I suffer from overwhelm pretty easily. Always have. Even just the stuff I want to do can feel like it's piling up and crushing me--and usually there's not a lot of warning except that for a few days ahead of time I'll be extra sleepy or cranky...but since I'm always sleepy and cranky, it's hard to judge what counts as "extra". I'm working on it.
But since this has been an always thing, something I've dealt with my whole life, what with being both very introverted and, I've recently discovered, classically prone to over-responsiveness in my sensory processing,* I've started to figure out what to do about it. I mean, I'm an adult, so sometimes I have to Adult.
Everyone has to find their own threshholds and their own fixes, but here's three places to start when you start to feel overwhelmed and like the whole world is caving in on you:
Meditation, or meditation-like things, are really good for calming down an overactive nervous system. Deep breathing is a good start--even just reminding yourself to breathe when you're freaking out is hard, but it's good to get that oxygen into your body and your brain, and it's a good built-in distractor. Instead of focusing on all the noise and light and movement, you're focusing on something that's inside you, inside your control, that's automatic and simple.
If you're not good at the sitting still thing, there's all sorts of meditative things that involve movement: going to a walk, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, swimming. I always find elliptical machines and bikes really meditative; they're repetitive in a way that glides and feels like you're getting somewhere, and they're not too noisy. Crafting or playing an instrument is also good. Keep your hands busy and distract your brain until it passes.
When things are good, set it up so there's something you can do when things go bad, even if it's something people might think is weird. It's your life and your brain, and you know what works best for you.
The world is super noisy these days. Everything everywhere makes noise, and you don't really notice it until something overloads you, and then EVERYTHING is too loud. When that happens, get you some quiet. I like showers for this--the white noise of the falling water blocks out the rest of the noise pretty well, and the warmth is soothing. Other good places for quiet: outside, if you have a little bit of woods or a peaceful neighborhood; libraries and bookstores; the house when everyone else is asleep; somewhere where you can put in your earbuds and listen to music that blocks out the noise.**
This also applies to other "noise", too: if things are too bright, go somewhere dark like your bed under the covers, or turn off all the lights you don't need in the house; if things are too scratchy, as soon as you can, change into something soft and comforting; if things are too busy, do your best to get somewhere slower. Even just a few minutes away from whatever is Too Much is enough to make it better, sometimes, and if it keeps being Too Much, there's always something you can do after to recover.
Again, when things are good, set it up so that when things are bad, you can just come straight home and do whatever you need to do to calm down and come back to center. Most of us can't stay in a quiet dark place forever, but allowing ourselves time for it when we need it is much better than bursting into tears at work because we didn't, you know?
3. Start over
I've given myself permission to act like any point is a New Year if I need it. At any time when things get to be too much, I can take a day and totally rebuild my system to let me be able to get done what needs doing in whatever way I can at that point. Usually, I do this on Sundays or Mondays, because they already feel like a new start, or at the beginning of a month, but any time when I fall apart--that's a time when I need to look at what's going on and find out where the feeling of Too Much came from.
Sometimes, it's easy to look at my schedule and see that I've overscheduled myself to death; other times, it's harder. A lot of times, it comes from subtler things, like not paying attention to how much sugar or caffeine I'm taking in, or spending too much time handling other peoples' needs*** and not enough of my own, or not doing enough creative stuff to get the noise out of my head.**** Those are harder to fix, but it's the same as when I have a cold: the number of things I get done is lower, but that's because there's less I CAN get done, and I just work around that until I feel better and the world feels more doable.
Life can't stop just because I'm barely holding it together. I have to put on my big girl pants and figure out ways to healthily help myself along when it's rough.
How do you handle overload and overwhelm?
**Music you like is different from noise because it's organized and has a point to it; noise is just noise--a random assault of stuff that can't be adjusted to and has no reason to it.
***This is especially hard to manage when I'm nannying for days at a time; it's not like I can just not take care of the kids, but it's also not like I can just not take care of myself, either, you know?
****Writing, journaling, collaging, and just generally making stuff is a really good way to smooth out the mess in my head; it's like running without the effort.
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