Ways To Cope With Overwhelming Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Sometimes, it may seem as if there is simply so much going on in your head that you don’t know how to move forward. If you feel overwhelmed by stress and fear, you may be experiencing anxiety, a condition characterized by high levels of preoccupation, worry about the future, and distressing physical and psychological symptoms. 

Anxiety conditions are on the rise among Americans, with the National Institute of Mental Health estimating that almost a third of the American population will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Understanding more about anxiety and ways to alleviate your worry can help you feel more in control of your mental health.  

Do you feel overwhelmed in your day-to-day life?

Types of anxiety disorders

You may have an anxiety disorder if you consistently feel overwhelmed by your anxiety. There are many types of anxiety disorders, and anxiety can be a symptom of other mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An overview of some of the most common anxiety disorders can provide a helpful framework for understanding your experience. 

Generalized anxiety disorder

Unlike other types of anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) features intense anxiety symptoms not associated with particular triggers or life events. With GAD, you may feel a persistent sense of worry or dread that isn’t related to any one aspect of your life but rather a constant feeling of anxiety that is always in the back of your mind. 

To meet the diagnostic criteria for GAD, this feeling needs to persist for at least six months and needs to result in psychological and physical symptoms, which can include:

  • Constantly perceiving threats or assuming the worst-case scenario
  • Experiencing fatigue, restlessness, or sleep concerns
  • Feeling irritable, excitable, or “on edge”
  • Worrying disproportionately
  • Experiencing muscle tension
  • Overthinking, being indecisive, or having difficulty concentrating
  • Lacking the ability to process or endure uncertainty or ambiguity

Generalized anxiety disorder can last for years if it is untreated. People with the condition may experience rises and falls in their anxiety episodes, i.e., sometimes the anxiety may feel overwhelming, while other times it feels more like background noise. 

Panic attacks and panic disorder

A panic attack is an intense, overwhelming episode of anxiety and fear or overwhelm that causes a noticeable physical reaction, sometimes leading individuals experiencing one to think that they are having a heart attack or that they can’t breathe. People undergoing a panic attack may also experience the following other symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking
  • Heart palpitations or fluttering
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness and tingling, especially in the hands or other extremities
  • Stomachaches
  • Feeling weak

A panic attack can occur at any time without any sort of warning. Because of this, panic attacks can evolve into a condition known as panic disorder. With panic disorder, a person may fear somehow causing a panic attack, and so that they might begin to avoid places and situations that trigger anxiety. This avoidance can substantially impact a person’s life and functioning. A person with panic disorder may also experience a sense of impending doom and feel like their life is out of control, which can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with control.

Social anxiety disorder

People with social anxiety disorder (sometimes called social phobia) feel anxious in social situations, particularly novel ones. While it may not be unusual to feel a little stressed around people you don’t know very well, the anxiety associated with social anxiety disorder usually progresses to a point where it affects a person’s ability to function socially, including speaking to strangers or interacting with people in general. 

People with social anxiety disorder may experience a variety of anxiety symptoms in social situations, including:

  • Nausea, dizziness, sweating, headaches or stomachaches
  • Fear of embarrassment, rejection, or ridicule
  • Extreme self-consciousness, blushing, or difficulty making eye contact
  • Unfounded worry about other people’s judgments
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Quiet voice
  • Rigid posture or inability to relax

How to cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety

No matter what form your anxiety may take – or even if your anxious feelings do not rise to the level of a diagnosable anxiety disorder – anxiety can be an intensely negative experience. There are several ways to combat anxiety and prevent it from escalating to the point of overwhelm. 

Caring for your overall health

Evidence suggests that physical and mental health are intricately linked, so paying attention to fundamental aspects of your physical health could also improve anxiety symptoms.

  • Exercise: Exercise has been proven to decrease stress levels and improve mood when feeling anxious. Exercise is typically an affordable and accessible way of regulating your mental health – you do not have to participate in an intense workout at a fancy gym to reap the benefits. Even simply taking a brief walk around your neighborhood can be beneficial.
  • Sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to healthy sleep practices. If you go to bed around the same time every night, avoid screens for a couple of hours before bed, and create a sleep routine with “wind-down” reflective activities such as journaling or reading, you are more likely to sleep better, and this practice can have positive impacts on your anxiety and stress levels.
  • Balanced diet: Consuming food like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and items high in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to decreased anxiety symptoms. In contrast, eating a lot of processed food, red meat, and foods with saturated fats is associated with worse mental health outcomes. Caffeine and alcohol consumption have also been linked to higher anxiety levels. 

Intentionally slowing down

Some preliminary research indicates that increased levels of anxiety among the United States population may be connected to our increasingly demanding schedules. If you are experiencing anxiety to the point of feeling overwhelmed, you may want to explore setting healthy boundaries around your time. It is okay to say no to social gatherings and take a night for yourself occasionally. 

You may even want to proactively schedule downtime into your calendar – it may feel a little weird at first, but isn’t time for your health just as important as time for work meetings and coffee dates? During your scheduled self-care time, you can meditate, practice deep breathing, take a walk, listen to music, cook a recipe you have been eyeing for a while, paint, etc. 

Whatever feels therapeutic, restful, and healing for you can be an excellent way to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of life and focus on your wellness for a minute. 

Engaging in online therapy

There may be only so much you can do on your own to combat anxiety symptoms. If you feel overwhelmed by worry and stress in your daily life, no matter what changes you make, it may be time to speak to a professional therapist. Anxiety, particularly social anxiety or panic disorder, may make it difficult to leave your house for a therapy appointment, especially with a new therapist. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Do you feel overwhelmed in your day-to-day life?

Online therapy could be a beneficial alternative in these situations, as you can speak to your therapist from the comfort of your home. Through online counseling platforms like BetterHelp, you can choose (and alternate among) therapy formats that work best for you: videoconferences, phone calls, and text messages, for example. You can also set appointment times that work for your schedule, potentially reducing the anxiety of leaving work early or missing another important commitment.

Research indicates that online therapy may be as effective as traditional in-person therapy at treating symptoms of mental health conditions, including anxiety. One recent study found that online therapy helped reduce generalized anxiety disorder symptoms and potentially expanded access to treatment for people who otherwise would not be able to attend therapy. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, online therapy may be able to make a difference for you. 


Any form of anxiety – whether in the form of a diagnosable mental health condition or general feelings of worry and stress can seem overwhelming. Practicing self-care, including taking care of your physical health and setting boundaries around your time, can be a helpful way of combatting feelings of anxiety. Speaking to a therapist can also provide you with support when navigating anxiety symptoms.

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