Bearded man closes eyes in a meditation bubble while red swirls of stress surround him.

Hit the Pause Button When You are Feeling Overwhelmed

We have all been there, a moment when you feel totally overwhelmed and like you need a reset. But, what makes a person feel overwhelmed? Usually, overwhelming times in life are caused by events you measure in either quantity (i.e. there is a lot coming at you and a lot of demands) or quality (i.e. a big life moment and you know life won’t be the same moving forward). For something like a diabetes diagnosis, this can be both.

Feeling overwhelmed with type 2 diabetes

Diabetes can be overwhelming for many reasons, it’s complex, it’s self-managed, and it’s a chronic condition. That’s why it’s important to slow down, take it one step at a time, be compassionate with yourself in learning, find what works for you, and start where you are.

When feeling overwhelmed, you may find that you become frozen, feeling paralyzed, and don’t know where to start. Or you may be in mindless action mode, trying to stay busy to feel like you are doing something, but your actions aren't very effective or you are focusing on the wrong thing.

Tips to cope when feeling overwhelmed

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, hit the pause button. You may need to stop for a moment and gather yourself. In doing so, try some of these strategies to help increase your sense of confidence and self-control.

Practice deep breathing

Deep breathing will help you to calm your circuits and shift your nervous system influence from the “fight or flight” (sympathetic) to “rest and digest” (parasympathetic). Try taking six deep, rhythmic breaths. On the inhale think to yourself “I am breathing in positivity,” and, on the exhale “I am breathing out negativity.” Use other words in this inner dialogue for each breath, such as “confidence”, “calmness,” “strength,” etc.

Take a mental health day

I’m a big fan of this one because, while we are all familiar with what it means to take a sick day, less know the power of a mental health day. This is important because if your emotions and mental health are struggling, chances are that your physical health, blood sugar, and healthy behaviors are struggling too. On this day, take the day off of work or skip your usual daily activities to nurture yourself and do the things that recharge you. Remember, diabetes is a chronic condition, it’s not going anywhere. If you need to take a step back and breathe for a moment, do that… as long as you are stepping back in.


Bad days and tough times in life, we’ve all had them... and you have survived every single one of them! Reflect on these times and identify how you got through those. Identify lessons learned, and use strategies that have worked specifically for you in the past. Reflecting on trials and triumphs can help you to recognize your own strength; you may find yourself thinking, “I survived that, so I can definitely get through this!”

Use positive affirmations or develop a personal mantra

These help to draw us back into a positive and confident frame of mind when feeling overwhelmed causes us to do the opposite (that’s okay, we are wired that way). They give us a sense of refreshment and a boost of energy and confidence. A positive affirmation may be a quote or saying, such as: “The same boiling water that softens the potato boils the egg. It’s not the circumstances, it’s what you’re made of” (unknown). I like to print and post some of these in my environment (office, refrigerator, etc.) as an external reminder. I also find it helpful to use a dry erase marker to change it up regularly and write different ones on my bathroom mirror.

A personal mantra is a short sentence or phrase that is personally meaningful to you. It is beneficial to repeat this to yourself in times when you may be struggling or need that boost. One I see often in the diabetes arena is “I am greater than the highs and lows.” But it could also be something like: “I am strong and powerful!” or “I’ve got this!”

Strike a power pose

So this one is kind of fun and silly, and also has a bit of controversy. A “power pose” is where you stand with your hands on your hips, with shoulders back and chest forward (i.e. a superhero stance). Several years ago, there was a study published and a popular TedTalk which asserts that holding a power pose can alter your psychological state and influence hormones, specifically increase testosterone (hormone related to feelings of dominance) and decrease cortisol (hormone related to stress).1 Since then, there have been several follow-up studies with mixed results.2

Regardless of the research, I am a fan of this one and have seen many people experience favorable outcomes. In reality, what do you have to lose by standing in a superhero pose for two minutes while breathing deeply and thinking of positive affirmations? If this helps you to feel less overwhelmed and more confident, I’m all for it!

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