... helping you go from where you are today
to where you want to go in your life and work ...

Paula Widmer, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
and Life Coach

P.O. Box 711
Wilton, ME 04294
Phone/Fax: (207) 645-9897

Tips for Getting through Overwhelm

This page has been created to provide support and strategies for my counseling and coaching clients during times when I’m not accessible. Drop-in visitors to this website who are not clients are welcome to use this page too.

So, Life is very dark right now, or you’re going through a really bad spell, or you’re about to just LOSE it? Here are some things to try...

First, always: Belly Breathing

Take a big breath down into your STOMACH (not your chest). As you slowly exhale, allow your shoulders to drop heavily. Repeat at a slow pace till you feel calmer.

Melting Butter Technique

Put as much air-space between your ears and your shoulders as you can (i.e., drop your shoulders). Then picture a stick of cold, hard, refrigerated butter...picture putting it in a microwave oven and hitting the START button. Imagine watching the butter go all soft and mooshy and liquid-y as it heats up. Now, imagine that your shoulders are made of that cold, hard butter, then hit the imaginary START button...and imagine your shoulders slowly melting like the butter till they’re all warm and squishy...and relaxed!

Do the same with your neck. Then with your scalp!

Anxiety-Buster Breath

Take as big a breath into your stomach as you can; then huff in several more small breaths using your chest/upper lungs, till you feel like you’ll burst. Hold for a count of 3. Exhale slowly, until your stomach feels pulled in against your spine. (Keep your shoulders down and relaxed while you’re doing this.)

Repeat a couple more times.

The Wet Dog Shake

Stand up and shake yourself vigorously all over like a wet dog, including your face and especially your lips, which you allow to hang open. Make a sound at the same time that indicates that you’re shaking yourself!


Take a deep breath into your stomach, and as you begin to exhale slowly, vocalize in a medium tone a prolonged strong Oooooooooo...etc till you run out of air. The more the sound vibrates in your skull and chest, the better. Repeat.

The Serenity Prayer

Say the Serenity Prayer (with or without the word God according to your preference) and, as you say it, think about what the words are advising you to do.

Serenity Prayer

GOD, grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change the
things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.

Radical Acceptance*

Radical Acceptance is when you recognize that you cannot change a situation or a person, and you mentally embrace it/him/her AS IS, even though it’s awful and not fair and you don’t like it one bit. If necessary, you grieve that it can’t be otherwise than it is.

Identify if there is some aspect of the situation that you CAN change, and make an action plan about it.

* from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) model

Now Moment

Stop what you’re doing; pull your attention to one of your 5 physical senses: sight, hearing, touch or sensation, taste, smell. Look around for, say, the color red; notice all the places and objects around you that contain red. Or, close your eyes; listen carefully for all the sounds around you, including the small sounds beneath the obvious sounds.

Or, notice the weight of your body against the chair seat and back, if you’re sitting, of your arm against the [whatever], your tongue against the roof of your mouth, your heart beating in your chest, your stomach moving. Etc.

This can help with intrusive thoughts.


Affirmations are positive statements that you say to yourself about yourself that feature what is strong or effective or positive about you, or that you would LIKE to be strong, effective or positive about you.

When you notice that you’re thinking negative or down-putting thoughts about yourself (e.g., I always screw things up. I’m no good at this. This probably won’t work. I’m fat.), create a simple statement that says what you would RATHER be, or do. Use the word "I" or "my", use the present tense, and avoid the words "not" or "never". (E.g., I try hard to do things well and often succeed. I am improving how well I do this each time that I do it. I am effective at finding solutions to problems. I am loved and enjoyed by numerous people.)

Every time you say the positive statement, you deepen the associated neural pathway in your brain; every time you say the negative statement, you deepen THAT neural pathway. The choice is yours!

This technique can be helpful in decreasing depression.

Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT), or Tapping

[See the EFT Tapping link.]


Once you’ve used one of the self-calming strategies described above, decide on an activity to pursue immediately that will keep your mind occupied in a healthy way, such as playing Solitaire, taking a Now Moment walk, washing the dishes, shampooing your dog, etc.

Morning Pages*

Each morning upon awakening, write 3 pages in a notebook about how you’re feeling that morning, and what you intend to do about it.

* from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

A Letter to & from Paula

When you’re feeling low or overwhelmed, write me a letter telling me the whole story about what has you upset and distressed. Describe your feelings about the situation. Ask me questions about the situation. Set it aside.

Then start a new letter as if I were replying to your original letter. You who are familiar with me know intuitively what I’m likely to say to you about your situation...so pretend that you are me writing back to you about what you presented. What do you think I would suggest or recommend?

Save these letters to show me when I’m available again, and we’ll review them together.

Support Groups

Go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) , Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), or other 12-Step Program meeting or website. Go to a scheduled support group that focuses on a theme relevant to your experience. Seek others who are "recovering" from something that you’ve struggled with. Above all, get out of isolation...and stick with the WINNERS, not the losers.


© 2006, M. Paula Widmer, Shine! Counseling and Life Coaching
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