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Managing Overwhelm

Managing “Overwhelm”

Feelings of being overwhelmed and overstimulated can be very distressing
and make it almost impossible to think and respond appropriately. For those
who are frightened of strong emotional and physiological reactions it can also
be frightening. People with a sensitive nervous system (also known as “limbic
arousal”) are more prone to states of feeling overwhelmed, as well as a greater
propensity towards panic attacks when highly anxious, and often feel upset by
the lack of control of themselves at those times. There are steps to take to help
onesself calm down and become more clear-minded:

     Step 1:  BREATHE. You have heard this quite often by now in coping
with panic/anxiety attacks. We tend to hold our breath or
momentarily stop breathing without realizing it when we are
in an overstimulated or overwhelmed state. Inhale through your
nose as deeply as comfortable and then blow it out through either
your nose or mouth. Make sure the exhale is a bit longer than the
inhalation. Do this at least 5 times.

     Step 2:  If possible, get something cool to drink, preferably water (and not
alcohol).  Some studies have shown the cool water helps increase
alertness in your brain.

      Step 3:  Be aware of which parts of your body feel tense, tight, or tingly.
Stretch, move, wiggle, shake, or breathe into that part of your
body to get more comfortable physically.

Step 4:  Pay attention to the voice in your head, your self-talk. Chances
are good you are scaring yourself with thoughts about not being
able to think. Change your self-talk to help calm yourself, reminding
yourself you will soon be calmer and clearer.

Step 5:  If you find you are still unable to think clearly or your mind feels
blank remind yourself of other times when you felt this way and
you got through it.

Step 6: Don’t beat yourself up. Remember, you are just human. Give your-
self credit for your efforts and move on.


The Los Angeles Times had an article about fainting in its Health section earlier
this month. The article states: “In certain sensitive individuals, exposure to
shocking stimuli (pain, emotional distress, anxiety and fear) results in
activation of the vagal nerve’s action, which causes a reduction in heart
rate and blood pressure. ………As a result, the brain does not receive
enough blood flow and the person can faint.”
The fear of fainting is common to many people with panic or high anxiety states
although it very rarely happens. The shallow breathing during an anxiety state
results in a lightheadedness that almost never causes fainting. The physiological
mechanism described in the Times is not the same as the sympathetic nervous
system arousal that is part of a panic attack.  On television a panic attack is
sometimes portrayed by the person fainting. Remember Tony Soprano?
However, this is rarely the case.

Blood Test for Panic Disorder

It’s coming!  A blood test for panic disorder, as well as other mental health
conditions. For more information, go to 
(In case you have difficulty with this link, it is from their March 11 news.) 

Recommended Reading

I am often asked how one can maintain their progress as well as continue
the process of personal growth after therapy. Here is a book that addresses
just that concern: “Life After Psychotherapy” by Todd Davison, M.D. The book
has practical strategies as well as novel ideas.

Parting Words

From Albert Einstein: “The problems of the world cannot be solved on the
same level of thinking that made the problems.”