What to Do When Emotionally Overwhelmed

10 Ways to Calm Yourself When Flooded

October 5, 2022 |

Overwhelmed Man

Ever had a conversation and then suddenly, out of nowhere, you become emotionally overwhelmed? Maybe this has happened with a boss, co-workers, or someone in your family. Maybe they say something you perceive as hurtful or threatening. Possibly they remind you of someone who mistreated you in the past. Do you know what triggered you? Do they know?

In these emotionally flooding situations, your brain’s emotional center, called the amygdala, overrides your pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. I call this “brain-lock”, where my brain becomes useless, except for fleeing the situation quickly or fighting whatever seems threatening.

When Under “Brain-Lock”

  • My heart pounds and breathing gets faster
  • My problem-solving abilities stink
  • I take almost everything personally
  • My social skills dwindle
  • I’m much less creative
  • I see everything as negative
  • My sense of humor is non-existent
  • I pretty much suck to be around

You should have an idea of the people and situations that trigger your “brain-lock” the most. Be prepared to take a time out and handle things differently. Here’s how to take a break and re-engage your pre-frontal cortex. You don’t need much time as each activity can be engaging quickly in just in a 2 to 15 minute chunk of time. 

12 Ways to Calm Yourself Down

1. Expand Your Time Horizon

Focus less on today and more on your future. Think about your future vision and your goals. Write your top 3 goals for the next 12 months on an index card. Pull it out whenever you’re flooded.

2. Organize

Take 15 minutes to organize your pictures on your computer, your files in DropBox, your iPhone, your desk, a room, or a bookshelf.

3. Read

Escape for a few minutes in an interesting book. Flip through a magazine on a favorite hobby.

4. Think About a Hobby

Focus for a few minutes mentally on something you enjoy. Maybe you can play golf in your mind, go fishing, go on a walk at the park, play card games, or dream about cooking a great meal.

5. Assert Yourself

Sometimes it’s best to simply state how you feel and what you want. Here’s a downloadable worksheet that can help. 



6. Get Active Physically

Exercise helps prevent “brain-lock” and engages your pre-frontal cortex once “brain-lock” has set in. A walk for 10 minutes might be all you need.

7. Listen

Listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music can do the trick. Be careful to choose uplifting content, not content that fuels negative emotions.

8. How To Videos

YouTube can do wonders. Watch positive and uplifting content. Funny content can be inspiring as well. I’m a big fan of Ted Talks for this purpose.

9. Journal

Journaling your thoughts, ideas, emotions, and more is nearly always great for calming down a flooded mind. Writing requires moving away from the emotional part of our brains.

10. Gratitude

Thinking about and writing down what you’re grateful for can work wonders. 

11. Breath

Slow your breathing and put space between you and what is overwhelming you. Practice pushing your belly out and filling with air. Find a technique that works for you. 10 deep breaths can do wonders for an anxious mind. Calm and Headspace are meditation my of my clients have found valuable. 

12. Live in the Now

Focus on “being where your feet are” for the time being. I’m sure this sounds strange AND it basically means to stop focusing on what happened in the past and any concern about the future chose to enjoy what you are doing now. 

13. Do Something Different

Do the opposite of what you would normally do in this situation. For example, if you would normally be critical of someone in the situation then take that same energy and encourage someone. If you would normally avoid people when triggered then use that energy to engage people instead. 


Try a few of these and see which ones help the most. A time out for just a few minutes can give you confidence to stay engaged in tough situations. Avoidance only makes anxiety worse. Try something different and have a plan. Keep practicing and find out what will calm your mind down the most.

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