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I’m Feeling Too Much at Once: Dealing with Emotional Overload

With so much going on in the world right now, it’s easy to be completely overwhelmed by your own feelings. This is especially true for those working in the healthcare industry as the world continues to face COVID-19.

In Mental Health America’s recent survey on healthcare workers’ mental wellbeing during the pandemic, 98% of respondents answered that they were experiencing multiple different feelings regularly and 82% reported an increase in emotional exhaustion in recent months. Emotional overload often comes from having conflicting feelings, too many feelings happening at once, or not being able to act based on your gut feelings.

We have emotions for a reason – they’re there to tell us something. Ignoring those feelings doesn’t make them go away. They are going to surface eventually, and if you wait too long before addressing them, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself dealing with a sudden flood of emotions. By processing them as they come up – or starting now – you can keep yourself in a healthier mindset and keep that all-consuming feeling of being overwhelmed at bay.

Stress and emotion regulation

Ninety-three percent of MHA’s healthcare worker survey respondents reported feeling increased stress over the prior three months. Whether you think stress is contributing to feeling overwhelmed right now or not, it’s worth keeping a close eye on. Stress makes it more difficult to regulate emotions. By integrating some stress reduction techniques into your daily (or weekly) routine, you’ll likely be able to calm down some of your racing thoughts and better recognize what else is going on that’s contributing to your emotional overload.

Name your emotions

Combatting emotional exhaustion is difficult, especially if you aren’t quite able to pinpoint your exact emotions. The more specific you can get, the better – try using this Feeling Words List to identify the key feelings you’re experiencing. You may want to make a list of the ones that resonate with you. Once you have a better idea of how you’re feeling, you can dive into why you feel that way and brainstorm how to best manage it.

Write about it

Journaling is a great tool for general mental wellness, and it can be particularly effective when you find yourself struggling to think straight. The hardest part is often getting started, so just write the first thing that comes to mind. You can start with something as simple as “Today was ________” or “I’m feeling ______ right now.” Once you have those first few words down, it’s a lot easier to keep going. By getting your stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto paper, you’ll be able to identify some underlying patterns or things that you didn’t even realize were bothering you.

Ground yourself

As overwhelming as your thoughts may be, they can’t hurt you. If you notice your thoughts starting to spiral, take a moment to reconnect with the present. Grounding techniques can help you to separate yourself from your distress. By focusing on the here and now, you can step away from how overwhelming everything else feels. Take some time to stretch, breathe (try “boxed breathing” – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and so on), or listen to a guided meditation.

Prioritize self-care

When feeling overwhelmed, it’s easy for your negative feelings to overtake your positive feelings, to the point where you may not even notice those positive feelings. Think about what makes you feel happy, relaxed, or inspired and allow yourself time to do those things. Put it on your calendar if you need to. Remember that there are other aspects of self-care that aren’t as fun – things like setting boundaries, learning how to reframe your thoughts, and creating a plan for destressing after a particularly intense day – that are critical parts of self-care, too.

Seek help

If self-help techniques aren’t working, you might be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Taking an online screen at mhascreening.org is an easy way to figure out if what you’re dealing with is a sign of something more serious than being temporarily overwhelmed. Mental health conditions are common and treatable with the right support around you. Seeking out support can help you to cope with the overwhelming circumstances you’re facing during this time.