Stress is a normal part of life as we deal with demands from work, school, and society. But sometimes, that stress becomes too much, and we begin to feel overwhelmed. We start to worry and feel anxious. It may be challenging to focus on daily tasks, and we get easily distracted.
When you are overwhelmed, the most important thing is to be gentle on yourself and take the time you need for recovery. Here are ten techniques to help you to find your centre when you are stuck in that feeling.
1. Just Breathe
Take a moment to focus on your breathing. When anxious, our breath is often shallow, and we don’t fully engage our diaphragm. Practice taking longer, deeper breaths. Fully engaging the chest and abdomen will slow down our breathing. It can help to maintain focus by inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathing exercises can help calm a busy mind or still anxious thoughts.
2. Turn on the Music
Music is highly personal and emotional. When we are feeling stressed, we can use those positive triggers to change our mood. Music can also be used to ease our restlessness and calm our minds.
Science has found that the best music for anxiety is that which has a relatively slow tempo, a simple melody, and does not have a lot of distracting percussion changes. Try something instrumental like ambient or classical music. Or check out what neuroscientists have rated the most relaxing song in the world: Weightless by Marconi Union developed with the British Academy of Sound Therapy. Other highly rated songs include Watermark by Enya, Strawberry Swing by Coldplay, Someone Like You by Adele, and Canzonetta Sull’aria by Mozart.
3. Positive Distractions
Sometimes we get so caught up in our thinking that we lose our focus on the present. Distracting ourselves on purpose helps us find our way back. From wiggling your toes to getting a drink, counting backward from 100, or taking a stretch, the physical action of distracting ourselves can be helpful. Taking a break with a different activity can help us break out of our stagnant thoughts and get back into the task at hand.
4. The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Like the positive distractions exercise, this technique forces us to focus on the world around us, bringing our minds back to the present. Staying where you are, it works by bringing your attention to your surroundings.
- Name 5 things that you can see.
Really notice your desk, what color is it, what material is it made of? Are there curtains on the window, look at the different greens in the potted plant, etc.
- Name 4 things that you can touch.
How does the fabric of your shirt feel against the skin, can you feel your shoes when you wiggle your toes, is the metal of the desk cold, what does the fabric of the chair feel like, etc.?
- Name 3 things that you can hear.
Maybe its neighbors mowing their lawn, the equipment hum of heating or cooling systems, traffic outside? Don’t judge, just listen for a moment and see what is out there.
- Name 2 things that you can smell.
You may not think there is much to smell where you’re sitting. But perhaps when you concentrate, there is a slight smell of someone’s chimney in the breeze, a subtle fragrance from a cleaner or sanitizer, or even just the faint perfume of soap on your skin.
- Name 1 thing that you can taste.
I personally always struggled with this one. But if you don’t have any food or drink before you, it can be a subtle as the lingering taste of an earlier coffee or tea on your tongue.
5. Find Something to be Grateful for
When we get overwhelmed, it’s easy to lose sight of the positive things in our lives. Take a moment and list 10 things that you are grateful for right now. It can be a simple thing that brings you joy. Gratitude helps to remind us that things are not so bad.
6. Using a Mantra or Centering Affirmation
A mantra is a sound or statement that is said silently or aloud to focus one’s thoughts. They are often used in meditation and yoga practices, such as the use of “om.”
Mantras can also be positive statements used as personal affirmations to reduce anxiety. They repeated to oneself during times of stress to provide comfort and ease the tension. Some examples of centering mantras are “One day at a time,” “I am safe,” “I am present,” “I am connected to my body,” and “I am enough.”
7. Light a Candle
Candles have been used in meditation practices for centuries. Clearing the mind is difficult, and having an object to focus on can make it much more manageable. By concentrating on the flickering movement of a candle, our racing thoughts can slow down, and we can relax.
Candles are also frequently used for aromatherapy. Certain smells can help reduce anxiety and boost our concentration. When feeling overwhelmed, try one of these scents to lift your mood:
Used since the Middle Ages, lavender is well known for its relaxing attributes. A 2018 study found that the smell of lavender can reduce symptoms of anxiety, restlessness, disturbed sleep, and nervousness.
Bergamot is what gives Earl Grey its unique flavor. It is an Italian citrus tree whose fruit has a sweet orange-like smell mixed with its distinctive floral and spicy notes.
Bergamot used in aromatherapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve mood and reduce fatigue.
The flower of the Canaga tree, ylang-ylang, has a fruity flora smell. Studies have shown that the scent can promote relaxation, lower blood pressure, and reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
A 2020 study showed that frankincense reduced the anxiety and pain of women during labour. Most of us are not growing through that type of stress daily. But if it reduces anxiety during childbirth, it can certainly help us in everyday stressful situations.
Whether going for a walk or taking a short break to stretch, exercise is good for our minds and bodies. Often, when feeling overwhelmed, we are sedentary and may slouch and take poor care of our bodies. There are numerous mental health benefits of exercise, from releasing mood-boosting endorphins to gaining self-confidence. When we are feeling stuck in our heads and overwhelmed, getting the blood flowing with physical activity can be a great way to become more grounded.
9. Take a Time out with Your Pet
When we get overwhelmed, we tend to feel very alone. Reconnecting with another living creature helps to break this feeling of isolation. Companion animals are attuned to our emotions and can lower our anxiety with their comfort.
Petting an animal lowers our blood pressure, slows our heart rate, reduces stress and anxiety, and relaxes muscle tension. But studies show that it doesn’t have to have to be a dog or cat. Even petting a turtle can ease the effects of anxiety.
If you don’t have a pet, taking a time out with an indoor plant can reduce anxiety. In addition to the air quality improvements that plants provide, a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology showed the touching or smelling an indoor plant reduces psychological and physiological stress.
10. Write it Down to Get it Out of Your Head
Often when we are feeling overwhelmed, our thoughts tend to spiral around the same things repeatedly. It can be helpful to take a few minutes and write those thoughts that are running on repeat. Allowing yourself to express them will often release their control over you and will enable you to let them go.
Journaling can reduce stress, help discover sources of anxiety, prioritize your concerns, and assist with self-discovery.
The most important thing when we get overwhelmed is to be patient with ourselves and practice self-care. Left unchecked, feeling of anxiety and stress can lead to serious health problems. Trying the above techniques may help us mitigate these negative feelings, help us feel more centred, and feel that we are back in control of ourselves.