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Feeling Overwhelmed?

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Feeling Overwhelmed?

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Feeling overwhelmed? Most of us do at some point. When we’re overwhelmed it feels difficult to manage our stressors. We might not see a solution or an end in sight to the stressor. Everything just feels like it’s too much.

As young children we can feel overwhelmed by changes that we do not understand such as different caregivers or disruptions to routine. A child’s maladaptive behaviors tend to be strong indicators of experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed.

As adolescents we can feel overwhelmed by school. School is connected to grades, performance, social acceptance, inclusion, and our developing identity. An adolescent who is overwhelmed may demonstrate avoidance or irritability toward school related demands.

As young adults we can feel overwhelmed by understanding our place in the world and how to participate in it. Pressure to make decisions about college, jobs, and how to make smart decisions that will afford successful lives can be crippling. A young adult who is overwhelmed may struggle with taking action toward important steps in the process or wrestle with self-doubt about not knowing how to catch up to their peers.

As adults we can feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities. Children, family of origin needs, jobs, bills, friends, social responsibilities, health, self-care and more are just some of the big things that we have to juggle. When any one of those responsibilities demands more attention and care it can make the other things on our plate feel burdensome and out of balance.  An adult who is overwhelmed may be short-tempered, forgetful, or tense.

As older adults we can feel overwhelmed by our legacy and limitations. Considerations about who will take care of us when we are unable to be independent may feel overwhelming. Conversations involving family, finances, and living situations become more frequent. An older adult who is overwhelmed may exhibit depressive symptoms such as lack of motivation or loss of enjoyment in activities they once enjoyed.

Death, moving, divorce, break-ups, traumatic accidents, job loss, chronic illness are all other examples of changes that we cannot control and can disrupt the rhythm of our lives.

If we ignore the stressor or don’t adequately cope or try to process them, then over time we may notice that the stress is manifesting in responses that are not congruent with the activating stressor. In other words, we may “reach the boiling point”. Examples of this may include,


  • Feeling overcome with fear when you can’t find your phone.
  • Losing your temper when dining out about a menu item that is no longer available.
  • Crying uncontrollably when your dryer suddenly malfunctions.
  • Feeling a sense of panic while at a party with a lot of people.
  • Feeling unsafe when hearing loud sounds and experiencing flashing lights at a concert.


Feeling overwhelmed can cause impairment in our lives. It can negatively impact our mood, our relationships, our motivation, our hygiene, our safety, and our health. A therapist or psychologist can help. You don’t have to continue to juggle all of the plates, all of the time on your own. A therapist will listen and try to understand your experience and identify what you need. What you’re needing-this can be triggering for some of us who really believe that someone else isn’t going to get it. You’re right, a therapist can only try to understand but will never know your lived experience. That is yours. You may feel defensive and be thinking, “what I need is a new job”, or “a perfect spouse”, or “to win the lottery”. Sure, maybe some of those things would help if they come your way. However, there are no guarantees that they will.

A therapist can help you achieve goals that start small and are very attainable. A therapist can teach you how to cope with your stressors. It’s a lonely path to walk carrying your heavy load alone, a therapist can walk with you for part of the journey and maybe just help you lighten your load.

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Lauren Pena
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