Feeling Overwhelmed? Mindfulness can Help!


We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. We may feel panicked when running late for an important meeting at work. We may feel stressed when studying for a major test tomorrow. Certain situations, or the combination of many things to do at once, can make anyone feel overwhelmed. When we get stuck in overwhelming feelings of anxiety, mindfulness skills can help bring us into the present moment. Mindfulness helps us feel more calm, composed, and grounded. Here’s how it works…

First, recognize where you feel your anxiety. Ask yourself: Where in your body do you feel most stressed?  Do you clench your jaw, pull your shoulders up to neck or squeeze your hand? Does your face get hot, or do your palms get sweaty? Pay attention to your physical symptoms when you start to feel overwhelmed. Using physical warning signs, you can become aware of what emotion you feel and manage it before it becomes distressing.

Next, be attuned to what you’re thinking about when you are in distress. How to do you respond to feelings of overwhelm? Do you act as your own cheerleader, or do you get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and think that the worst possible scenario will happen? Sometimes our minds can get the best of us and create additional, unnecessary stress. When you are mindful of your thoughts, you can start to take control of your mindset. You can let your negative thoughts come and go, without them causing you harm.

You can also try doing a short body scan. A body scan is a beneficial mindfulness exercise that helps you examine your body’s sensations. When you are attuned to your body in the present moment, you can notice the warning signs of overwhelm within your body and let them go without having to hold onto distressing feelings.

  • Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. You can close your eyes or lower your gaze, whatever is comfortable for you.

  • Notice your body seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, or on the floor.

  • Take a few slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  • As you take a deep breath in, imagine bringing in more oxygen to enliven your body. As you exhale, imagine having a sense of deep relaxation.

  • Notice your feet on the floor: the sensations of your feet touching the floor, the weight, the pressure, the vibration, the heat, etc.

  • Notice your legs against the chair—the pressure, the heaviness, the lightness.

  • Notice your back against the chair—is it straight or curved?

  • Notice your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a deep breath in and feel your stomach expand.  Let your breath out as your stomach contracts.

  • Notice your hands.  Are they tense or tight?  See if you can allow them to soften.

  • Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. 

  • Notice your shoulders. Are they raised or lowered? If they are tight, pull them down and let them be soft.

  • Notice your face and your expression. Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.

  • Then, notice your whole body present. Take one more deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  • Be aware of your whole body, from head to toe, as best as you can. When you’re ready, open your eyes or return your gaze forward.

It’s impossible to avoid anxious feelings entirely. However, we can manage our distress so that it doesn’t get in the way of our daily routine or make us feel overwhelmed all of the time. Mindfulness is a great tool to feel calmer, collected, and more present in the moment. Let’s all try to take a few minutes out of our busy schedules each day to practice mindfulness. With practice, we will be able to de-stress and keep anxiety at a healthy distance.