Think about something in your home that feels easy to lift. Maybe a coffee cup. A framed photo you love. Or a book on your nightstand. You can pick that thing up, no sweat. Right?
Now imagine that you had three crying triplets in your arms, a rowdy rottweiler’s leash looped around your wrist, and a hiking backpack with enough supplies to get you up Everest over your shoulders. Still feel like you could just scoop up that coffee cup without a care in the world?
That, my friend, is what happens to your focus and productivity when you feel overwhelmed.
The tiniest task or decision can feel like a herculean effort—because you’re already carrying so much.
On a practical level, that’s because your time and energy are spread thin when you get overwhelmed. You just don’t have as many resources to go around.
On a physiological level, that effect is compounded because overwhelming situations flood your body with stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline). Overwhelm puts you into a state of fight or flight that can make your mind race and your already-depleted energy shrink.
Returning to a state of rest and digest (where your parasympathetic nervous system is activated) is essential to clear your head and reclaim your sense of assurance.
This quick video will guide you through a simple box breathing exercise you can use to return to a state of peace. Consider it your step-by-step guide for what to do when you feel overwhelmed.
How to Use Box Breathing When You Feel Overwhelmed
A few big takeaways:
- Fear and anxiety are natural, but they’re not always helpful. When the rug’s been pulled out from under you (or your load gets too heavy), it activates your sympathetic nervous system, sending a cascade of stress hormones into your body. That activated state wears you down and can make you feel disconnected from yourself. We all need tools to help us shift from fight-or-flight back to rest-and-digest.
- You can’t always think your way out of a stress response. It’s frustrating, but once your stress response is activated, it can be hard to switch it off with your mind. Thinking about your fears, even to try to defuse them, just perpetuates the stress cycle. Instead, it can be more effective to use a physical change (like a change in your breathing) to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and return to a state of calm.
- Sometimes the simple thing is the best thing. In this video, I’ll demonstrate an easy (and free!) exercise you can do anywhere, at any time, to ground yourself. It’s called box breathing and only takes about 2 minutes. Using this technique will bring you back into your body and the present moment. And when you face this present moment with a clear mind and a grounded body, you’ll gain the strength and confidence you need to face the next one.
Now it’s your turn. What’s one technique you use to feel better when you feel overwhelmed? Let’s share our collective wisdom in the comments.
All my love,