Coping with feeling overwhelmed while in recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be challenging. I know when I become overwhelmed with anything–emotional, physical, or mental–I am likely to just want to shut down and avoid life. My anxiety kicks in and it feels like everything is out of control, moving too fast, and I become irritable, whiny, and tired. Sometimes when that happens, I absolutely need a full-stop (a nap or a good night’s sleep) to recharge and feel better. But more often, I’m able to use coping skills that I have learned in PTSD recovery to deal with feeling overwhelmed (What’s Your PTSD Recovery Program?).
Why Does PTSD Make You Feel Overwhelmed?
First and foremost, PTSD is an anxiety disorder, and anxiety and stress often cause feelings of being overwhelmed. It may feel like there is just too much to do, too much you haven’t accomplished, or too many other people in your life who need your time and attention. For me, it’s a feeling of being out of control and not knowing where to start to make things better. I become apt to just freeze or distract myself with something that allows me to escape the feelings. These are not healthy or productive ways of handling it, I know.
I recently read a great description of how it feels to be overwhelmed due to PTSD: It’s like waking up in the morning with your stress bucket already almost full, and adding anything else will cause it to overflow.
I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. I know that feeling. In fact, I have said many times, “If one more thing happens, I don’t know what I’ll do,” or “I just can’t handle anything more,” when I am feeling overwhelmed.
The truth is: I usually can handle it when I recognize that what I am feeling is manageable and I use one or more of the PTSD coping skills I have learned.
What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed in PTSD Recovery
These are the things that work for me when I feel overwhelmed:
- Caring for myself— Many times, self-care is the thing that helps me the most. When I realize that I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I have to do what it is necessary to take care of myself. It may be a nap, doing something that I enjoy, or, if possible, removing myself from whatever the stressful situation is.
- Saying “no” — I often have a hard time saying “no” to things, even when I know I am going to feel overwhelmed by saying “yes.” However, when I do actually say “no” (nicely, of course) I feel better, and a little bit empowered.
- Journaling — Writing is my go-to anxiety reliever. Many times, just the simple act of putting my feelings on paper is enough to lessen my stress and anxiety. It’s no different when I am having overwhelming feelings. Even if I don’t discuss my feelings with anyone, writing gets them out of my head.
- Praying or meditating — When I take the time to pray or meditate, it’s like a resetting of my anxiety clock. If I am able to give up my overwhelming feelings to God, or breathe in faith and breathe out fear through meditation, I always feel better.
- Making lists — For some people lists are anxiety-provoking, so if you are one of those people, don’t do this. For me, lists usually help me to see that when things are written down instead of swirling around in my head, there is order and it’s not nearly as bad as my what my brain would lead me to believe. Also, the act of crossing things off of my lists lessens my anxiety with every check mark.
- Asking for help — I do still have trouble with this sometimes, but I have gotten better about asking those close to me for help in lightening my load when I’m overwhelmed. I have found my loved ones are willing to help me when I ask; they don’t like it when I’m anxious anymore than I do.
Life gets stressful and everyone feels overwhelmed at times, but for those of us who have PTSD, it’s important to find things to help with that feeling so that we don’t spiral into feeling completely out of control. Finding the things that offer you relaxation and comfort when you’re not feeling overwhelmed will give you a good idea of what might work for you when you are. Give some a try and see how you do.