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3 breathing techniques for when you’re feeling overwhelmed

Life can be a rollercoaster ride, can't it? We have those incredible highs and challenging lows that truly shape who we are. But let's be real: there are moments when it feels like all those responsibilities, stress, and emotions crash over us like a tidal wave, leaving us struggling to keep our heads above water.

During these overwhelming times, it's totally normal for our mental health to take a bit of a hit. The constant demands of modern life can push us to our limits, affecting not only our productivity but also our relationships and overall sense of happiness.

Breathing is a powerful tool to navigate those stormy seas of overwhelm, find balance, and regain control. Let's dive in together and discover how we can ride those overwhelming waves with a sense of calm and peace.

Illustration of someone seen from their window, smiling as they put their headphones on

Why do I feel overwhelmed?

First things first: understanding your overwhelm is the first step toward overcoming it. Feeling overwhelmed is a common human experience, often arising from a combination of internal and external factors.

It is the sensation of being emotionally or mentally overloaded, unable to cope with the demands and challenges present in life.

Symptoms of overwhelm

Symptoms of overwhelm can manifest both physically and emotionally. Physical signs may include:

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Digestive issues

  • Difficulty sleeping

Emotionally, individuals may experience irritability, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, and an inability to focus.

It is essential to recognize overwhelm as a symptom rather than a condition in itself. It often indicates that a person's coping mechanisms are being stretched beyond their capacity. Ignoring these signals can lead to burnout and other more serious mental health struggles.

Causes of overwhelm

Why do we get overwhelmed? Several key factors can contribute to this state of overwhelm.


One of the primary causes of overwhelm is excessive stress. When we face multiple stressors simultaneously, such as deadlines, financial concerns, relationship issues, and personal responsibilities, it can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things to manage.

Lack of boundaries

Some people struggle to set healthy boundaries, in their personal, academic, and professional lives. This can result in taking on too much or feeling obligated to say "yes" to everything, leaving little time for self-care and relaxation.


Striving for perfection in every aspect of life can be emotionally draining. The constant need to meet impossibly high standards can lead to a perpetual state of stress and overwhelm.

Information overload

In the digital age, we are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information every day. Keeping up with news, social media, and school or work-related data can leave people feeling mentally exhausted.

Lack of support

A lack of social support or feeling isolated can intensify feelings of overwhelm. Having a strong support network is crucial for sharing burdens and seeking help during challenging times.

Fear of failure

The fear of failure or making mistakes can paralyze individuals, preventing them from taking action and leading to a sense of stagnation and overwhelm.

Breathing techniques to overcome the overwhelm

Is everything getting a little bit too much? Practicing mindfulness techniques can help manage stress and stay present in the moment. Here are a few breathing techniques to restore a sense of calm and grounding when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Deep belly breaths

Deep belly breaths can help you navigate the storm when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Follow these steps to let go of the tension:

  • Find a comfortable seated position or lie down on your back.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.

  • Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, feeling your belly expand like a balloon. Make sure your chest remains relatively still.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely.

  • Repeat this deep belly breathing for a few minutes, concentrating on the rise and fall of your abdomen.

4-7-8 breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is named after its three easy steps, making it easier to remember when you need it.

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of eight.

  • This cycle represents one breath. Now, inhale again and repeat the process for at least four breaths.

  • As you practice, you can gradually increase the number of breath cycles to deepen the relaxation effect.

Box breathing

One of our favorites at TalkLife! Box breathing is a powerful breathing technique that can help reduce stress, improve focus, and enhance your overall wellbeing.

  • Sit up straight or find a comfortable position.

  • Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of four.

  • Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth to a count of four.

  • Hold your breath again for a count of four before starting the next breath cycle.

  • Repeat this box breathing pattern for several rounds, focusing on the rhythm of your breath.

The key to these breathing techniques is to breathe slowly and intentionally, allowing yourself to let go of tension and stress with each exhale. By focusing on your breath, you can anchor yourself in the present moment, easing feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to try one of these techniques. With regular practice, you'll likely notice a positive impact on your overall wellbeing and your ability to handle stressful situations more calmly.


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