How to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed


Looking back at the beginning of 2020, I remember feeling a sense of hope for a year that would bring clarity and growth.  Little did I know there was something else in the cards and this year would become a rollercoaster ride of uncertainty.  If you’ve been feeling more overwhelmed than usual and your regular toolbox of self-care practices aren’t working, I can assure you that you’re not alone.

It may feel impossible to step out of the storm of overwhelm when you feel constantly inundated by uncertainty and stress, but there are ways you can find calm and comfort and create a sense of soothing predictability. Here are five of my favorite ways to do so in the storm of overwhelm.

1.) Seek Out the Familiar

Even simple tasks such as going to the store or walking outside that used to feel so routine now take a lot of attention.  When everything feels different, it’s important to find ways to invoke a sense of familiarity which can be soothing to your overstimulated nervous system.  A fun way to do this is to watch your old favorite movies or shows, listen to music you loved growing up, read books that engage your imagination, go to a favorite park, drink a comforting tea, or rediscover activities you loved as a kid such as puzzles, crafts, or games.  Think about what’s familiar to all your senses (tastes, smells, textures, sounds, images) as well as activities and places.

2.) Turn Down the Volume

Although you may not realize it, a major source of feeling overwhelmed is the constant buzz of information from social media, texts, and screens that you’re inundated with all day.  It’s become so commonplace that it’s easy to miss just how stressful our digital world is to your nervous system, especially since the expectation is to be available by phone or text 24/7.  Here are a few suggestions to help set limits on your availability and reduce the digital overwhelm:

3.) Say “No” Most of the Time

Prioritizing myself has been my biggest obstacle when it comes to managing overwhelm and maybe yours as well. It is so incredibly difficult to choose ourselves when others seemingly need our support or we could put more time into a work project. However, putting yourself at the bottom of your priority list will eventually catch up to you in the form of stress, burnout, overwhelm, anxiety, among other issues.

Setting boundaries by saying “no” most of the time can help you create more space for yourself.  This may sound difficult, and I agree it can be, but it’s an essential practice to be able to maintain some sense of balance when the world around you is stressful.  Before you say “yes” to an invite or request, hit the pause button and ask yourself, “do I have the energy for this?”.  If not, it’s okay to say “no.”

4.) Create Predictability Through Routine

When life begins to feel out of control, it’s important to find ways to regain a sense of predictability.  By taking control of your daily routine, you eliminate all those little decisions throughout the week which can use up precious mental and emotional energy.  Get up at the same time every day, shower, dress, and eat meals at regular times.  Differentiate weekends from weekdays by doing something special such as having a movie night, Zoom gathering with friends, or exploring a new outdoor area.  It can be easy to let go of your routines, let the days blend together, and isolate yourself from everything that is happening around you, but this can have a detrimental effect on your physical health and emotional well-being.

5.) Ground Your Body—and Breathe

When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it’s often because your nervous system is overstimulated and feeling frazzled. Physical grounding practices can be helpful to calm anxious bodies.  To ground yourself, try mindfully pressing your feet into the ground as you take a few slow deep breaths, gazing around and describing the colors and textures of the objects around you, running cool water over your hands, or using a weighted blanket.

Another way to calm your nervous system is mindful breathing, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the “rest and digest system.”  The easiest way is to take a deep breath in through the nostrils and then exhale through pursed lips as if you were blowing a bubble.

And also, engage your physical body. Taking a walk, stretching, or moving the body in any way can help process and settle your emotions, especially if mindful breathing doesn’t feel effective.  Move in whatever way your body is asking for and that is safe for you.  You might also find it soothing to engage your hands to calm your nerves.  Try cooking, crafting, knitting, gardening or just digging in the dirt, painting, puzzling, or anything that feels soothing.

Lastly, if you’re feeling overstimulated or tired, it’s okay to slow down and take a nap or go to bed early.  Rest your body as much as you need to and that your schedule allows for.  Feeling and worrying this much takes a lot of energy!

This original essay was featured in the November 29, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


April Snow is a licensed psychotherapist in California and the author of the Mindfulness Workbook for Stress Relief.  She is on a mission to help Sensitive Introverts, Perfectionists, and Creative High Achievers embrace their Sensitive Strengths and calm the storm of overwhelm and self-doubt that gets in the way of living their best life.  Get her free guide, Simple Self-Care Tools to Reduce Overwhelm and Anxiety.

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