There’s “coping” and then there is “overwhelm.” Coping skills may not work for crisis situations. You may need something with a little more power. For those situations, here are 7 tips for coping when you’re overwhelmed. You don’t have to do them all. Just pick the one or two that work best for you and use them as your “go to” strategies.

Radical Acceptance

A lot of overwhelming stress comes from wanting things to be different. If we are stuck on what we think things are supposed to be, it can inhibit us from dealing with what is. If we are going to make effective changes (later), we have to start with how and where things are. Simply doing that is sometimes enough to reduce stress.

To practice radical acceptance, accept the idea that things are as they are. Don’t try to change anything (just yet). Let go of control. Practice detachment. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It just means that you’re starting from a place of acceptance without emotion.

This is not an easy habit to acquire. It takes a lot of patience and practice, but once you get the hang of it, you will notice how much easier life becomes.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique

  • List 5 things you can see
  • List 4 things you can touch
  • List 3 things you can hear
  • List 2 things you can smell
  • List 1 thing you can taste

This practice gets you grounded in your body, in this place, at this time, and can interrupt the overwhelming emotions. When we are in the present moment, stressors can fade into the background because the cause often isn’t actually happening now.

For example, I might be upset about missing out on an opportunity, but that is not happening now. It already happened. When I am in the present moment, it can feel a little further away and give me space to breathe.

Cold Water

Splashing ice water into your face, taking a cold shower, or even dunking your face in ice water creates a shock to your system and interrupts the waves of emotion. This can give you space to reset. If you don’t like cold water in your face, you could try holding ice cubes in your hands (in a plastic baggie).


There are many different breathwork practices that can create fast calm. Heart rate variability (HRV) breathing works to down regulate the nervous system to make overwhelming emotions less likely. It can also help you calm down when you are already aroused.

If you find this too much, just slow your breathing down. Breathe through the nose as slowing in and out as you can. Continue until you notice yourself calming down.

Distract Yourself

Lots of people distract themselves from their problems and then never return to resolve them. Distraction is a great tool to forget about your feelings for a while, or to help you calm yourself. However, to be most effective, be sure to return to the issue when you’re calm again.

Here are some ideas for how to distract yourself: go for a walk, clean something, talk to a friend, watch tv, play a video game, read a book, doodle, journal, color, play with Play-Doh or something swishy and tactile, sing, play a musical instrument, or dance. Try to avoid unhealthy things like binge eating, smoking, or drinking alcohol.

Relax Your Muscles

When we are in fight or flight, our muscles tense up. Relaxing any muscle will help restore your nervous system to your baseline. If you are habitually tense, you may not be aware that you are carrying any tension because it just feels “normal.” Making a practice to engage in progressive relaxation can help bulid mind/body awareness.

Work Out

Going for a run or doing something else that is intense can help you clear the mind and calm the body.

Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes. Having strategies to deal with those times can make it easier to make it through. Leave me a comment and let me know your go to strategy.