What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed?

Kristen Neff defined self-compassion to be “when we suffer, caring for ourselves as we would care for someone we truly love”.

So often we care about others and it shows just how amazing humanity can be when we get it right! But how often do you take the time to consciously look after yourself, particularly when you’re feeling overwhelmed or swamped with life?

Feeling overwhelmed can manifest itself in different ways, such as: constantly having low energy levels throughout the day, not being able to think rationally, withdrawing from friends and family and finding it difficult to focus on and complete simple tasks

In particular we tend to blame ourselves when we are overwhelmed. We become self-critical and often force ourselves to work harder, even leading towards burnout. One way of stopping this negative cycle is by using Self-compassion.

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something that you don’t like about yourself. Rather than just ignoring your pain and what you’re going through, you stop to tell yourself “This is really difficult right now” so how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Self compassion can be broken down into the following three aspects:

  • Mindfulness
  • a sense of common humanity
  • kindness.


Self-compassion begins with Mindfulness. Here we simply notice that we are struggling. We are not trying to change anything, we’re just acknowledging to ourselves what is happening in the present moment and what we find difficult.

A Common Sense of Humanity

A common sense of humanity is recognizing that as humans, it is part of life to find things difficult. Understanding that it’s not just a ‘you’ problem is important, taking into consideration that there are other people who feel the same way.


The final aspect of self-compassion is kindness. Kindness is being able to actively comfort, respect and soothe ourselves. We can show ourselves kindness through our tone and touch. When it comes to tone and touch, it differs from person to person and finding what works for you is essential to showing yourself that consistent and much needed compassion.

Think about how you would speak to a child who had just fallen and hurt themselves.

Can you picture the tone that you would use? Does it feature a lot of soft sounds? Have you tried to take this same tone with your thoughts and words when speaking to and about yourself? Changing our tone shows that extra feeling of care and gentleness that is needed especially when trying to get up from something that has gone wrong for us, or when we feel overwhelmed.

We also show compassion and care towards other people through touch. Have you ever thought that touch can have very similar if not the same benefits when done to ourselves? Touch can be done in many different ways, some examples are doing things like:

  • Crossing your arms to give yourself a hug
  • cupping your hands over your heart
  • placing your hand or hands on your belly

These are all ways you can be kind to yourself when you need it the most.

What’s important is that you find out what’s most soothing for you and what makes you feel most comfortable, cared for and loved.

To conclude, I want to remind you to be kind to yourself at all times, but especially when you feel like things are going wrong or not working out. Feeling overwhelmed happens to the best of us and it’s important to remember that, with some self-compassion, you can get through it. By learning to treat ourselves with kindness we can become more effective in coping with life’s challenges.

If you don’t know where to begin, try changing your tone and touch, these can offer some of the simplest and most powerful ways to look after and care for yourself.

From now on try softening the tone that you use in your own thoughts or finding a way to offer yourself a soothing and supportive touch.

…until next time!


Share this:

Keith Horan

Keith Horan

Keith has been teaching Mindfulness for over 20 years in the West of Ireland where he lives with his wife and three children.
He is trained both in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and in the practices of Modern Secular Mindfulness. He has an MSc in Mindfulness-based Approaches from Bangor University in North Wales.
Keith teaches in a gentle and encouraging way and helps people to find balance and more self-acceptance in their lives.

Keep reading