Everyone feels emotions. Happiness, sadness, excitement, fear, nervousness – these are all emotions that tell us something about what’s going on, either in our body, our mind, or in the world around us. But while emotions are normal, they are something we have to learn how to interpret, understand and manage. A lot of this work is done in childhood, but even as adults we can come across new feelings and emotions, or feel overwhelmed by the emotions inside us, and this can be really difficult to navigate. And this is where you might need a little support.
What Are Emotions?
If we asked you to define what an emotion is, you would probably struggle. It’s something we all know and experience, but it’s very difficult to put into words. Thankfully, some other people have! The official definition of emotions is defined in psychology as:
‘A complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour.’
In other words, they are feelings you have that result in changes to the way you think and behave. There are a lot of theories around emotions and where they come from, which can be grouped into three main categories: physiological, neurological and cognitive.
Physiological theories suggest that responses within the body itself are responsible for emotions.
Neurological theories propose that activity within the brain leads to emotional responses.
Cognitive theories argue that thoughts and other mental activity play an essential role in forming emotions.
In all likelihood, it’s a mix of all three that create the emotions we feel. That’s why sometimes your emotions feel entirely in your head, while at other times you can feel your emotion as a physical thing – a few common examples being heartbreak and grief, which are often described as causing a crushing feeling in your chest.
What Does Emotional Overwhelm Feel Like?
Almost every human being on the planet experiences a wide range of emotions. It’s completely normal to feel things, both positive and negative. In fact, it’s so normal that people who don’t experience emotions are actually classified as having a disorder – Alexithymia.
But sometimes, our emotions can feel like a lot. Or we think we shouldn’t feel a certain way about something. We might even feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of what we’re feeling. This is known as emotional overwhelm, and it’s exactly what it sounds like – when you are overwhelmed by your emotions and what’s going on around you. It can be a little difficult to identify emotional overwhelm, but you may be experiencing it if:
- You have a disproportionately big reaction to seemingly insignificant situations. For example, you might have a panic attack when you can’t find your keys
- You feel physically ill or fatigued, without knowing why
- You have trouble focusing or completing even simple tasks
- You find yourself withdrawing from friends and family
- You don’t know what emotion you feel, because you’re feeling a lot of them at once
- Your emotions colour your perception of the world – for example, intense grief might mean you feel sad even during pleasant and happy occasions
What Causes Emotional Overwhelm
There are all sorts of things that can cause you to feel emotionally overwhelmed, and the reality is the reasons can be different for everyone. Sometimes, emotional overload stems from a single, big stressor, like the death of a loved one or a traumatic accident. These are really common causes for emotional overwhelm that, unfortunately, most people will experience in their lifetime.
However, emotional overwhelm can be caused by a lot of smaller stresses as well. For example, missing your bus might not seem like a particularly big deal. But if you’ve had trouble sleeping for days, you fought with your spouse that morning and you forgot to eat breakfast because of it, suddenly a missed bus becomes the ‘last straw’ of the day.
It also depends on how well you can manage your own emotions – which everyone does differently, and to different levels. For example, some people might find it easier to manage their feelings of anger, but don’t know how to handle extreme sadness or fear. If you’re feeling a lot of what you struggle to manage, or have conflicting feelings, emotional overwhelm can happen all too easily. And if you struggle with your mental health, it can be even more challenging to keep your emotions level. Some mental health conditions even have emotional overwhelm as a symptom!
Coping With Emotions
Firstly, it’s important to remember that, just as everyone in the world feels emotions, everyone has also probably felt emotional overwhelm at some point in their life. You’re not alone in your feelings, and it’s OK to feel emotionally overwhelmed. It’s OK not to be OK, and accepting this is an important first step. It allows you to give yourself the space and permission to work through your emotions, feel them and learn to manage them.
For some people, just being able to retreat from their responsibilities and get a little mental space can do the world of good and resent their emotional balance. But sometimes things need a little more active management. Getting support during these times of stress can help you work through the issues causing you to feel overwhelmed. Counselling, coaching and hypnotherapy are often good ways to tackle emotional overwhelm, as they will support you in:
- Understanding the roots of your overwhelming emotions
- Exploring ways to self-soothe during difficult times, like meditation
- Address recurring stressors that contribute to overwhelm, like marital or workplace conflict
- Learn coping skills to deal with any stressors that can’t be prevented
- Treat any mental health issues that may be contributing to overwhelm
Once you’re feeling more level in yourself, it’s important to look back and reflect on what caused you to feel emotionally overwhelmed in the first place. After all, it’s not a pleasant thing to experience, and so you want to be able to avoid ending up there again. Understanding your triggers
Emotions are a completely normal and healthy thing. But we can all feel overwhelmed by them at times. And if those times are happening more and more frequently, there are some things you can do to level out your emotions and manage things moving forward. Our Melp app has lots of tools available to help you manage and process your emotions and feelings over overwhelm and is free to download from the app store.