Mindfulness to Cope with Distress or Feeling Overwhelmed

By Dr. Paul Kelly, Updated September 3, 2023


Mindfulness to Cope with Distress or Feeling Overwhelmed

Any of us can feel distressed or overwhelmed at times.  Maybe a relationship ends, or you lose a job, or get diagnosed with a serious illness.  Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by memories, feelings, or thoughts.

Here are some mindfulness meditation techniques that can help when you feel overwhelmed or distressed. These techniques will probably not turn the storm completely off. But, they can help you to stabilize your feelings more quickly.

These Guided Meditations are Antidotes to Emotional Distress

1. First Antidote: Focus on External Sensations:

Redirect your attention to external sensations.  Meditate with your eyes open rather than closed.  Keep your attention focused on external sensations such as listening, looking, or tasting.  Observe the world around you.  While you do this, say to yourself “even though I have fear in me, I know that I am safe where I am right now.”  (You can modify the words to suit your particular situation.)  Saying words like this will remind your brain that it is okay to relax.  It can take up to 20 minutes to shift out of intense fear by practising these kinds of techniques but, if you continue to practice, you will be able to get yourself settled down and grounded.  Try the following meditations: Simply Listening or Walking Meditation, Anchoring in the Body.

2. Second Antidote: Touch Points Meditation followed by Mountain Meditation:

With this meditation you visualize yourself as becoming a mountain that is grounded, settled, and stable no matter what winds, rains, or storms may pass over it.  I suggest that you first do Touch Points meditation and then listen to the guided instruction for Mountain Meditation.  Touch Points meditation helps you to connect with your body so you can feel stable and centred.  After getting settled a bit you can start Mountain Meditation.  It will help you to further develop a sense of stability and equanimity.  Start with Touch Points meditation and then listen to Mountain Meditation.

3. Third Antidote: Anchor at the Bottom of Stormy Sea Meditation.

Anchor at the Bottom of Stormy Sea Meditation  meditation guides you to be able to find a secure safe resting place even in the midst of an emotional storm.  Many people find it to be very helpful.

Final Thoughts

Each of these meditation antidotes can be helpful when you are faced with an emotional crisis.  If you are curious, I suggest that you listen to the guided instructions for each meditation several times over the course of a couple weeks.  It might take a bit of time for you to develop your ability to focus and concentrate.  When your mind wanders away from the instructions, just refocus on the instructions.  If you practice in this way, you can strengthen your ability to concentrate. Then you can better stay with meditation even if you are feeling distressed.

These mindfulness techniques will help you change your relationship to emotional distress.  It is a bit like the difference between saying “I am afraid” or saying “I have fear in me and I am okay.”  The ability to witness your emotions and thoughts without getting caught up in them can save you from a lot of unnecessary suffering.  I wish you good luck with these techniques and I hope that they will be helpful for you.

The meditations are from the book, Sitting Together.  I have given copies of it to many of the therapists who work with me at The Mindfulness Clinic.  Some of our patients have also read it and found it helpful.