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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Take a Break

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 1st 2011


overwhelmThe reality life can get overwhelming at times and some us feel that overwhelm sooner than others. We feel we “should” be able to handle the overwhelm when it inserts itself into our lives, but because we aren’t handling it, then “there’s something wrong with us.” Now that we doubt our ability to handle the situation, we become more overwhelmed and the cycle continues. However, the fact remains, we’re overwhelmed.

From a mindfulness perspective, I might say to see if you can bring a kind attention to the feeling of overwhelm. Inquire into it as if it was the first time you ever noticed it, getting a sense of its shape, texture or depth. See what happens if you just allow it to be and notice what happens next instead of buying into the thought, “I can’t handle this.”

However, sometimes the overwhelm is too great and in my mind, the underpinnings of mindfulness is to figure out what the most skillful action is to take. Perhaps “being with” the overwhelm isn’t what is best in that moment for your stress reduction and well-being and instead we need to “take a break” from it in order to help stop the spiral.

I know someone who has created a playlist on their MP3 player with songs that makes him feel alive, brings him out of his “funk” as he calls it. He can identify the overwhelm when it’s coming. He notices more rapid thoughts happening; a tightening in his chest and at times a light headedness.

It’s too much for him to “be with” the feeling in that moment so we’ve worked on him feeling okay with skillfully choosing to disconnect from the feeling through his music.

I would argue that it was mindfulness that allowed him to choose this different response. Without awareness of the overwhelm be able to intentionally choose this healthier response.

If you experience feeling overwhelm in your life, you might choose to recognize and allow it to be as it is. Investigating the feeling and seeing if there is an underlying fear that the feeling is believing like, “I can’t handle this.” Maybe you have the wherewithal in that moment to do that and if so, that is excellent.

However, if you don’t, there is no shame in allowing your mindfulness to be a springboard to a different choice a choice that will help soften the spiraling down and into a place of feeling better.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.



Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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