Coping with Emotional Overwhelm During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a stressful time of year. People rush about trying to make the perfect Christmas for themselves and their loved ones when there is no such thing.


The result is that folks get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, leading to increased substance abuse, child abuse, and misery, especially if you have complex post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative identity disorder.


But what if the overwhelm was a clinical problem? This article shall examine emotional overwhelm and how it affects those who experience it, especially at Christmas.


What is Emotional Overwhelm?




Emotional overwhelm describes a state of being upset by intense emotion that is hard to handle and manage. Emotional overwhelm makes you think and behave irrationally. It can also keep you from doing daily tasks.


There are many causes of emotional overwhelm, such as stress, a traumatic life experience, and the holidays. Emotional overwhelm happens when the intensity of one’s feelings overcomes their ability to manage them.


Some of the common signs you are experiencing emotional overwhelm are:


  • Feeling physically ill
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Disproportionately reacting to insignificant situations
  • Withdrawal from families and friends
  • Trouble focusing
  • Trouble completing minor tasks
  • Emotions color how you perceive the world around you
  • Feeling intense grief or sadness on joyous occasions


People with emotional overwhelm are overcome by negative emotions such as fear, anger, and guilt, with some people experiencing the opposite, mania and euphoria instead.



The Causes and Consequences of Emotional Overwhelm



The causes of emotional overwhelm center on being a survivor of trauma. This trauma might be from a single stressor in adulthood or being a survivor of childhood trauma.


Some conditions, such as depression or anxiety, include emotional overwhelm as a symptom, and in this case, therapy is recommended. Some of your emotions may overwhelm you more than others. Perhaps you can tolerate anger, but cannot control your fear and sadness.


Emotional overwhelm has consequences, such as difficulty performing self-care and behaviors that lower your ability to reason. These behaviors make it harder to cope with emotional overwhelm.


The presence of unexplained fatigue or pain contributes to the increase of negative emotions, causing your body to have a lowered response to infection and other illnesses.


Another consequence of emotional overwhelm is the impact on your social life because you may find yourself lashing out at others or avoiding speaking to them. These behaviors strain your relationships with the surrounding people at home and work.


Treatment and Coping with Emotional Overwhelm

Coping with emotional overwhelm means finding and using strategies to help when you are overwrought. The coping skills listed below may help, but you must do them for them to help you, which is difficult when you are feeling overwhelmed.


Change how you look at things. Stop, recognize, and accept how you are feeling and what you are facing. Don’t ruminate anymore, trying to stop the emotional rollercoaster. Try taking a break from the situation to change your outlook, like taking a long walk or practicing deep breathing. Be proactive and find resources that can help you solve the problem you are facing. Ask for help when you need it to help you recalibrate your perspective.


Confront your assumptions. When overwhelmed, you tend to think irrationally and allow fear to guide you instead of thinking logically. It is helpful to realize and understand illogical assumptions and say them aloud so you can hear how illogical they are. Write them down in a journal so you can see in black and white how the illogical thoughts you have been thinking are so you can change them.


Use mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is helpful when experiencing emotional overwhelm as they connect you to yourself and your surroundings. Use mindfulness and grounding techniques to help you if you dissociate. Grounding techniques can also be a great help when you are emotionally overwhelmed.


Actively seek support. When feeling emotionally overwhelmed, reach out to your social support systems, such as family members, friends, colleagues, or anyone who can give you advice and support to gain a different perspective. Remember to accept help from those around you and not try to face your emotional overwhelm by yourself. If your family of origin causes you emotional overwhelm, it is okay to look for support in your family of choice.


Consider seeing a therapist. If you are overwhelmed chronically, consider talking to a mental health professional who will help you develop the skills you need to understand why you feel so overwhelmed. Therapy will help you increase your confidence level through positive reinforcement, and the more competent you are at practicing your new skills, the more you will feel confident. This new confidence will help you overwhelm your emotional distress.


Human Basic Needs



All humans have basic needs that must be met to be healthy.


The first need you face is a coherent set of beliefs that helps you understand what life is about. In other words, you need to feel you have an answer to why you are here. Security is another basic human need, i.e., an environment where you can live a life without fear.


Attention is a human need that includes experiencing quality contact with others and yourself. This time with others and the self is the center of feeling valued. You might experience affection or validation, or it can be an acknowledgment of your purpose and existence.


Intimacy is vital to your existence. Being disconnected from others brings loneliness, isolation, and dissociation. Being attuned to your connection with others will allow you to know you are not alone and deepen emotional intimacy, leading to a deeper understanding that we are acceptable as we are.


Having a sense of self is crucial to our knowing our self-concepts of who we are so we can know our unique role within society. Sense of self also means knowing your status within a group and knowing you are vital to the group.


If any of the above (there are more) needs are not met, you will feel anxious, angry, lonely, and overwhelmed.


Defeating Emotional Overwhelm at Christmas Time



You may find Christmas decorations and carols playing on the radio are highly stressful and bring back memories of traumatic events you have experienced. With all the hubbub, it is easy to lose yourself and experience emotional overwhelm. You might feel so bad at Christmas that you wish just to hide away and wait for it to pass.


Zoe Clements, a therapist, explains five key steps in what she calls the NEEDS method to help you overcome anxiety and emotional overwhelm at Christmas.


The five key steps include the following explanation of the NEEDS acronym.


Needs are essential, and you must consider what you need during the Christmas holiday. You have needs for safety, emotional and physical health, and anything else that will help you overcome overwhelm.


Evaluating and prioritizing your needs above the expectations of yourself and others is paramount. Decide how and with whom you want to spend your Christmas holiday using evaluation as your guide.


Expressing your needs to others in advance is critical to helping you have a better holiday. Some things you need to express are saying what you need and remembering that ‘no’ is a complete sentence.


Defy the urge to feel guilty for not wanting to go to your family’s home for dinner or doing what everyone else expects. You have the right to refuse; use it.


Stick to your decisions. Do not change your no to a yes because of how others pressure you. You are not evil for not wanting to subject yourself to highly triggering Christmas dinner or other festivities. Others haven’t the right to pressure you using guilt as a weapon, either.


The NEEDS method is a unique and powerful way to aid you when you feel uncomfortable or pressured at Christmas.


Ending Our Time Together


Emotional overwhelm is when you feel so overwhelmed by life that you cannot bring yourself to act. You are so exhausted, worried, afraid, having your mind play tricks on you, and you become paralyzed.


Christmas is a time of year that many who have complex post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions suffer the most. However, the suffering they experience isn’t coming from outside influences, but from their unmet needs and wrong thinking.


Recognizing your feelings and emotions during the holidays and examining your motives and how you rationalize away your emotions, you can begin the process of overcoming emotional overwhelm.


There is hope for those who experience emotional overwhelm any time of year and from any cause. Getting and remaining grounded in the now is vital to keeping your feet firmly planted in today and stopping the ruminations of what has gone before.


“Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.” – Stephen Chbosky




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