Managing Emotions When You Feel Overwhelmed

Updated July 07, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

When you feel overwhelmed is often when you most need to make important decisions or take decisive actions. However, it’s also when you may feel frozen or seem most unsure of what you need to do. This is when managing emotions is key.

Managing emotions when you feel overwhelmed involves taking a moment to “take inventory” of what emotions you are feeling. You then need to decide which emotions are helpful and which ones aren’t. Making the best decisions involves managing your emotions, not ignoring them.

When Do You Feel Overwhelmed?


Different people feel overwhelmed by different things.

Some people take quite a lot to feel overwhelmed, but it can happen when they have a lot of options or when they receive conflicting feedback or opinions from others on what they should do.

Many of us feel overwhelmed when faced with seemingly small tasks. This can be because, for virtually all decisions, we’re increasingly made to feel responsible for great outcomes. This makes seemingly small decisions seem a lot bigger.

Is your coffee sustainably sourced? Are you following the right diet? How are you going to vote in the next election? Should you be going to big-box stores or supporting small businesses? Could you be doing more to decrease your energy consumption?

At some point, everything got complicated. And, the more you research any given argument, the more conflicting sources you’ll find on the best option.

Whether you’re faced with a work or family issue, or a shopping or personal lifestyle issue, taking a moment to collect yourself and take inventory of your emotions can be helpful.

Emotions And Decision Making

Some people believe that emotions shouldn’t play any role in decision making. For humans, this is impossible at its best and frightening at its worst.

What is more practical and more appealing is understanding how your emotions impact your decisions. You don’t want to make a bad decision because you’re angry or sad. However, you can also make poor decisions because you’re in too good a mood to imagine something going wrong.

The problem is, when you feel overwhelmed, you might be feeling many emotions and might not even know which emotions you are feeling. That’s why it can be helpful to take inventory or your emotions before trying to manage them.

Practicing Mindfulness

If you find that you feel overwhelmed often or over seemingly small matters, it might be worth your time to try practicing mindfulness. That particularly true if, when you feel overwhelmed, you have a hard time identifying what emotions you’re feeling at the time.

To begin practicing mindfulness, take a few minutes each day to sit or lie down in silence. Try to focus on something constant, like your breath. When something distracts you, take note of it and go back to trying to focus. Over time, you learn to recognize the thoughts and feelings that many of us take for granted.

At first, this only feels good while you’re doing it. However, over time, it trains you to have a better understanding of your thoughts and feelings during your daily life. This can make it easier for you to manage your emotions when you feel overwhelmed.

Some studies have even shown that practicing mindfulness can help people deal with anxiety and depression.

Sorting Emotions To Manage Emotions

Mindfulness is a good way to learn to understand your emotions in the long run. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to sit in a quiet place every time you have to make a choice. However, you should be able to stop, take a few deep breaths, and take inventory of your emotions to move forward calmly and efficiently.

When you feel overwhelmed, you can imagine that as white light. The key to managing emotions is to take a prism to that white light. This allows you to see all of your conflicting emotions separately. This makes it easier for you to process each one and determine whether or not you can learn from it and, if so, how.

Emotions You Might Be Feeling


When you feel overwhelmed, you might feel fear for the future, anger or sorrow about your position and the people, systems, or circumstances who put it in your hands, and excitement about the future.

Your fear might be able to help you. We often think of fear as a “negative emotion.” Instead of looking at emotions like fear, sadness, and anger as “negative” emotions try to look at them as “difficult” emotions – they might not be easy or comfortable to deal with, but they aren’t bad – they’re a part of who you are. And you can learn from them.

To make the best decision, you should be prepared to ask yourself what happens if things don’t work out.

Anger can hurt the decision-making process. It can lead people to take unnecessary risks to prove themselves to others or to get back at someone. Similarly, things like self-pity might not hurt the decision-making process, but they don’t help it either.

Excitement about the future can go either way. It can encourage you to make a decision and temper your fear, but if you let it get out of check, it can lead you to take risks that aren’t likely to pan out. Don’t just ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that can happen?” also ask yourself, “Is that a thing that’s likely to happen or that we can make happen?”

What To Do With Unproductive Emotions

Making the best decision when you feel overwhelmed is important, but it shouldn’t – and doesn’t have to – come at the expense of your mental and emotional health. Making decisions can be scary and stressful, but it can also make you feel better because you’re moving forward.

While some emotions that you may be feeling, like anger and pity, aren’t helpful to the decision-making process, that doesn’t mean that you should – or can – just ignore them. For one thing, bottling up emotions is bad for your mental health. Further, it’s likely to postpone problems rather than solve them.

When you have emotions that don’t help the decision-making process, deal with them on your own. Talk to someone that you trust who isn’t involved in the situation. They may be able to help you to think through them, or they might not. However, talking about your feelings will make you feel better.

If there is anything else that you like to do to “power through” your difficult emotions, like playing videogames or working out, do those things to work through them rather than involving them in your decision-making.

You’re Not Alone

Feeling overwhelmed can make us feel isolated. It can be easy to feel like the world is on our shoulders, and there’s no one we can turn to. However, that’s never the case. So, who can you turn to?

Other People InThe Situation


One of the best ways to make a decision that will impact other people is to talk to those people. Make sure that you have a full understanding of the situation.

It could be that you can get others to help you in the decision-making process. Or, it could be that you’ll have to make the call in the end. Either way, getting feedback can help you make the best decision.

People Outside OfThe Situation

We’ve already discussed how talking to people outside of the situation can be a good way to manage difficult emotions.

Other people can also offer valuable outside perspectives. Further, some people find that they think more clearly when they think out loud. Ideas that make sense or seem logical in your head might sound a lot different if you share them with someone else.

People Who Have Been In Similar Situations

When you feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to feel like no one else has ever been in your shoes before. However, that’s probably not the case. Think of friends, colleagues, or even family members that you know of who may have been in similarly tough situations in the past and talk to them.

Maybe they can offer some practical life advice. Even if they can’t, talking with someone can help you to understand and manage your emotions and not feel so alone.

A Counselor Or Therapist


If you feel like you suffer high amounts of stress, whether it’s because of a difficult life situation, a demanding job, or a mental health condition, talking to a therapist or a counselor can help.

Therapists and counselors probably won’t have all the answers that you’re looking for. However, they will be able to help you learn about your emotions and how to manage them. This can help you make better decisions and generally feel more at ease with your life – even when it’s stressful.

For more information about how meeting with a counselor or a therapist online can help you manage your emotions when you feel overwhelmed, visit BetterHelp.

Managing Emotions

Making decisions when you feel overwhelmed doesn’t mean ignoring your emotions, or letting your emotions control you. Instead, you need to understand what your emotions are and how to be guided by those that can help you while dealing with those that can’t in a healthy way.

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