Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is it?

You may experience emotional overload/overwhelm when some of your emotions become so intense that you feel you can’t cope or manage them anymore. These emotions whose intensity builds over time may be caused by prolonged stress, adversity, or traumatic life experiences such as a life-threatening accident. As you are developing into an adult, there are a lot of changes and added expectations you will be dealing with. You may experience increased pressure at school with more work that seems harder, changing friendships and relationships, and hardships with family relations.

People who experience emotional overwhelm might see their ability to think and act rationally be significantly affected. They often have difficulties focusing on and performing daily tasks. They also tend to withdraw from their friends and family and experience feelings of intense grief that penetrate many areas of their life, such as their social life.

Emotional overload should not be ignored hoping it will go away on its own because, if left unaddressed, it can have serious repercussions. Not only can it affect your mental health, such as anxiety and depression, but it can also affect your physical health, such as persistent fatigue, loss of appetite, and sleep disturbances, just to name a few.

There are strategies and behaviors to coping that can be positive or negative.  For example, negative coping strategies can make stress worse as they are not sustainable and are temporary distractions.  On the other hand, positive coping responses keep the situation realistic and provide a more long-term solution to actively work toward solving and dealing with your problems.

So, if you ever experience emotional overwhelm, don’t dismiss it, be kind and generous to yourself, and reach out for help as soon as possible.

What is it telling you?

The message here is simple – you have a very, very full plate or you’ve been through some highly stressful event(s), and your mind has reached its limits when it comes to its ability to cope in an effective and healthy manner. It’s urgent for you to be very kind to yourself and to take good care of both your body and your mind.

How to manage it?
  • First of all, breathe!  Your feelings are normal! Reach out for help and talk to a trusted friend, therapist, or family member who cares for you and who will know how to support you.
  • Another great solution here is the practice of mindfulness. It works miracles when it comes to emotional overload. It will teach you effective and fast-acting relaxation techniques that will bring your mind and body to a place of calmness and awareness. You will also learn to identify your stress triggers more easily and how to manage them effectively.
  • Meditate and then meditate some more! Meditation will help you learn how to redirect your thoughts at will, so you can choose to focus on positive and comforting thoughts that will help you manage your emotions and reduce your emotional stress.
  • Consider if you can reduce some of the stressors in your life. Work with a trusted adult to be sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting physical activity and/or time in nature. This person can help you put in a plan in action to prioritize your commitments and determine what can be taken off your plate to reduce stress.
  • Put into perspective what situations or tasks are temporary and how your life and stress may change as they pass.
  • Ask for help.  You may be able to delegate some responsibility to avoid taking it all on yourself.