What To Do When You're Overwhelmed

By Caitlin Bootsma

Life can be stressful. Whether it's the pandemic, work, or just too many things going on, most adults can have times of feeling overwhelmed. While the original meaning of the word is "buried under a large mass," today we understand overwhelmed to be an emotional state. We may feel paralyzed, unable to act or process our emotions.

What can we do when we're feeling overwhelmed in the presence of the children or youth in our care?

  1. Give yourself some space. Consider calling a babysitter or otherwise occupying the kids so that you have the time you need to work through these feelings. This doesn't mean to abandon or leave them, but give them an activity that can give you the ability to recalibrate again while you observe them.
  2. Take small steps to regain order. Psychology Today recommends refocusing your mind and grounding yourself by listing things you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, bringing your mind to the present moment. For some, tidying a room or completing a small chore may help break through the overwhelming feelings.
  3. Resist multitasking. Even though there may be many things to do, trying to accomplish many at once will only leave you feeling more scattered. Focusing on one thing at a time will give you a sense of accomplishment as you finish each task, and will help keep you on track.
  4. Seek to understand the cause. If becoming overwhelmed is a persistent pattern in your life, spend time evaluating the possible contributing factors. Powering through tasks may help in the short term, but it's possible that larger changes are needed to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the future.
  5. Get support. For some, this may mean a friend or family member to talk to on the phone. Others may choose to expand their circle of support to a therapist, coach, or other helping professional. 
  6. Accept that some things are beyond our control. Interestingly, recognizing that we are not always in control of many situations in our life can actually help us gain control of our emotions. When we stop fighting, we may better be able to focus on what we are actually able to do and take care of.

When everything just feels like "too much", the Serenity Prayer is a wonderful prayer to turn to when you need it. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen."

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