5 ways to cope with overwhelming feelings


Maggie Klein

Public relations senior Maggie Klein poses plants and her childhood gifts together on one bookshelf as a means of organizing special spaces to enjoy in her home.

A lot of students have overwhelming thoughts. But what do they look like? Maybe racing thoughts, fear of failure or the inability to start and finish a task.

Feeling stressed? Tired? Maybe you’re just overwhelmed. Consider these five tips when coping with overwhelming feelings.

1. Having Healthy Habits

When you are feeling overwhelmed or have a lot on your plate, you tend to lose concentration in what you’re doing and seem out of touch with yourself. Being overwhelmed is not a good feeling and you might be looking for some healthy habits that could help you get back on track for feeling more like yourself. One highly recommended healthy habit to recentering yourself is meditation. Meditation is a centuries-old, mind and body process with long-term psychological benefits. Meditation improves physical health in addition to mental health by lowering blood pressure, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Learning simple meditation exercises that you can use on a regular basis can help you reduce stress. 

“I meditate everyday when I wake up and before I go to bed,” said Hannah, a student at IU Southeast who meditates to dominate her feeling of being overwhelmed. “It’s what recenters my whole mind and soul, it’s honestly my favorite part of the day and what gets me ready for my day and ready to rest my brain for the next day.”

Another healthy habit to help reduce your feeling of being overwhelmed is exercise. This is something that you can almost do at any time of any day and with various different fields. Activities that can help with feeling overwhelmed include running, jogging, walking and playing any kind of sport. These types of healthy habits help get both your body and mind right and at the same time helps reduce your feeling of overwhelmingness. Lastly, another healthy habit is having a hobby. Hobbies are all about what makes us happy and are very crucial in helping with being overwhelmed. 

2. Enjoying Nature

Nature. It’s what gives us beautiful weather, oceans and mountains and beautiful scenery all over the world. So, go out and enjoy nature. In a study by Business Insider, students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than those who spent the same two nights in a neighborhood. Experiencing good weather and even bad weather can help us connect with nature. 

Being trapped inside doing homework or working a job can be exhausting and boring. Having the option to go outside and try to cope with the stress of everyday life through nature is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Being overwhelmed sometimes makes us feel trapped and stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Being able to leave that all behind, go for a walk outside and enjoy what the world has to offer can make a big difference for your brain and your overall health. 

Whether you go walk in a park, hike a trail, ride a bike or even just sit outside and breathe in the fresh air, you’ll be able to cope with those overwhelming emotions by creating a safe haven right outside your door.

3. Taking Breaks

Sometimes when we are overwhelmed it can help to step away from things that are causing us stress and take a little break. When this happens, find a good place to stop working, and move to another space. 

“Whenever I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, I always try to take a step back from school or work and do something for myself,” said Kendyl, a senior at IUS. “This helps me feel better as well as stay focused when I decide to start working again.”

For example, when Kendyl takes a break, she usually eats some food or sits outside for a little while if the weather is nice.

Taking a break can mean going for a walk, having a snack, reading a book, watching a show or even just taking a nap. Set aside some time to do something that makes you feel relaxed and can help refresh your mind before going back to your tasks. Then, when you are ready to go back to work, you will feel a bit more calm and ready to tackle your tasks. Be sure to continue taking breaks as often as needed in order to stay calm and focused.

4. Organize. Organize. Organize.

When your thoughts are out of order, try adding visual organization to your space to feel more in control again. A way to make this a mindfulness exercise would be to consider where the feelings are coming from when you experience the anxious response associated with them. Are you thinking about work and responsibilities that impact success? Declutter your workspace or create a new system to organize papers, files, and other important materials. 

Do you feel overwhelmed when thinking about interpersonal relationships? Organize these feelings by writing a letter to yourself or to a friend. This letter doesn’t have to ever be sent, but can be utilized as a way to organize your thoughts and feelings. 

Overwhelmed with feelings related to yourself? Organize a new way to care for yourself. An example of this would be creating a new schedule that allows you eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours for yourself. Breaking these eight hour blocks into smaller chunks that add variety to your day is one way that organizing refreshes overwhelming thoughts and gives them a time and place. 

“Organizing my bathroom cabinet helps me feel calmer when I’m doing my daily routines,” said Chris Kessler, a senior majoring in communications. “Having lists and posting notes in my bathroom helps me get my thoughts in order during times like brushing my teeth in the morning before a big day.” (Maggie Klein)

5. Surrounding Yourself With Others 

Being anxious or overwhelmed can create feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can add to your stress and cause further harm to your mental health. Whenever you find yourself feeling stressed and alone, one thing you can do to ground yourself and feel better is to surround yourself with others. You can do this by having lunch with a friend, spending time with family or scheduling something for you and some friends to do while following COVID-19 precautions. Make plans that involve someone else so that you are having enough human contact and you don’t feel so isolated. This will boost your mood and help with feelings of loneliness. If you can’t spend time with someone in person, you can always schedule a virtual friend date via Zoom or FaceTime. This will allow you to keep in touch and actually see the person you are speaking to, which is almost as good as being in person.