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A three step strategy to help manage when overwhelm hits.

Updated: May 19, 2023

Overwhelm, that feeling where everything just feels too much, when you struggle to focus on what's important or to make decisions. Overwhelm often accompanies anxiety. It can be experienced by anxious teens and their parents in response to managing this situation. You can also experience it in everyday life for various reasons. Here I share a simple three step strategy to use in these moments.

New Year can be an overwhelming time for one reason or another. With this in mind, I wanted to share a simple strategy that I teach my clients to use when things become overwhelming but you still need to get on and do things (I also use it myself). You may find this helpful to use when you or your teen become overwhelmed.

On my first morning back to work retuning to a full inbox, needing to schedule and confirm appointment, having a number reports and letters to write (some of which were approaching their deadline) ......... It hit, that moment when everything feels too much, I started panicking, flitting from one thing to another not being able to focus on anything well. I was overwhelmed and anxious (they often go hand in hand).

Three simple steps to managing overwhelm:

Step 1: Notice and become aware of the overwhelm: consider –

  • how does it feel in my body? (stressed, tense, sick feelings, wobbly…)

  • what thoughts and worries are around? (I can’t do this, this can’t happen, it’s too much….)

  • how is it making me feel? (frustrated, scared, angry…)

  • what is it making me want to do (avoid, run away, shout, scream, cry…)

Step 2: Take a moment to pause: To do this try:

  • Noticing how you can feel your feet on the floor

  • If you are sitting down, notice how you can feel your bum on the seat

  • Take a couple of deep breaths in and out – notice the breath coming in and out of your body

Step 3: Narrow your focus:

  • Consider what is the next small thing or small step you need to take in this moment

  • Tell yourself all you need to focus and do is that next small step

  • Repeat the process considering each time what the next small step is and focus on taking that step – literally take one small step at a time.

  • If thoughts or worries pop up, just notice then and focus back on the next small step you need to take.

What might this look like in reality? I have heard many people talk about getting very worried and overwhelmed as soon as they wake up in the morning. This tends to be noticed (step 1) as lots of tension in the body, a sick feeling the tummy and lots and lots of thoughts and worries about the days and weeks ahead, and feeling you just can’t manage it all.

Pausing (step 2) would be noticing how your body feels lying in the bed, noticing how heavy the covers are, how soft they are, breathing in and out slowly noticing your chest going up and down.

Narrowing of focus (step 3) might go something like this…

  • all I need to do is get out of bed.

  • Once this is done…… all I need to do is get to the bathroom

  • Once this is done…… all I need to do is use the loo

  • Once this is done……all I need to do is clean my teeth

  • Once this is done……all I need to do is go downstairs

  • Carry on with each small step saying …..all I need to do now is …..the next small thing.

  • All the time if thoughts and worries pop up just notice they are there and then focus back on the next small thing.

If you or your teen try this approach of noticing, pausing and narrowing focus I would love to hear how you get on. You can email me direct on

Dr Beck x



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