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How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed in 5 Steps: An Excerpt from My Memoir, Digesting Life

Over the next several months, I will be sharing excerpts from my memoir that I'm writing, titled Digesting Life. The story of my struggle and recovery from an eating disorder is the basis for what led me to create the KARMA Method, the signature coaching and therapeutic method used by Bespoke Wellness Partners. These excerpts are glimpses into my past that I have identified as pivotal steps in my recovery story and, therefore, are strongly linked with the steps outlined in KARMA. My hope is that maybe some of these stories will resonate with you or make you more aware of where you are on your specific journey with whatever struggles you may be facing. Last week, I discussed the important step of asking for help.

“She’s not going to make it,” the doctors whispered as they looked down at me lying on the bed. I was 15 years old, and at 78 pounds, my heart was too weak and couldn’t take the burden and stress of the crazy world I was living in. It was shortly after the Gulf War, and growing up in Israel, there was always this sense of stress and fear from living in a country surrounded by enemies and in a constant state of war. What I realized when things settled down and I slowly started to gain weight was that the war that I had raging in my head, and the feeling of being stuck and limited, was set by my own limitations that I had created in my own head. All of this turmoil and constant feeling of being overwhelmed led to panic attacks, fainting episodes, and just a general feeling of going insane. But it was all created by me. 

When I think about all of that I am actually impressed by what our minds are capable of doing. Don’t you think? I was thinking of my friend’s mom who has dementia and isn’t able to remember anything and, therefore, she’s actually gotten to a place where she doesn’t stress about anything. What if your memory was erased completely and all you knew was new. How would you feel then?

This week, it seemed that so many of my clients were feeling extremely overwhelmed. With the current pandemic and many of them going back to school or college, it makes sense that the feelings of overwhelm would increase. When my patients described how stressed and overwhelmed they felt, I was reminded of that specific feeling that I felt 30 years ago lying in a bed near the brink of death. I’ve witnessed so many people I work with, as well as family and friends, describe these exact feelings of overwhelm and fear to varying degrees. It made me recall a study by Harvard psychologists that found that nearly 47% of our waking hours are spent lost in thought. In other words, our minds are wandering almost half the time and we aren’t thinking about what is actually happening. What’s more, they discovered that all of this time lost in thought is making us unhappy.

We all know what being overwhelmed feels like, and we might know why we are overwhelmed, so let’s move on to talk about some concrete things that can help you overcome this feeling.

Tip 1: Identify what thoughts make you feel so overwhelmed.

Oftentimes, we feel so overwhelmed and so stuck in our own heads that we need to pause and ask ourselves why we feel this way. Yesterday, I met Sonia (name has been changed) who was about to have a panic attack and asked to have an emergency meeting. “I feel like my mind is going crazy and I can’t stop it...all I want and all I can think about is being skinny. Nothing else matters. Even therapy is a burden and If I continue therapy I will get fat... crying screaming anger...” Pause. Sonia often describes for me the conflict that she has in her head and the constant war that she struggles with. 

When I asked Sonia to describe what it was that she was thinking, she struggled a bit but then was able to come up with the following: “When I say that I feel fat and bad and sad, what I am truly feeling is unworthy.” Once you are able to identify what lies beneath the initial feeling, you can think about an action that can help change the feeling. If you can actually write down your thoughts and feelings, you will reduce your anxiety by at least 10%. Go ahead... give it a try!

Tip 2: NLP

Neurolinguistic programming has several important principles but I’m only going to mention the following: When you learn to communicate better, the world will respond to you better.

In extremely simple terms, this type of technique helps you to be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication in order to reduce the feeling of overwhelm and anxiety. After all, what we tell ourselves greatly affects our feelings. In a way, NLP combines elements of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Let’s take for example the following thought: “Only when I am skinny will I be happy and in order to be skinny I must skip meals and purge and exercise...” Imagine this is what you told yourself about 50 times a day. How would you feel? What if instead you said the following: “I would like to maintain a healthier weight and I will do my best to eat as healthily as possible and exercise in order to feel better...”  

Tip 3: Think about 5 things that you love to do.

This tip is simple yet practical. All you have to do when you feel overwhelmed is ask yourself to write down or name five things that make you happy or smile. Take a minute to think about five things... What did you come up with? Say those things out loud. Did you feel better? 

Sonia, for instance, case up with the following:

1. Swimming

2. Spending time with family

3. Spending time with friends I love and care about

4. Expressing my true thoughts and feelings—being vulnerable

5. Reading about different cultures 

Tip 4: Use grounding techniques.

There are various grounding techniques that can help you reduce the feeling of overwhelm and calm your mind down. My favorite are the following included in session 10 in my KARMA Coaching Method:

Tip 5: Acknowledge that feelings come and go. 

My favorite way to think about my feelings so that I have the ability to acknowledge them and let them go is by giving them the color. The color red I like to give to the extreme type of anxiety and feeling of overwhelm, and the color white is at the other side of the thermometer where I feel calm and relaxed. Imagine a thermometer that has a little ball that can roll from one end to the other. Use your imagination to drag the ball slowly between “I’m feeling very overwhelmed” and “I’m feeling very calm.” How cool would that be if you could actually drag the ball from one end to the other and help regulate your emotion using your mind? Feel free to take a minute and try to do that. It might help if you close your eyes and imagine a time when you felt very overwhelmed. Then the ball would be on the color red. Then imagine a time when you felt more relaxed and calm and then slowly move the ball toward the color blue in your mind.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but it's important to understand that you can control those thoughts and you don't have to suffer this way on your own. These five tips are easy things you can try on your own and I encourage you to do so. The KARMA Method I use with my clients involves many sessions and important steps (all of which I went through to overcome my eating disorder). What I really want each of you to know is that you don't have to do anything on your own. There are many tools and techniques that can equip you to deal with whatever problem is overwhelming your thoughts.



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