Emotionally Overwhelmed: Signs, Causes, and Coping Strategies

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In the ever-changing landscape of our lives, we often encounter moments when the weight of emotions becomes too much to bear. Being emotionally overwhelmed is a state that transcends ordinary stress, engulfing us in a sea of thoughts and feelings and leaving us feeling mentally paralyzed and emotionally drained. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 34% of adults reported overwhelming amounts of stress in 2022, with 76% reporting that they have experienced stress-related health issues. This showcases the ever-present need for mental health services and education on managing emotions.

In this article, we will discuss what it means to be emotionally overwhelmed, the signs of being emotionally overwhelmed, the causes of feelings these emotions, and how to cope with the stress.

woman putting her head down on desk

What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Overwhelmed?

Being emotionally overwhelmed goes beyond simple stress. It refers to a state where your thoughts and emotions become entirely engulfed by life’s numerous challenges. This feeling can be so intense that it hampers your ability to be productive, leaving you feeling mentally frozen or emotionally paralyzed. To truly understand this complex phenomenon, we must explore its different aspects and consider how it impacts individuals both mentally and physically. Some of these aspects include the following:

  • Emotional Intensity: Being emotionally overwhelmed involves experiencing a powerful surge of emotions ranging from anxiety and fear to sadness and frustration. These emotions can arise from a single situation or a combination of smaller situations that build up over time. The intensity of these emotions can feel overwhelming, making individuals feel like they are drowning in their feelings.
  • Cognitive Damage: While in a state of emotional overwhelm, the mind becomes cluttered with racing negative thoughts, worries, and anxieties. Being cognitively overloaded can hinder decision-making and problem-solving skills, leading to feeling stuck or left in a state of emotional distress.
  • Physical Symptoms: The impact of emotional overwhelm is not limited to the mind; it also affects the body. People experiencing emotional overwhelm may notice physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, and sleep problems. These physical manifestations can further exacerbate the feeling of being unable to cope with the overwhelming thoughts.
  • Relationship Strain: This feeling of being emotionally overwhelmed can also strain relationships with others. Individuals who are emotionally overwhelmed may withdraw from social interactions, become irritable, or find communicating challenging. This strain on relationships can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, further compounding the emotional burden.

Learn More: Breaking Negative Thinking & Self-Talk

Signs You Are Emotionally Overwhelmed

Recognizing the signs that you are emotionally overwhelmed is essential in identifying when you are experiencing a mental health issue and may need assistance. Awareness of the signs and knowing what to look out for allows individuals to take proactive steps in their mental well-being and manage stressful situations effectively. Some of the most common signs that an individual is emotionally overwhelmed include:

  • Intense mood swings
  • Persistent anxiety or worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Social isolation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Negative feelings
  • Increased use of substances
woman with her face in her hands feeling emotionally overwhelmed

Why Do You Feel Emotionally Overwhelmed?

Feeling emotionally overwhelmed can stem from various situations or triggers. These can include an unexpected event, struggling with mental health issues, or a precipitating stressor. If multiple triggers happen simultaneously, it can lead to an intense surge of negative emotions, causing individuals to become emotionally overwhelmed. Understanding the types of triggers that can cause this can help individuals recognize potential sources of overwhelm. While these triggers can look different for everyone, some common ones may include:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Stressful work environment
  • Conflicts in personal relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Physical health problems
  • Environmental or political issues
  • Significant life changes such as moving, starting a new job, or becoming a parent

To address being emotionally overwhelmed effectively, it’s crucial to identify these triggers in our lives and develop healthy coping strategies. Building a support network, seeking professional help, practicing mindfulness, and incorporating self-care routines can be beneficial in managing overwhelming emotions and fostering resilience.

Continue Reading: What Are Feelings and Why Do They Matter?

Understanding the Impact of Emotions

As we navigate life’s challenges, understanding the root causes of emotions empowers us to take proactive steps towards emotional well-being and a healthier, more balanced life. Emotions are a fundamental aspect of being human, and they play a significant role in shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with others.

Emotions impact our decision-making process, with positive emotions leading to optimistic choices and negative emotions causing caution. They also affect our physical and mental well-being; joy reduces stress, while fear triggers the stress response. They form the basis of interpersonal connections, fostering empathy and meaningful relationships. Emotions influence our cognitive abilities, affecting memory and problem-solving skills. Learning emotional regulation allows us to express emotions healthily, fostering emotional well-being and resilience.

woman experiencing all of the emotions

Finding the Right Coping Strategies

Coping with emotional overwhelm is crucial for maintaining emotional well-being and preventing burnout. When you find yourself emotionally overwhelmed, implementing effective coping strategies can help you navigate challenging emotions and regain a sense of balance. Finding the right coping strategy for you may seem complicated. However, it is important to note that everyone is different and will require different coping strategies. Some coping strategies you may want to try may include:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, can help individuals stay present and grounded during overwhelming moments. By focusing on your breath or the sensations in your body, individuals can bring themselves back to the present and alleviate some stress.
  • Seek Social Support: Reaching out to friends, family members, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences is a great way to alleviate some stress and receive support. Talking with others who can empathize and offer understanding can be incredibly comforting during emotionally overwhelming times.
  • Set Boundaries: In today’s society, we often take on more than we can handle, leading to unnecessary stress. Learning how to say ‘no’ when needed and prioritizing self-care can set healthy boundaries for what you may be able to handle emotionally.
  • Limit Exposure to Triggers: If possible, limit exposure to any triggers that may contribute to feelings of being emotionally overwhelmed. This may involve reducing time spent on social media, setting aside news reading, or avoiding triggers that are seen above.
  • Seek Professional Help: If the above coping strategies do not seem like they are working, it may be time to seek professional help. Reaching out to a therapist or mental health professional may seem challenging, but professional support can provide valuable insights and individualized strategies for managing overwhelming emotions.

Read More: What To Do If You’re Mentally Checked Out

Emotion Focused Therapy Available at Launch Centers

When struggling with feeling emotionally overwhelmed, individuals may turn to many options to relieve their stress. However, one of the best options is to seek out professional help. This can be reaching out to a counselor or a licensed therapist from a mental health clinic.

At Launch Centers, located in Los Angeles, CA, we provide comprehensive, holistic, and evidence-based mental health and addiction treatment services to young adults. Our programs focus on many different types of mental health issues, but we are proud to offer emotion-focused therapy to our clients dealing with emotional stress.

If you or a loved one are suffering from mental health conditions or drug addiction, contact us today to learn more about our programs.

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

staff member drug alcohol treatment los angeles

Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

treatment team los angeles ca

Eric Chaghouri, MD


chloe kruskol los angeles rehab team

Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

Our Testimonials

Clients and Professionals Share Their Experience

  • HO

    Launch provided care on multiple levels. The highly skilled therapist coupled with the focus on purpose and long-term goals refocused my recovery from what previous treatment centers pushed onto me. I went from believing that I needed years of treatment to believing I needed years happiness and success. I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I came to realize all the things my addiction and mental illness had taken from me, and I used my future goals as a reason to never pick up again. Due to the passion that Launch instilled in me, I have pursued my future with excitement and dedication.

  • Nicole

    This place changed my life! I’ve had good laughs, good cries, shared a lot of heart to heart moments and grew a loving bond with everyone at Launch Centers. I will always be grateful!!! I really do miss it time to time. I highly recommend Launch Centers!

  • Joey

    The staff and clinicians are amazing and make you feel right at home from the second you walk in the door. I would absolutely recommend this place for a family member or close friend.

  • Ben

    This treatment facility has changed my life. I have always struggled with my mental health and this young adult program provided me with the necessary skills to launch to adulthood. I commend anyone who struggles with mental health or substance use (which was not me) to try this program out. It will change your life.

  • Conner

    Launch Centers Treatment was a major help to me. The therapists and staff genuinely cared about me and truly helped me to make a plan for my future. My personal therapists helped me to discover where some of my deeper issues came from. All of the staff worked tirelessly with me to talk through my issues, or just about life, and offered realistic solutions to my current problems and situation. All of the staff went above and beyond and advocated relentlessly for me. I am very grateful that I was able to have such a wonderful experience with Launch.

  • Adam

    In no uncertain terms Launch Centers changed my life. The staff at Launch are professional, knowledgable and relatable. They keep the format diverse and interesting which kept me engaged in the process. The greatest thing we can do in life is seek to improve ourselves. Launch gave me a skill set I consider to be invaluable in the journey of becoming the best version of myself. I would implore anybody considering Launch to step outside their comfort zone and go, you will not regret it.


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