What do you do in those moments when you feel like your life is caving in? Your mind is on overdrive, you’re in a constant state of stress, and you know that staying in this state isn’t sustainable.
But when you’re in the midst of a distressing situation, simply stepping back and composing yourself is not an easy task. That’s why it’s important to learn some coping skills to help you restore equanimity when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Coping skills refers to your ability to manage and mitigate situations that cause you distress. People who are good at coping tend to keep a level head in difficult situations, while people who haven’t honed this skill go into panic.
Whatever is happening in your life, you know what something needs to change. So let’s look at some things you can do to cope with your situation, regardless of what you’re going through.
Why is it so difficult to cope?
Depending on what you’re going through, you might have a whole lot of pressure on you, and it’s also possible that you’re just not as skilled at handling the pressures that you do have.
If you’re going through something quite extreme in your life that has shaken everything up: Such as losing someone close to you or going through a divorce, feeling overwhelmed by it all is a pretty natural part of the adjustment period. By sitting with the pain and healing the wound that’s causing the distress, that’s when you’ll feel much better.
On the other hand, if you’re not necessarily presented with any outstanding circumstances, but you find that you’re not coping with daily life, then it comes down to how you manage your emotions, and the stressors of everyday life.
If it’s the latter, I find that the inability to cope usually comes down to two core ingredients.
- You are not adapting to new situations in your life
- You’re trying to control the situation
The inability to adapt can put a lot of pressure on you. You remain fixed on the past instead of being completely present with the situation at hand. If you find that you struggle to adapt to changes in your life, read the article below 👇
The need for control can also create a lot of pressure. When you’re trying to control a situation that is out of your control, needless to say, you’re setting yourself up for a bad time. So instead, let go of control. Learn how to do that below 👇
Signs that you're feeling overwhelmed
Overwhelm is really just stress levels getting out of control. It tends to happen when you have too much on your plate, and you can’t manage everything that’s happening in your life.
Depending on what you’re experiencing and what the source of distress is, it’s important to have some flexibility in your coping mechanisms, as every situation is unique. Different courses of action will be more effective for different issues that you’re facing.
Here are some common signs that you’re feeling overwhelmed:
Identifying what you need to coping with
There are different ways to cope with different problems.
The cause of your distress is one of two options, which determines what coping skills you should employ. These are:
- Problem-based coping
- Emotion-based coping
☝️ Problem based coping
Problem-based coping is when there’s a clear cause of your distress, and there’s an outstanding issue that needs to be dealt with. This is an issue in your life such as going through a transition, losing a job, or experiencing conflict with family.
If your distress is problem-based, it will usually be fixed by solving the problem causing the stress. Therefore, you should take a proactive stance on the issue, and focus on problem-solving.
💔 Emotion based coping
Emotion-based coping is when there is no clear cause to your distress, or there is no outstanding issue in your life. This is when you’re experiencing distress related to your past, and is usually the result of trauma or a wound that needs to be healed.
If your distress is emotion-based, you need to heal the root cause. Therefore, it’s important to do the inner work, sit with the feelings, and heal rather than try to fix the problem.
Ineffective ways of coping
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your first instinct might be to indulge.
After all, you want the relief, so you tend to engage in activities that give you a dopamine boost. Even though getting those dopamine boosts here and there is okay to get you through, you don’t want to become reliant on them.
The reason why you don’t want to become reliant on compulsive activities is because they’re an act of escapism.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you need to engage in activities that actually help you regulate your emotional state and get to the roots of your emotional pain. Avoiding what you’re feeling is not actually resolving anything.
You should be using these painful feelings as a trampoline for personal growth, and personal growth should be your avenue to manage and heal the underlying reasons why you’re feeling this way.
If you’re simply escaping the feelings by distracting yourself, not only are you just covering up the pain, but you’re actually making the situation worse. To learn more about escapism, check out this link. Otherwise, here are some things you should avoid when you’re trying to cope.
❌ Drown out your sorrows
The last thing you want to do is cope by using alcohol, marijuana, or drugs (including pharmaceuticals). Taking something to relieve you might seem like the easy option as it temporarily makes you feel like you’re winning, but it’s a slippery slope.
Taking something to deal with your problems obviously isn’t a good way to cope as they’re just a Band-Aid fix.
- If your issue is problem-based, then taking something is just going to make you unproductive and avoid the issue.
- If your issue is emotion-based, you’re just temporarily covering up the deeper wounds which won’t actually heal the root cause.
My rule of thumb: Only take alcohol or drugs to celebrate, never to cope. Psychedelics are a different story, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.
❌ Binge TV and video games
Excessively watching movies or playing video games is just going to degrade your mental state. To cope with distressful situations, you need to be present with them. You need to feel the emotions and learn from them. If you’re distracting yourself by watching something, you’re just avoiding doing the inner work that is required.
Because you’re avoiding the inner work, you’re not actually healing the root cause or doing anything to solve the problem. Likewise, you’re not going to learn from it or grow as a person.
That’s why you should focus on being mindful during difficult times in your life, because not only will that lead to a resolution, but you’ll grow a lot through it.
❌ Fill your stomach
Food is often a go-to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Even if you have no appetite, you may find yourself eating and consuming because it’s a way to occupy yourself from the issue.
Eating also gives you a dopamine boost which you might desperately want when you’re feeling distressed, but it’s just a cover. As soon as you finish eating, you’re going to want to consume something else, and it’s usually an unconscious process.
Therefore, refrain from excessive eating or consuming, and try to keep your diet healthy. The temporary relief of eating junk is not worth perpetuating the distress. You want to be present with your feelings, not eat them away.
Avoid constantly playing it over in your head, or jumping to the worst-case scenario. It’s easy to get caught in needless loops when you’re drumming up the issue to be worse than it is, but not really feeling into it either or accepting the situation.
For example, repeatedly saying ‘I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail” isn’t going to help you regain emotional equanimity. You’re just going to exacerbate the issue and torment yourself. Because you’re so focused on failing, you’re going to make failure an increasingly viable option.
So get a grip and be productive. It’s not the time to beat yourself with a stick.
Practical ways of coping
Learning how to cope with an overwhelming situation in a healthy way allows you to manage your emotions and restore emotional equanimity.
It’s always best to ground yourself and bring yourself back to reality, then deal with the situation at hand that is causing you distress. While you’re in a panicked, anxious state, it’s going to be counterproductive to actually get anywhere, and this can create a vicious cycle.
Here are some of my best practices to cope with difficult situations, and restore emotional equanimity. Otherwise, to learn more about grounding techniques to bring you back down to Earth when you’re caught in your head, follow the link below.
✅ Find a flow with your breath
When you feel overwhelmed you go into overdrive. Your mind starts racing, which makes you feel like you need to do something. But doing something right here right now might not be a productive approach. You first need to regulate yourself, and your breath is the best avenue to do this.
Focus on your breathing and spend at least 5 minutes solely concentrating on your breath until you find a flow with it.
If your mind is racing, just keep bringing it back to your breathing until it starts to stabilize. Here’s what you should do:
- Slow down your breathing
- Take deep inhales, hold, and extended exhales
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Visualize white energy coming in, and dark anxious energy leaving
- Continue this process until you calm down and find a natural flow with your breathing
✅ Put your body in motion
Those feelings of being overwhelmed are very active energies that you want to release from your body. As tension starts to build up in your body, you need to let it go, otherwise, you’re going to become an unstable nuclear reactor.
Motion is the best way to do this. You can shake it out, stretch, and move around until you get most of the tension out of your body and feel calmer.
Here are some things you can do when you feel this angst and restlessness building up.
- Shake out your arms and legs
- Stretch your body
- Shake your tongue, move your mouth and make sounds
- Jump up and down
- Breath heavily with long out exhales through the mouth
- Do yoga or some sort of physical activity
✅ Resolve what's in your control
If you’ve done the above two exercises, you should be feeling a little calmer. Now you can start doing the productive stuff.
Start by putting what you can control regarding the situation and what you can’t control into different baskets. If it helps, draw a T and write them down. This is a necessary step to gain more clarity on what you can actually do, and what you need to accept.
Here’s an example: You lost your job and you’re worried because you don’t have much money.
|You’re no longer making a regular income
|Start budgeting and reducing spending
|You have to pay for your rent and other daily expenses
|Begin searching the internet for jobs
|You only have a certain amount of savings left
|Talk to a job agency, government branch or specialist who may be able to support you in these situations
|You’re feeling betrayed and a little resentful
|Try to find suggestions from friends regarding work
|Do inner work exercises to accept the situation and let go of the resentment
|Take time for yourself to process your emotions
|Seek support from a friend
Now that you’ve broken down what you have control over and what you don’t have control over, the aim is to accept what you can’t control, and act on what you can control.
✅ Accept the worst case scenario
A big part of the distress comes from trying to avoid an undesirable situation or consequence. So we put all of our energy into preventing ourselves from thinking about it, but this can cause more stress in itself.
A tactic to cope with stress that has served me well is to do the following:
- Think about the worst-case scenario, and allow your mind to wander
- Visualize the worst-case outcome as if it is inevitable
- Sit with the emotions and feelings that come up. Process them
- Once you really feel those emotions, they will start to fade as you reach a point of acceptance
- Put it into perspective and realize that your situation isn’t the end of the world
The worst-case scenario is probably not very likely to happen at all, but it could have some pretty big consequences in your life. Whether it’s losing someone close to you, ruining your career, or going to prison, if you actually feel into this mental scenario like it has happened, it’s going to really hurt.
But then as you start to feel acceptance, that sting will go away.
Afterwards, you might feel much better about the situation at hand, because in comparison, it really doesn’t seem that bad now.
By picturing things going wrong and where that potentially leads, you might realize that you’ll get through it. You take the pressure off yourself by coming to terms with what could (but probably won’t) happen.
✅ Follow it back
Follow the string of pain back to the root cause. If there’s something I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that there is always another layer. Whatever you’re feeling is probably not the bottom of the pit.
When you think of a reason why you’re worried, ask yourself why that matters, and go deeper into it.
Let’s look at an example:
- I feel extremely stressed because if feel so ill-prepared for this test I need to complete
- If I fail the test I might lose my job
- If I lose my job, I’m going to go through hardships and feel ashamed
- I’ve always felt insufficient, and failing will bring up the image I have been trying to get away from
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t just aim to cope with the situation, dig into it to find out why you’re feeling this way, and how you can actually take steps to heal it. Usually, there’s a deeper reason to why you feel so distressed, so try to find out what it is.
You might not be religious, or have any spiritual beliefs at all. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Praying is actually such a powerful tool when you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed, and you’re not sure what to do.
Maybe you won’t hear a voice talking back to you (actually, I’m almost certain you won’t), but the act of praying releases energy. In a way, you’re handing over your burden to a higher power, which allows you to release it, at least somewhat.
Prayer really takes the pressure off your shoulders, and you might get moments of clarity and insight while you’re doing it too. So if you’re ever in a tough position, pray to a higher power, and feel how freeing it really is.
✅ Have a conversation with yourself
When I’m in a difficult situation, I find that it really helps to have a conversation… with myself.
As if I was talking with a therapist or someone I trust, I open up to myself and rant. What’s more important is that I actually listen to myself, and respond… like verbally respond to myself.
So talking to myself starts to take a two-way conversation. One side is the afraid, overwhelmed child who doesn’t know what to do, and then I respond to that side from a more mature, authoritative position. A conversation with myself might go something like this:
- I have no idea what to do! I feel abandoned, nobody understands, I feel alone. I just can’t believe this keeps happening, why does nobody help!?
- It’s okay, it’s okay. You have been in this situation many times before, you know how it’s going to play out
- No, I don’t! This time it’s different. I don’t know if I will get through this, why is it always me!?
- It’s you because you can handle it. It’s happening for a reason, and you’re going to grow as a person through this, you just need to trust the process. You are cared for, you are guided. We’re going to get through this together, just take one step at a time, and let’s get the ball rolling. What can you do right now?
- I guess I could stop pacing around for a moment and calm myself down. It’s not that urgent.
Naturally, one of the sides talking starts to reassure the other side. It comes out naturally in response to my rant and expressing myself. This is actually a really powerful coping mechanism, because as my higher self kicks into action, I feel very reassured, even though it’s from myself.
✅ Do the healing
Now that you’ve identified what’s really going on, you need to take steps to heal those wounds and actually resolve these underlying causes. Healing requires you to sit with your feelings and be completely present with them. This is why it’s so important to be mindful, and allow yourself to experience whatever you’re experiencing.
By doing this, you’re going to evolve as a person and be able to better handle these sorts of situations when they arise again. So if your situation is emotion based, do the work to heal the wound that is causing this pain.
✅ Take care of yourself
When stress levels rise and you’re struggling to cope, self-care really tends to go out the window. And because you’re not looking after yourself, you tend to feel worse.
Therefore, make sure you’re looking after your body and mind. Take some extra time to care for yourself, and see how this translates into your situation.
Here are some things you should look out for:
- How is your diet? Are you eating well, or has it gone out the window?
- Are you biting your nails, pulling your hair, or partaking in some sort of self-destructive behavior?
- Are you exercising and getting enough sun?
- How is your hygiene? Are you still doing regular hygiene practices such as showering and brushing your teeth?
- Are you allowing yourself space to rest and recharge?
✅ Get out in nature, often
*️⃣ Talk to someone you trust
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to. Venting is a big part of releasing energy, and gaining more clarity on your situation moving forward.
Try talking to a good friend or family member that you can trust, or anyone who will hold space for you and listen to you. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a solution-oriented discussion, because just by feeling heard, you’re going to feel a lot better about yourself.
If you don’t know anyone who you can talk to, I offer counseling and guidance calls that might be able to help you. If you feel like it would help to chat with me about your struggles, you can learn more and book a call by following the link below.