this by pausing, breathing and letting the emotion have your full attention.Or, physically express them through dance, exercise or yelling/punching/crying your pillow.

    Working with a therapist or coach can be incredibly helpful, as well.


If you find yourself in overwhelm or feeling stuck in your life, coaching can help you to move forward in a big way. It’s some of the best time and money you can ever invest in yourself because the skills you learn will serve you for a lifetime.

You can experience what coaching is like a free consultation with me. I can’t wait to talk with you. ♥️♥️♥️

Heidi

I am a holistic life coach, certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor, Insight Yoga Teacher and Mental Health 1st Aid provider. I love helping people heal and grow, so that they can move towards the greatest, most joyful expression of their lives - and share their gifts with others.