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November 12, 2019
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

The Unexamined Crisis

November 12, 2019 14:23 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

In mental health circles there is discussion and research on depression and anxiety.  For years, clinicians have attempted to find ways to alleviate thought disorders in a way that doesn’t bring include noxious side effects. 

There is another human problem that is, seldom, addressed directly.  Extensive segments of the population, worldwide, struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed does not hold its own position in the diagnostic and statistical manuals. 

Overwhelmed is often tucked into the diagnosis of adjustment disorder.  Yet, it is found to be the underlying trigger behind many of the conventional issues that contribute to impaired mental health.

Even the most self-confident individual can feel overcome by competing bids for attention.  Whether it is the ever-present cell phone, notebook, watch or other device, most people must learn to endure interruptions in the daily routine.  Some can split their concentration with ease. For others, it is painful.

Not so long ago, if a person was not home, those wishing to make contact had to leave a message or hope the callee will be home soon.  There was no such thing as robo calls.  Certainly there were fewer scams when grifters had to work harder to get the public’s attention.  Social media is one source of the assumption of availability that has entered lives in the 21st century.

Feeling overwhelmed is not a comforting experience.  It doesn’t feel good.  The stress that accompanies feeling flustered ( and that’s putting it mildly) contributes to depression, anxiety, and self-doubt.  A continual belief that one is not enough lays the groundwork for addiction, procrastination, and inefficiency.

The inner critic, or monkey chatter, that insults and condemns one on a continual basis is stirred up and exacerbates the negativity felt by those who feel useless.

For individuals who are especially vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed the sad and extreme outcome may be suicide.  Why try when convinced that the only possible outcome will be negative? The authentic self becomes buried in an effort to live up to inner and outer expectations.  If an individual loses his/her sense of authenticity, then life, itself becomes a charade.

Learn more about yourself.  You may achieve this through books, seminars and psychotherapy.  If you know that you begin to panic when rushed, try to plan your time. Although it won’t be foolproof, this habit will eliminate some of the stress.

Others who are overwhelmed may be trying (even if unconsciously) to get you to take on some of that overload for them.  If you can do that with serenity, great. If not, don’t take on the burden.  If you spend the greater portions of your life rescuing, you will fall by the wayside.  Take stock of what you believe life is for.  

Thought processes can swerve to thinking that is out of control.  When unconstrained, a panic attack may ensue. Some of these onslaughts occur without apparent cues.  Some are a result of a particular trigger, like claustrophobia.  Others set in after the disturbing event.  The sufferer may experience chest pains and an intense need to escape.

The suggestion is not to completely withdraw from social media (that is part of a black and white point of view that ignores balance).  The helpful tool in this, as well as other life situations, is to set boundaries.  If one has an emergency on-call situation, then boundaries must be relaxed.  But, in everyday life, it is not necessary to reply immediately to every demand for attention that comes along.

It is important to prioritize.  What must be dealt with immediately and what can wait?  Suppose that a hospital, good friend, or telemarketer simultaneously attempt to reach you.  This is an easy one.  It is not necessary to respond, at all, to the telemarketer.  If a wonderful opportunity is ignored, you can be sure you will receive another call.  The hospital:  is it a demand for payment or a test result?  Your friend:  is it chit chat or does he/she need a ride to the aforementioned hospital? 

It is essential, if one seeks peace of mind, to understand the validity of each plea.  If you are, as Malcolm Caldwell posits in his book Blink, able to easily discern the importance of each bid for attention, this is probably already a part of your repertoire.  If making a decision is difficult, it’s not a bad idea to become familiar with your personal values.  Is this life or death? The demand of an individual who is needy?  A case where timing is everything?  The decision is yours.  It’s a good idea to claim or reclaim your inner power.

It’s sort of like the truism that not every question must be answered.  Just because someone wants to know something doesn’t mean you are required to tell all.  Example:  “I’m not going to discuss that” will do the job.  No need to fish around for explanations.  If you commit to yourself that “no” means “no” then the rest of the world has no choice but to accept your word.

Enough sleep and proper nutrition play a role in all of this.  When stressed the body produces extra cortisol, the hormone that carries apprehension. Stores of serotonin (the chemical that helps us feel better) become reduced.  It is always a good idea to get a medical checkup.  From a holistic point of view, the mind and body work together.

Sometimes when an individual’s thoughts go a little haywire, it can feel like life is collapsing.  Your temporary state of mind is not your entire life.  As a rule it’s never as bad as you think it is.  If it is that frightening, you will need your wits about you so that you will be able to turn in a different direction if necessary.

Admitted or not, everyone has times when they are at a loss.  Anyone who claims that has never happened is in deep denial.  Reminding oneself of other challenges that have been conquered can bolster your confidence that you already have the tools to handle anything.

As someone (don’t remember who) said:  There’s a difference between a lapse, a relapse and a collapse.






Dubois-Maas, J(01/11/19) “How to Manage When We Feel Overwhelmed”


Farrell, P “Feeling Overwhelmed by Social Media? Me Too”


Michaelson, P.(06/20/12) “The Origins of Feeling Overwhelmed”


Michaelson, P (12/12/11)”The Hidden Causes of Clinical Depression”


Star, K. (09/09/19). “Signs and Treatments of Panic Attack”


Wang, S.Y. (07/19/18) “What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed”

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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