Feeling Overwhelmed?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, freaked out or desperate it can seem like things are just too big and scary to deal with. It might be one thing that’s getting on top of you (an exam, the voices or your parents splitting up), or it could be a build up of lots of different things.

As horrible as these feelings are, it can be good to know that you’re not alone. People can, and do, get through really difficult times. No matter how bad things are right now, try to remind yourself that it won’t last forever.

We’ve put together a list of 5 things that can help in a crisis. It’s just a starting point aimed at helping you begin to feel like you can cope again. For more ideas, check out the coping and recovery section.

  1. Tell someone
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Breaking the cycle
  4. One step at a time
  5. Finding your strength again

1. Tell someone

Red PhoneIf you’re feeling desperate – it’s really important that you tell someone you trust (or call a helpline) right now. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength – you’re choosing to get the support you need.

Not sure who to turn to? Try and think of someone who has been understanding and supportive in the past. This might be: your mum, dad, family member, friend, teacher, youth worker, doctor, nurse or social worker. For more ideas, check out our Telling Other Peoplepage.

If you’d like to speak to someone you don’t know, in confidence, you can ring  Childline (0800 1111) or the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90). If you need medical help, call NHS 111 (111), your GP or your local Accident & Emergency Department. See our page on ‘getting help quickly‘ if you want more ideas.

2. Take A Deep Breath

When people feel anxious they sometimes take fast and shallow breaths. It’s a natural response to stress, but it can make you feel more panicky. Learning ways of slowing down your breathing can help you to feel calmer and more in control.

You can try this as a starting point:

1. Breathe in over 4 counts
2. Hold your breath over 4 counts
3. Breathe all the way out over 4 counts
4. Hold your breath over 4 counts

Repeat steps 1-4 until you feel your breathing become more regular. As you feel more confident in it, try taking a bit longer to breathe out (counting to 6, 8 or even 10).

Don’t force it. This one works best if you keep things gentle, slow and find your own rhythm.

3. Breaking The Cycle

stop-signFeelings of overwhelm tend to snowball – the more stressed out you feel, the less you feel you can cope. The less you feel you can cope the more stressed out you feel.

Finding a way to break this cycle (even for a short while) can help you feel more in control. Different things work for different people, but as a starting point you might want to try:

Grounding yourself:

This can really help if your head is buzzing or you feel lost inside your own thoughts. It’s a way of noticing what’s around you and can make you feel ‘grounded’ in the world.


5 things you can see, 5 you can hear and 5 you can feel
4 things you can see, 4 you can hear and 4 you can feel
3 things you can see, 3 you can hear and 3 you can feel
2 things you can see, 2 you can hear and 2 you can feel
1 thing you can see, 1 you can hear and 1 you can feel

Be as detailed as you can with the descriptions of what you see, hear and feel. It’s ok to repeat things. The main thing is to focus on what’s around you right now. For example:

I see an old table with a blue and white checked tablecloth on it. I see a brown and orange laptop back. I see a cream vase with 6 yellow flowers in it. I see a glass of orange juice on the table. I see my dog, Basil, lying down by my feet.

I hear the sound of traffic on the road outside. I can hear someone walking around upstairs. I can hear my chair creek as I move around. I can hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. I can hear the tapping of my keyboard as I type.

I feel the fur of my dog as he’s lying my by feet. I can feel the table under my hand. I can feel the carpet underneath my feet. I can feel the warm wool of my jumper. I can feel the cold glass of orange juice in my hand.

Other ways of grounding yourself include: walking and concentrating on the way your feet feel on the ground; eating an orange and really thinking about what it looks, feels, smells and tastes like; surrounding yourself with things that help you feel safe.

For some more ideas, check out our Chilling Out page

Distracting yourself:

ThHeadphones imageis is all about taking your mind off the way you’re feeling right now – breaking the cycle. It’s important that you choose something you usually lose yourself in (a video game, music, playing scales on your guitar, washing up, talking to friends, singing or doing something physical).

If you’re not sure what to try, check out our distracting yourself section.

4. One Step At A Time

FootprintWhen people feel really desperate, minutes can feel like hours. The thought of things staying this way for days, weeks, months or years can feel unbearable – yet they worry that things aren’t ever going to get better.

At times like these it can really help to take things one step at a time. If you can’t think about how to cope with the next week, try looking at the next day. If you feel overwhelmed thinking about the next day, try looking at the next hour. If that feels too scary, it can help to look at the next five minutes.

Ask yourself: How am I going to get through the next 5 minutes? What am I going to do? What will help me? Who can help me?

Make yourself small targets to work towards (e.g. organising your CDs, ringing a friend, watching a TV show or taking a shower). When you need to, choose another block of time or target and focus on that. Take it step by step.

It’s a good idea to let the size of the targets, and the time chunks you’re planning for, change as you need them to. As a rough guide, as you feel calmer and more settled you will probably be able to look further ahead.

5. Finding Your Strength Again

All of us have strengths and skills that we can use to get through really difficult times. When we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to lose track of these. Thinking about the ways you’ve coped in the past can give you some ideas of how to deal with things now.

Ask yourself: How did I cope last time? What did I do? Who did I get help from? What was the most useful part of this? How can I use this now?

It can also really help to spend some time remembering all the good stuff about yourself. It’s so easy to lose track of the positives when things feel so bad, but these are the things that can help us recover.

Ask yourself: What do I like about me? What do my friends/family like about me? What do I usually like doing with my time? What I am good at?

If you’re finding it difficult to think about yourself in a good way, that’s ok – why not have a chat with a good friend or someone you trust. Ask them to help you write a list. Keep this somewhere you can look at it when you need to.

Next Steps

Hang in there. These feelings will pass – other people have found a way through (and you will too). Don’t be afraid to ask for help (see our Telling Other People and Getting Help Quickly sections if you’d like some ideas on how to do this).

If you’d like to read about other ideas for coping, and some positive stories of recovery – check out the Coping & Recovery page.