Emotional Effects

Feeling Overwhelmed is a Common Anxiety Symptom

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

Feeling Overwhelmed is a Common Anxiety Symptom

One of the hardest parts about living a life of anxiety is the way that it always tends to be present in your life. It doesn't matter what you're doing or how much you need to focus. That feeling of anxiety is often there, and the knowledge that you have anxiety and reminders of its presence are common.

That's because anxiety is a naturally overwhelming condition, and in some cases it can become so overwhelming that your mind and body suffer as a result.

Both Physically and Mentally Overwhelming

Anxiety is not a single condition. It is a host of different conditions, and it can be both physically and mentally overwhelming. 

Feeling overwhelmed is perhaps the most common symptom of anxiety, and it can actually affect you on a very base level.

How Anxiety Overwhelms the Mind

We'll get into the actual feelings of being overwhelmed in a moment, but what's perhaps most telling about anxiety is that it actually overwhelms the brain in ways you may not even realize.

Your brain has limited resources - chemicals that it uses to send messages from one part of the brain to the other. During periods of intense anxiety, the brain is so overwhelmed that it moves those resources to the areas of the body that it thinks need it most. For example, one of the reasons that some people need to urinate when they are scared is because the chemicals in your brain move away from the part of the mind that controls urination and towards other parts of the brain that control fight or flight.

At its most chemical level, anxiety even affects the way neurotransmitters and hormones are produced, possibly leading to changes in the way you think and feel. When we talk about anxiety feeling overwhelming, it should be remembered that it's not just the way you feel. Anxiety really does have many overwhelming qualities, and can genuinely overwhelm your mind in many ways.

Feeling Overwhelmed From Anxiety: Mentally

Of course, when most people talk about feeling overwhelmed, they're talking about the way anxiety tends to cause severe stress that affects all of their thoughts. That's what anxiety does: it makes it very hard to focus on anything other than your anxiety, and the more you focus on that anxiety, the more anxiety you seem to feel.

People talk about anxiety as if it makes it difficult to focus. But that's not entirely true. Anxiety often makes it easy to focus, but only on your anxiety. Some people experience such a feeling of emotional distress that they may start to cry or feel like they're about to cry, while others may experience a complete lack of hope as if their anxiety is never going to be treatable.

Those with panic attacks may have other symptoms as well. During panic attacks, that feeling of being overwhelmed may actually be less about the actual overwhelming nature of anxiety and more about a feeling of doom that seems to affect those that are struggling with the attack. This feeling of doom can make you feel like you're about to suffer from something terrible, and it can cause your entire body to become completely on edge.

Feeling Overwhelmed From Anxiety: Physically

Which brings us to another issue that many people find overwhelming: physical symptoms. Indeed, even though anxiety can essentially take over the mind, often the physical symptoms are the issues that seem the most overwhelming. Severe anxiety is fraught with physical symptoms, and - especially during anxiety attacks - those symptoms start to become more and more intense until they're the only thing your mind and body can focus on. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness

These symptoms seem to be felt in every area of your body, and they also tend to cause severe anxiety on their own and ultimately lead to an anxiety attack. Anxiety genuinely is very physically overwhelming, especially if you're prone to panic attacks.

How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

It is possible to control this feeling, although it comes in parts. Ideally, the best way to stop feeling overwhelmed from anxiety is to control your anxiety. But in the interim, here are several tips for overcoming these strong physical and mental symptoms:

  • Find Distractions Obviously for something to feel overwhelming, distracting yourself is difficult. But there are some strategies that can still be effective. One that many people find beneficial is to simply call someone on your cell phone. Talking on a phone is hard for the mind to do while still focusing on your anxiety, thus reducing your anxiety from getting too out of control.
  • Go For a Walk Like talking on the phone, walking itself can make it harder for your mind and body to be as overwhelmed. When you walk, you take in lots of new information. You see things, you feel things, and you smell things with each step that you take. Walking also helps move blood around your body and is a good tool for controlling your breathing and heart rate.
  • Controlled Breathing The reason controlling your breathing is important is because anxiety symptoms can actually create new anxiety symptoms. A great example of this is hyperventilation, a common anxiety symptom that occurs during anxiety attacks. Hyperventilation occurs when you don't allow your body to create enough carbon dioxide because you breathe it out too quickly, resulting in feelings of faint, chest pains, and lightheadedness. Hyperventilation also makes it feel as though you need to take deeper breaths which ultimately make it worse. So controlled breathing (breathing in very slowly, breathing out very slowly) is a great way to control this experience.
  • Journaling When your thoughts are too overwhelming, another effective thing to try is journaling. Writing out your thoughts in a permanent place has been shown to have a powerful effect on your mind. It's as though your mind relaxes about the thoughts because they're on paper. So if thoughts are overwhelming, write them down more to experience some relief.
  • Exercise Exercise is also a powerful tool to combat feeling overwhelmed for two reasons. First, it tires out your muscles and improves your breathing so that your symptoms are not as severe. Secondly, it floods relaxing neurotransmitters into your brain and tires your mind so that you can't have as many overwhelming thoughts. Exercise is not just for your physical health, and can be a powerful tool to combat anxiety.

Once you have your anxiety more under control, you can also start trying various anxiety reduction strategies.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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