Five Coping Strategies For Overwhelming Situations


Life is filled with day-to-day stressors we can all relate to, from traffic jams to demanding bosses. As if that wasn’t enough, every now and then we may get a curve ball out of left field, escalating anxiety and creating an extreme sense of overwhelmingness. It can come in the form of dreaded news about our own health or the death of a loved one, disappointment about an opportunity we were counting on, or a million other, devastating scenarios.

The effects of being overwhelmed can impact both body and brain, drenching our systems with fight-or-flight hormones and persistent feelings of anxiety, fear and worry. We may even become frozen by the impact of negative emotion and find ourselves unable to deal with the details of life, both large and small. We may also experience an escalation of negative physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure.    

Finding ways to cope during overwhelming situations, whether of long or short duration, is vital so that we can maintain our most optimum level of health and experience the type of mental clarity necessary to get us through this difficult time.

Experts at Santa Clara University’s Wellness Center cite being organized as the number one coping mechanism for overwhelming stress. Becoming organized can help to eliminate mental clutter, freeing your brain up for bigger things. Getting organized requires little more than a calendar and a pen and paper. Keeping track of dates and making to-do lists, either on a computer or in long hand, helps to make manageable overwhelming tasks, by turning them into small items you can handle. Checking items off a to-do list and keeping track of appointments and important dates is also empowering and creates the opportunity for you to feel good about the progress you’re making.

Other key coping mechanisms for handling overwhelm include:

Maintain Control Over Your Environment – Some things, like the need for a paycheck, may be out of your control but others, such as learning how to modulate on-the-job frustration, aren’t. By learning how to control your environment, you become an active participant in reducing stressors and in creating the type of support you need to combat overwhelm. 

Exercise (At Least a Little) Every Day – Exercise and physical movement help eliminate flight-or-fight hormones and replace them with feel-good, stress-relieving endorphins. Exercising every day does not require marathon-training dedication. A simple, twenty minute walk during your lunch hour or fifteen minutes of neck and shoulder rolls or stretching will do the trick.   

Show Yourself Kindness – When you’re going through rough times, it can be easy to become frustrated with yourself and your ability to get through each day. Give yourself a break and instead, focus on the small accomplishments you are making and on your positive attributes. 

Reach Out – No one can do it alone, nor should they have to. Connect with the people who care about you. You may be surprised at how willing people are to lend a shoulder in times of trouble. Create and maintain multiple support networks and relationships as possible, and reach out, even when you don’t feel like it. 

Honor Your Own Boundaries – Healthy relationships, from the boardroom to the bedroom, need appropriate, well-established boundaries in order to function well. Know what your boundaries are and insist that they are honored, by saying no when you need to and by giving and requiring respect.