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Overwhelmed by Stress and Anxiety? How to Deal with It

Life can be overwhelming, and this can create anxiety. Here, a few simple ways to reduce anxiety and stress.

Anxiety can feel as though an incredibly loud and boisterous parade is charging right through your very being: blasting bands, flashy floats, animals, and announcers ad nauseam. This chaos within can cause headaches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, aches and pains, and other noxious anxiety symptoms. Further, our thoughts become anxious and race with worry and obsessions. Often, panic sets in. As if this weren’t bad enough, we have to live in the midst of this parade. We have to deal with parade garbage (think about it—debris, litter, road apples) while simultaneously dealing with everything else around us. With pandemonium on the inside, how do we deal with all of the stuff on the outside?

Anxiety and Stress Are Connected and Overwhelming

To be sure, life can be downright crushing. It’s often full of stress. When you have to destroy a rainforest in order to write your to-do list, you know you’re dealing with too much. Or maybe the number of items is small but they’re daunting in nature. The actual number of tasks is relatively inconsequential; what matters is how they impact your well-being. As the more than forty million people living with anxiety disorders can likely attest, overwhelming stress is often closely connected with overwhelming anxiety.

Life can be overwhelming, and this can create anxiety. Here, a few simple ways to reduce anxiety and stress.When it comes to stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to sort out cause and effect. Is your overwhelming stress causing your anxiety? Or perhaps is your overwhelming anxiety causing your life to feel intensely stressful?

Working with a therapist to sort things out can be very beneficial. However, you don’t have to know with certainty whether you’re anxious because of stress or whether stress is worse because you’re anxious. Personally, when I’m overwhelmed and the anxiety-and-stress parade is marching around painfully inside of me and interfering with my outer world, I really don’t care which is causing the other. I just know that anxiety and stress are there and connected; I’m overwhelmed and I want the parade to stop.

Ways to Deal with the Overwhelm Caused by Stress and Anxiety

Because anxiety and stress are often Co-Grand Marshals in this obnoxious internal parade, they can be reduced together. Each of the following techniques has been proven to reduce both stress and anxiety:

Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking

Anxiety can loom so large that we begin to think in extremes: You might think, “I’ll never get this done,” “I can’t do anything right,” “If I don’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure,” “I’m a horrible partner/parent/employee/boss/person,” “I made a mistake and now people hate me,” and on and on. Of course we feel high anxiety about the outcomes of these things we’re telling ourselves.

Recognizing how we’re thinking is a helpful step in reducing anxiety. Over the next few days, simply notice your thoughts. What are you telling yourself? Once you become aware of all-or-nothing thinking, you can change how you think and what you say to yourself. “I missed a deadline” changes from “I’m horrible and I’m going to be fired,” to “I made a mistake, but I do many good things, too. Overall, I’m valuable and am not likely to lose my job over this single incident.”

Break (Or, Rather, Don’t)

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.

The trick? Break! Take breaks, and break up tasks into bits and pieces.

To avoid hypocrisy, I will admit upfront that I find it extremely difficult to take breaks. After all, when life is overwhelming with all of its demands and anxiety is flaring as a result, it just doesn’t seem logical or even possible to walk away from stress for a while. However, it is vital. Even a short break can help your mind refresh and reset, and often when you return to your task you do so with a clearer head. Stand and stretch, get some fresh air if possible, massage your temples, breathe deeply. Snacking on something nutritious and energy-sustaining can give your brain and body a needed boost. For me, it seems that I don’t have time for a break, but in reality, when my anxiety decreases, I feel less overwhelmed, and I’m actually more productive when I take short breaks here and there throughout the day.

Further, anxiety often surges when tasks loom large in front of us. Life can be incredibly overwhelming when everything seems like one big mess, but it’s easier to manage when we break things into manageable bits. Take my desk. It often looks like an office products store exploded on top of it. When I stare at it, I’m overwhelmed and I’m hit by a wave of anxiety that makes me feel like I’m drowning. When I stare at the entire mess, I feel daunted and can hardly begin to fix it. I’ve learned to break the task into bits. I’ll clear one area then take a break. I might choose to put the rest aside and move onto something else, or I might come back and tackle another section. Either way, I’ve taken control, I can do something about the mess, and I feel my stress and anxiety ease.

To-Do List? How about a To-Done List!

Of course listing the tasks that lie ahead of you is a way of organizing yourself, feeling in charge, and reducing stress and anxiety. Yet it can be overwhelming to look at a huge list that never seems to shrink even when we break it into bits. When we only focus on what we have to do rather than taking stock of all that we have already done, we feel stressed, and anxiety often skyrockets. To keep this in check, consider creating a list of things you’ve already accomplished, a to-done list, if you will. It’s very satisfying at the end of a long and stressful day to think about all that you’ve done and to write it down. Then, when your anxiety tells you that you’re not in control, you can see for yourself that you are indeed in control and are accomplishing things.

Whether you’re overwhelmed by anxiety or your anxiety is making you feel overwhelmed, it’s stressful. The good news is that it truly is possible to take steps each and every day to rid yourself of anxiety.

What works for you when you’re overwhelmed by anxiety?

Connect with Tanya on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, her books, and her website.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

33 thoughts on “Overwhelmed by Stress and Anxiety? How to Deal with It”

  1. I have never been diagnosed but i suffer from anxiety almost everyday. The smallest things turn into big things and i my chest feels like it’s caving in. I beat my self up about decisions i have made in the past. Could of paid of credit cards when i had a high paying job but didn’t. Got a DUI because i chose to drive instead of uber. Wish i saved more money over the years etc. When i clearly know there’s nothing to could do about it now other than look forward it still drags me down. I have an amazing boyfriend that puts up with my “freak outs” daily and i feel so bad but i can’t help them. Any little thing can make me feel like i’m suffocating. We are moving out of state in less than 2 weeks for a fresh start but that just adds more stress on my plate. I tried yoga, meditation, taking time out of the day for just me but all i think about is everything i need to do and everything i have done to cause my stress. 🙁 I want to better manager it and would love your advice.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      It seems that you have a lot of great insight into what’s causing anxiety and keeping you anxious. Because of this, plus the fact that you are moving to get a fresh start and you have an idea of what you want and don’t want for your life, I think something called acceptance and commitment therapy might work well for you. You can work a therapist who specializes in ACT (do a search on goodtherapy.org or psychologytoday.com), or you can begin by reading about it on your own. Given that you’re moving soon, you probably don’t want to begin therapy right now.) You can find information within the two websites above. Also, this article provides info to get you started, too: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/07/stop-avoiding-anxiety-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/. Good luck with your move and with ACT!

  2. Pls what can i do am having overwhelming thoughts.
    Afraid to drive, breathing too fast, can’t focus on my creative ability (multimedia artist ) , been suppressing my emotions for some years, create a happy face so nobody else knows what am dealing with.

    1. Hello King,
      Your anxiety sounds very intense and like its really limiting your life. Working with someone directly is often an effective approach to dealing with something this strong. This link will take you to a page that contains links to many articles/resources. Scroll down to the heading “Mental Illness Treatment” to find several articles with information about mental health treatment services and how to find the right treatment. I hope this is helpful. https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/mental-health-information-toc/

  3. hello, I hope you can help me i beg you.
    My boyfriend is constantly feeling overwhelmed by life. He says he wouldn’t like to be here, but that he is certain that he will live a long life and that makes him feel like he’s carrying a great weight on his shoulders.
    He often feels threatened by common things in life, he worries and stresses by simple things like going to his sister’s wedding, or going to work.
    He has gone to therapy before, and it made a difference, however I can still see and feel how much pain he has.
    I don’t know how to help him, so please I’m begging you to shed a little light, so I can help him.
    Thank you very much

    1. Hi Rosy,
      It can be very difficult to see someone you love suffer. Are there mental health organizations in your area, such as NAMI? NAMI has support groups for individuals experiencing difficulties and groups for family members, partners, friends, etc. of people going through mental health challenges. That could be very helpful for both of you. You can get support from others in similar situations as well as strategies and tools for dealing with this. Also, I noticed that you said that therapy has made a difference in the past. Doing more of what has worked is often a really helpful approach. Another thought: when he says he doesn’t want to be here, you could encourage him go call or do an online chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255). They are incredibly helpful in talking through things when someone is upset and in pointing the way to other resources. It’s very caring of you to want to help your boyfriend. Getting support for both of you is a very effective way to do it.

  4. What about when you get overwhelmed by stress very easily? I am a freelance writer and this often interferes with my work. I have outside factors that may also be contributing, but it’s frustrating not being able to concentrate. It’s like filling up my car with gas only to get down the road before I’m out of gas again. I can start working and then immediately fill very stressed and overwhelmed 15 minutes in. I have to take frequent breaks which just result in me procrastinating. I have generalized anxiety disorder so I don’t know if that’s a contributing factor, but I’m kind of at a loss of what to do.

    1. Hi Serena,
      Unfortunately, I think that what you describe is a hazard of the writing profession. 😀 While it’s inherent to the profession, it’s also annoying and certainly shouldn’t be shrugged off as part of the job. There’s a very helpful approach to the stress and GAD you describe called acceptance and commitment therapy. It helps people determine where they want to go and how they’re going to get there by practicing acceptance, separating yourself from problems, practicing mindfulness, and coming to know yourself. I’ve seen other benefit from it, and I’ve benefited from it myself. It’s great for what you are experiencing. It’s something that you might consider looking into to see if you might find it useful.

  5. I am a medical student preparing for my md entrance. The huge amount of information I need to study and the short duration of time is makin me freaking out… I’m an average student trying to do better but at times im really stressed… Overwhelmed by the huge books anduke get depressed… I’m unabl to talk to my friends and proffesors about my problems…. Please helps me deal with this stress… Thank you..

    1. Hi Divz,
      It sounds like your current situation is incredibly stressful! Of course this would affect your health and wellbeing. Talking things through would be very helpful. I definitely understand how in your position it would be difficult to talk to friends and professors. If you are able to talk to a counselor, you might find it useful. You can get your stress out of your mind and work with him/her to create a plan to deal with all of the overwhelming things you’re facing. If you can’t see a therapist, you might consider checking out crisischat.org. The term “crisis” is somewhat misleading. While they do indeed help people in crisis and thinking about suicide, you don’t have to be at that level to chat with someone. They help people figure things out so they can keep moving forward. They might have some great suggestions. With these connections, you can deal with your stress and start enjoying life again.

  6. I am so stressed out, i left a huge project for the last night, i have a spanish and science final tomorrow(My worst two subjects) and i have packets of math hw!! And everyone in my house is sleeping

  7. I wake with worry and anxiety. My marriage is failing and boss said I may lose my job. I’ve applied for a job with in my work. Not wanting this job, only hope to keep a job. This other position is dealing with complaints. Anxiety comes with depression and it sucks. I want to be a positive for my kids. I’m sick to my stomach…

    1. Going through such major stressors definitely takes its toll, and it makes sense that you’re experiencing both anxiety and depression. I noticed in your comment that you have positive goals/values: you want to keep your job, and you want to be positive for your children. That might not seem like much, but it’s actually very significant. Hanging on to what you want and shaping actions accordingly, even if they’re small, will help get you through this tough time. Finding support groups could be helpful, too, as it will allow you to talk about frustrations, hopes, and things that work/don’t work with others who are experiencing similar things. This isn’t easy, but it definitely doesn’t have to be permanent!

  8. I have overwhelming anxiety and stress right now. I have a statistics project at school and I’m a bit behind. I’m freaking out and I can’t concentrate. I need help. Please help!!!

    1. Hi Imogen,
      This time of the school year can definitely be overwhelming. Stree and anxiety are common in school. One of the most effective ways to reduce this type of stress and anxiety is to talk to someone in the school. A teacher (especially the stats teacher if he/she is approachable), the counselor, or anyone you feel comfortable with you. They can help you sort things out and get back on track. Sometimes, deadlines can be adjusted if they know what’s going on and can tell that you’re working toward finishing the project. Even if they don’t change the deadline, you can create an action plan that will help reduce anxiety and stress. Remember that this project is stressful — and it’s also temporary. You can build stress management skills right now that you can draw on again in the future.

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