Feeling overwhelmed? Your breath can be your reset.

The Oxford dictionary defines feeling overwhelmed as “to bury or drown beneath a huge mass of something, especially water.” When you were a child, do you remember being engulfed by a wave and then starting to panic? You’re gulping for air, and for a moment, feeling like you’re going to drown.

This emotion is not reserved for just being in the water. It’s an emotion, a state of being that for a lot of people is how they live in their daily life.

I’ve mentioned this statistic in a previous article, in a pre-pandemic survey, 74% of people in the UK have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Let me ask you…

Have you ever felt like there’s so much going on in your life that you’re struggling to cope? Perhaps you feel like this right now?

Triggers and symptoms of overwhelm.

We’ve experienced so much upheaval in the last few years.  There has been a continuous barrage of external factors to deal with; pandemic, war, cost of living crisis, as well as what’s going on in your own world.

Our modern lifestyle is the most common trigger of overwhelm. We’re busy managing work and home life. It could be a project, an event, an appointment, or managing your relationships. When you’re overwhelmed you get so submerged in the emotion, the stress, the fear, the worry, the anxiety, that you can’t think of anything else. It is continuously replaying in your mind.

I’ve spoken to many people who live with overwhelm every day. They tell me that they feel like there’s a continuous mental to do list going on in your head. It takes all your energy just to keep all the balls in the air, and there’s little left for anything else.

Overwhelm can make you freeze.

Emotional overwhelm can affect you so deeply that you freeze. You are paralysed and unable to move forward. You’re not able to think rationally and any form of productivity goes out the window.

This was me, at my worst in my corporate job.  Overwhelm can come at you suddenly, or very likely, as in my case, it is the result of a build-up of events. Emotional overwhelm engulfs you. I recall feeling the panic and stress swamp through my body.

My mind really was not clear, to the point that I didn’t know what to do. In the end, I didn’t do anything. I was paralysed and I was panicking.

overwhelm can make you freeze
You have irrational thoughts.

The mind is so powerful, and it’s not unusual to get caught up in our thoughts. Instead of being helpful and offer valuable solutions, your mind will feed your anxieties.

As humans, we’re not comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome. Instead, your mind will create its own interpretation of events, playing out its own little movie in your head! Sadly, most of the time we play out the worst-case scenario.

Think for a moment, what story, or dialogue are you creating right now?

The mind is either caught up re-living past events or thinking ahead and predicting the future. We don’t know what the future holds. That’s why we need to learn techniques to manage the mind and importantly, learn how to live in the present.

Techniques like mindfulness, meditation teach you to be present and observe these fluctuations of the mind, without judgement and without attachment. Connecting with your breath is a wonderful practice to get you started.

Stress and overwhelm

We’re all going to experience some form of stress in our lives. You may be surprised to know that not all stress is bad. It can fire up your system, your adrenalin pumps and good stress keeps you moving forward.

Yet, when overwhelm and stress is continuous in your life and becomes chronic, then this needs to be addressed, because stress impacts your mental and physical health.

Your nervous system is frazzled. It’s frazzled because you’re permanently living in the stress response. The stress response is designed to fight off danger. The instinctive, most primitive part of your brain sends signals to the rest of your body to be on alert. It’s warning you that there is danger coming, waiting for the tiger to pounce! But in the 21st century there is no tiger, just our busy, stressful lives.

breathing in stressful situations
Your breath is your best friend.

There isn’t a more trusted or reliable friend than your breath. Along with your heart, it is a continuous involuntary action that is with you from the moment you are born. It stays with you throughout your whole life.

Through breathing techniques (pranayama), you can change your current state, increase, and balance your energy, cool down or warm up your body. But the most valuable practice of all is to learn to observe your breath.

You can learn a lot about your current state of being by observing how your breath is flowing. When you are in the stress response the breath is shallow, you  breathe more in the chest area and the breath is more rapid. In the relaxation response your breath is deeper, slower, and more relaxed.

Like in some meditation techniques when the focus is on one single point, in this case your breath, you are in effect re-wiring your brain by changing a behaviour. The mind is no longer thinking of the past or the future. You move your attention from the thoughts, the feeling of overwhelm, to re-focus your attention on your breath.

The breathing practice resource at the end of this article is a wonderful starting point for learning to connect with your breath.

Using the breath when you feel stressed.

The wonderful thing about the breath is that you can connect to it anywhere at any time. In those moments when you feel stress and overwhelm beginning to take over, try to breathe in through your nose for a count of two and exhale slowly for a count of four. This sends a message to your brain to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Which is the response that takes your body out of the stress response and brings you to present, and a calmer more relaxed state.

Your breath can be your reset

Think about all the different transitions that happen on an average day. Imagine, if between each transition, you paused for a few moments, to connect back in with yourself and your breath.  To notice how you are feeling, how the breath was flowing.  Envisage how your breath would support this transition, to ground you and to bring you into the present.

Let’s look at a few examples…

During your morning routine, what difference do you think it would make for you to start the day feeling calm and being present? You can do this by connecting in with your breath for 5 or 10 minutes before you start your day. Instead of scrolling through your phone. play the audio practice we’ve shared with you below as a way to start your day.

What about using the breath as a transition after the school run, or before you’re about to step into your place of work? Taking a moment to breathe, connects you back in with yourself as you prepare for the day ahead.

Taking moments in between different transitions in your life is like pressing a reset button. You can also do this before you go into a meeting, give a presentation, or have a difficult conversation. When you close your computer. Or after you put the children to bed.

It’s important to find the quiet spaces to relax, to find comfort and connect back into your inner self. To reset and regain your presence. To pause and gain clarity, focus and importantly bring more calm into your life.

When the mind is clearer, you have more energy more focus, presence for the task ahead and for the people that mean the most to you.


If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read..

Does Meditation help with feeling overwhelmed?

You are not your thoughts

Five ways to manage feeling overwhelm.


Click the link below to access a free 10-minute audio training, where you will learn a simple mindfulness practice that uses the breath to take you from your daily barrage of overthinking and worry to reclaim your calm, focus and clarity.

Free mindfulness audio practice