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Feeling Overwhelmed: Symptoms and their Meaning for Your Life

August 15th, 2016 · feeling overwhelmed symptoms

At various points in our life journey, and especially at times of transition, we can be subject to various “feeling overwhelmed symptoms.”

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

...Like being lost in a jungle of cactus…

Just what are this unusual states of “feeling overwhelmed”?  And how can we best endure them, and transition through them, to travel into the rest of our lives?

Those “Feeling Overwhelmed” Symptoms”: What Are They?…

When we speak of someone being overwhelmed, we generally mean that they are subject to intense negative emotions, such as deep sadness, unremitting anger of fear, or relentless anxiety or guilt.  Depression may also figure in feelings of overwhelm.

Overwhelm may show up in our lives through intense irritability or melancholy, or anxiety so intense it crosses into panic, completely disproportionate stress over small matters, or an inability to do proper “reality testing”, i.e., distinguishing thoughts or beliefs from what is objectively true in reality.  A strong desire for withdrawal may emerge, or intense fatigue or even physical illness may result.  Completing tasks, or even rational planning for tasks, may be thwarted by intense emotion.

Emotion so overpowering may often make it hard to state plainly what it is that’s actually causing the overwhelm.  Often there is a powerful “cocktail” of stressors and powerful emotions that lead to the subjective sense of being overwhelmed.  The individual’s behavioural patterns may change dramatically, discarding accustomed daily routines, while relationships can get stretched and twisted to the breaking point.  There is often a powerful unconscious component to an overwhelmed state.

What Causes Overwhelm?

It is not at all uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed at some point in their lives.  A variety of life experiences may bring on such feelings.  One causal factor may be multiple significant life issues, challenges or transitions occurring in rapid order.  Another, related factor might be a lack of coping resources, such as: supportive, caring friends, families or communities; rewarding involvements outside of work life; appropriate self-care or stress management skills; or, sometimes, a lack of a sense of overarching meaning or purpose in one’s life.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

…What’s in the Background Behind Feeling Overwhelmed?

Common causes of issues that may lead to emotional overwhelm include:

  • Underlying physical or mental health conditions;
  • Issues in relationships;
  • Demands from occupation or career;
  • Money troubles;
  • Life transitions, such as buying a house, having a baby, or looking after an elderly parent;
  • Death of a loved one;
  • Insufficient time to complete tasks or rest;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Poor diet; or,
  • Personal history of trauma

Some of the causal factors that lead to emotional overwhelm may well be unconscious.  It may be important to explore these unconscious factors, to gain a sense of their emotional importance or deeper meaning.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

What to DO About Overwhelm?

Depending on the individual’s experience, there may be a range of things to do in the face of feeling overwhelmed. However, here are three things that a great many people experiencing overwhelm might begin to do.

1,  Admit and accept the overwhelmed state.  It’s normal to experience some overwhelm in unfamiliar or particularly demanding situations.

2. Move away from the mental habit of “multi-tasking”.  Perhaps we need to “get real”, and kind to ourselves, and realize that everything can’t possibly get done right now.

3.  Ask if any substances or habits might be contributing to a state of overwhelm.  Could alcohol or cannabis use be a contributing factor?  Caffeine might be a factor, especially for people who have a genetic susceptibility.  The same might be true of tobacco use. And perhaps surprisingly, sugar and aspartame can both contribute to feelings of panicked overwhelm in some individuals.  The same is true of lack of sleep and lack of exercise.

…Or, A Different Understanding?

It may well be that elements of psychological trauma can create feeling overwhelmed symptoms.  In a similar way, unconscious factors like lack of self-esteem or latent perfectionism can fed the overwhelm, and in some cases, may well be its root cause.  These are all areas that can be profitably explored in an effective psychotherapy relationship.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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