What You Need When You’re Overwhelmed, Based On Your Enneagram Type

What do you do when you feel like the walls are closing in on you and you can barely breathe because you’re so stressed? If you’re like me, your natural tendency is to revert to things that aren’t necessarily going to help you in the long run; maybe stress eating or overworking. Each of us has a natural place we go to when we’re stressed, but it isn’t usually the best place. It takes a lot more work for us to breathe and then work on the healthiest way to manage stress. But in the end, giving ourselves the right tools to succeed will help us get the true consolation we really need.

In today’s article, we’re looking at what the Enneagram types tend to do when they’re overwhelmed, and then what they should do instead to get out from under chronic overwhelm or stress. Let’s get started!

Get an in-depth look at what the Enneagram types do when they're overwhelmed, and what they should do instead (integration). #Enneagram #Personality

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What You Need When You’re Overwhelmed, Based On Your Enneagram Type

Estimated reading time: 21 minutes

Enneagram 1 and Overwhelm

The first thing Ones tend to do when stress starts to rise is to manage the situation. They try to control all the moving pieces so that they can get everything right and resolve the tension that they’re feeling. But if this doesn’t fix anything, or if stress continues for a long time, they can disintegrate to 4. This looks like the One suddenly withdrawing, becoming melancholy, self-absorbed, and feeling misunderstood and abandoned by the world. During this time they may have fantasies about a rescuer who could show up and save them from their pain; someone who would finally understand them and see all the hard work they’re doing and take some of the burden off their shoulders.

What Ones Should Do Instead:

How Enneagram 1s can Integrate to 7

There’s nothing wrong with getting emotional or feeling melancholy or taking a few moments to mourn the situation you’re in. But what Ones really should do when they’re overwhelmed is try to integrate some aspects of the Seven into their lives. Take some deep breaths, clench and unclench your hands, jaw, shoulders, legs, any body part you can. Jump around and loosen up your limbs. Once you’ve got your body in a better space, then think about some ways you can relax and loosen up emotionally. It may feel counterintuitive to your hard-working One nature, but this part is so important. Ones who integrate 7 into their lives tend to be more happy, accepting, content, and reasonable.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Seven Into Your Life:

·       Watch a movie or TV show that makes you laugh

·       Listen to music and dance like nobody’s watching

·       Go outside and take a walk in nature

·       Talk to a friend and make a plan to do something fun and leisurely (mini golf, a movie, ice cream, impromptu road trip!)

·       Play a game that gets you out of your head and into a happier headspace

·       Write down the things that are making you stressed, then put them aside while you do something fun. This way you know you can come back to them later so you don’t have to mentally hold on to them while you do something else.

Find out more about Ones: The Enneagram 1 Child

Enneagram 2 and Overwhelm

The first thing Twos tend to do when they experience stress is try to find acknowledgement and consolation from others. They feel more insecure than usual and want to feel connected, loved, and needed in their relationships. But if stress continues or leads to a point of complete overwhelm, they can flip a switch and become more like unhealthy Eights. When this happens, they become more passive-aggressive, irritable, angry, and reactive. They push themselves harder, fight against anyone trying to step in and manage the situation, and start to feel rage towards people who they feel have taken them for granted. In these moments they may blow up and vent all their anger at the very people they’ve worked so hard to take care of and be there for. Many times this can feel like an uncontrollable, out of body experience.

“When immature Twos are hurt, they can suddenly stop being sweet and pliant and show their claws. At such moments they are capable of doing frightful injury to the very person they supposedly love above all.”Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

What Twos Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 2s integrating to 4

The first thing that every Enneagram type should do is try to get their body in a better space. When stress is flooding your body, it’s really difficult to switch to a healthier headspace until you’re physically feeling better. Try some of these deep breathing techniques to calm your body and reduce the flow of stress. Stretch your muscles. Shake everything out.

Once you’ve gotten your body to a better place, think about ways you can integrate some of the Four Enneatype into your life. As a Two you naturally focus on others, sometimes abandoning yourself to what other people need. Overwhelm can be a red flag, warning you to get back in touch with yourself. When a Two integrates Four into their lives, they become more self-aware, satisfied, wise, and insightful. You see, Twos tend to repress their own needs and project them onto others. This can look like not giving themselves rest when they’re sick, but making sure that others get plenty of rest. When Twos integrate Four, they must face themselves and their needs and their true motivations. This is the best way to find true consolation for the Two.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Four Into Your Life:

·       Write down your true feelings in a journal (don’t imagine anyone else reading it)

·       Get some paints, pencils, or other various art supplies and try drawing your feelings or the events surrounding them

·       Listen to music that resonates with how you feel

·       Write a list of things that make you happy and aren’t reliant on anyone else

·       Watch a movie you like, without worrying about what other people want to watch

·       Remind yourself that your feelings are just as important as anyone else’s

·       Let yourself have a good cry

·       After some reflection, talk to someone honestly about what your needs are and ask for help.

Discover more about Twos: 10 Signs of an Unhealthy Enneagram 2

Enneagram 3 and Overwhelm

The first thing Threes do when they experience stress is try to take charge and manage everything. This can look like trying to find practical solutions, working on projects until they’re finished even if those projects are enormous, or finding shortcuts to solve the issues without really examining them in depth. They always want to appear competent, like they’ve got it all together and are totally unflappable. Because of this, they often refuse to ask for help and may avoid admitting they’re struggling at all. Or they may suddenly quit relationships or commitments that they feel are not helping them or are bringing down their level of success.

If stress continues or mounts to a point of complete overwhelm, Threes may disintegrate to Nine. Suddenly they flip a switch, wear out, and become withdrawn, disinterested, and listless. Rather than appearing full of life and energy like they usually do, they seem empty, tired, and unmotivated. They may let their appearance deteriorate, spend hours watching television or scrolling on their phones, or withdraw from society in a state of exhaustion.

What Threes Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 3s integrating to 6

As with all the Enneagram types, it’s crucial for Threes to get in touch with their body and physically relax and find peace. This can look like deep breathing, practicing progressive muscle relaxation, or jumping around, dancing, and loosening up.

Once the Three is feeling less stressed physically, they need to take some time to integrate some healthy Six attributes into their lives. Most average Threes are very image focused; they work themselves hard to achieve the appearance of competence and achievement. Once Threes stop worrying so much about their appearance and take more time to focus on causes bigger than themselves, they start to find lasting peace and satisfaction. For the Six, this means being part of a community and sticking with it through thick and thin. Becoming more focused on bigger values, principles, and causes that are beyond themselves allows Threes to fully embody their strengths of resilience, productivity, and innovation. This can take the tremendous burden of achievement and looking successful off their shoulders and help them feel connected, meaningful, and truly content.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Six Into Your Life:

·       Make a list of things that matter to you that are completely unrelated to your performance or appearance

·       Remind yourself of who is there for you, regardless of how well you perform or what you look like

·       Talk to someone who truly cares about you, and be honest about what you’re going through

·       Volunteer for a cause that matters to you and gives you a sense of meaning and purpose

·       Talk to a counselor who can help you sort out underlying emotions

·       Take a walk in nature and think about how you are connected to nature and how all life is interdependent

·       Think of the values that lie beyond yourself and find small, meaningful ways to contribute to those values

Find out more about Threes: Escaping the Trap of Vanity for Enneagram Threes

Enneagram 4 and Overwhelm

When Fours first begin to experience stress, they tend to withdraw and retreat into melancholy. They may try to process their feelings, get in touch with what’s motivating them or find a creative avenue to express their feelings. If stress continues or reaches a state of complete overwhelm, they may disintegrate to Two. When this happens they become more focused on how others feel about them, making a good impression, being needed, confiding in others, feeling connected and loved. This can devolve into becoming needy, giving up their own independence, or trying to help and make themselves indispensable, but in a way that is neither helpful to them or the other person.

What Fours Should Do Instead:

Enneagram Fours integrating to 1

First, Fours should focus on calming their body and reducing the rush of stress that’s probably causing a lot of tension and jitters all on its own. This means practicing deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or going for a quick jog or a walk outside to help the body find its own calm.

Once the Four is feeling physically in a better space, it’s time to start integrating some aspects of the healthy One into their lives. This means focusing on values, diligence, and objectivity, rather than getting overwhelmed with a wave of negative feelings that could lead them into a pit of despair or immobility.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate One Into Your Life:

  • Remember that feelings are not always facts. Think about things that could be impacting your mood (tiredness, hunger, weather, discomfort) and try to resolve those if you can.
  • Think about the values that matter to you. How could you contribute to those, in a small way, today? How can you stay focused on those values when other things in your life feel out of control?
  • Organize one part of your living space in a way that makes sense for your goals. For example, if you’re trying to write a book, create a peaceful writing space that would naturally encourage you to sit down and type.
  • Create healthy routines to keep you feeling better. For example, think of three simple things you can do in the morning that will start you off on the right foot (e.g., drinking a glass of water, making your bed, doing some stretches).

Find out more about the Four: The Enneagram 4 Individualist

Enneagram 5 and Overwhelm

When Fives first begin to experience stress, they tend to pull away, withdraw, and look for information that will ease their anxiety. They might obsess over a particular subject of interest, try troubleshooting, or cancel responsibilities and commitments. Essentially they tell the world to “leave me alone.”

If stress continues and leads to a state of overwhelm, Fives may disintegrate to Seven. When this happens, they become more nihilistic, scattered, focused on diversion, pleasure, and pointless entertainment. They may make unusually rash decisions for their type, behaving in a way that is more impulsive and short-sighted than usual.

What Fives Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 5s integrating to 8

Instead of falling into a scattered, restless, flurry of activity and pleasure-seeking, the Five should try to integrate some healthy qualities of the Eight. But I’m jumping ahead too far here. As always, try to get your body into a less-charged state. Take some deep breaths, clench and unclench your fists, shake out your limbs and try to release some of the pent-up tension harboring itself in your joints, lungs, muscles, even your stomach. Punch a pillow if you need to! If you’re over-stimulated, take some time to be alone and breathe. But don’t become a hermit! Part of getting true consolation means embracing life and not just hiding away.

Next, integrate some Eight qualities into your life. As a Five you tend to be cautious, slow to action, perfectionistic, obsessed with learning to the point where the “doing” never gets started. When you integrate some Eight qualities, you convert your knowledge to something useful, begin to trust your instincts, and develop more confidence in your abilities.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Eight Into Your Life:

  • Get outside and move your body. This could mean exercising, doing a sport, going for a hike, rock climbing. Just choose something that gets you more in tune with your body and your physical instincts.
  • Begin something you’ve been thinking about starting for a long time, but have been putting off.
  • Start and finish one small project
  • Assert your needs. Instead of isolating in your stress, let someone who cares know how you’re feeling and ask for help.
  • Let the world in. Go out in nature and be present with what’s happening around you, spend time with someone you care about and simply be present with them.

Find out more about Fives: The Enneagram 5 – The Investigator

Enneagram 6 and Overwhelm

When Sixes first experience stress, they try to find solutions and ways out. Their minds tend to buzz with worst-case scenarios and foresee problems they can circumvent. They tend to become defensive, anxious, and evasive, consumed by trying to fix whatever is causing them stress as quickly as possible.

If stress continues or reaches the point of overwhelm, Sixes disintegrate to Three. Suddenly they become more image-conscious; they often direct their pent-up frustration at others or blame them for issues they are dealing with. During these phases they may seem more harsh, dishonest, or competitive. An aura of cockiness may come over them or they may simply seem unusually concerned with how others view them.

What Sixes Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 6s integrating to 9

Sixes, when overwhelmed, should initially focus on stabilizing their body and breathing to mitigate the rush of anxiety. Techniques such as mindful breathing can be profoundly calming. Progressive muscle relaxation, where tension is consciously released from one area of the body at a time, starting from the toes and moving up, can also be effective. Additionally, grounding exercises that connect Sixes with the present moment, such as noticing five things they can see, four they can touch, three they can hear, two they can smell, and one they can taste, help in diverting the mind from spiraling thoughts.

Once a state of physical calm is achieved, it’s time to integrate some Nine qualities into their lives. Sixes often have a flurry of thoughts and ideas constantly humming in their mind, forcing them into a state of charged stress. When they integrate some Nine qualities, they become calmer, more at peace with what is happening, and more open-minded and capable of dealing with what life is handing them.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Nine Into Your Life:

  • Spend time in nature, allowing the inherent peace of the environment to soothe and ground you.
  • Try out some meditation or yoga to encourage a state of mindfulness and presence.
  • Find ways to practice acceptance. This can mean connecting with your inner child and having more understanding that many things are out of your control. It can also mean reminding yourself that you’ve overcome unexpected struggles in the past or that struggle and hardship are part of life, but so is beauty and joy.
  • Consider talking to a therapist about what you’re going through and getting some advice or consolation.
  • Cultivate some quiet, relaxed time for yourself. Read a book, take a hot bath, spend time in the garden, or just take a much-needed rest.
  • Check in with your body to see if there’s anything that’s further amplifying your stress, like hunger, fatigue, or discomfort.

Find out more about the Six: The Enneagram 6 – The Loyalist

Enneagram 7 and Overwhelm

When Sevens first begin to experience stress, they tend to look for distractions and diversions to keep the hardship off their mind. This could mean playing a video game, calling a friend, going out for a drive, or any other number of things.

If stress continues or reaches a point of overwhelm, Sevens may disintegrate to One. Suddenly they feel deeply conscious of all the things that are wrong in their lives. They see everyone else’s errors, flaws in their environment, and feel a deep need to regain a sense of control. During these moments, they may become suddenly aware of things about themselves or others that are “wrong” or “evil” and need to be fixed. In a frenzy, they’ll try to “fix” everything right away, but often make things worse instead.

What Sevens Should Do Instead:

Enneagram Sevens integrating to Five

Instead of becoming hyper-fixated on flaws and errors, Ones should integrate some of the Five enneatype. The natural state of the Seven is to be in constant motion, exploring, discovering, going on adventures, and trying new things. They like to stay busy and distracted rather than looking inward. When Sevens integrate Five, they “voyage within” and actually look at the truth of what’s going on for them. This means facing their anxieties and trying to find real knowledge about who they are and what they need. It means taking a break from the outside world and allowing themselves to contemplate and learn.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Five Into Your Life:

  • When you feel mentally scattered, stressed, and overwhelmed by errors, take some time to breathe. Breathing exercises can help reduce tension, ground you in your body, and promote a calmer, more relaxed state.
  • Take time to truly process your feelings. How do your feelings manifest in your body? Can you name them? What do you think those feelings are trying to tell you? After fully processing the feeling, let it go, but retain the lesson you learned from it.
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness. If this is new to you, try guided meditations or using an app like Headspace or Calm.
  • Turn off your phone, computer, and television and allow yourself to rest in the silence. Notice how you feel (probably impatient). Consider what’s underneath the impatience and write it down.
  • Think of a subject that is meaningful to you and take some time to research it in-depth, even when you start feeling a little bored.

Find out more about Sevens: The Enneagram 7 – The Enthusiast

Enneagram 8 and Overwhelm

When Eights first begin to experience stress, they tend to take action, look for ways to control the situation, and confront the problem head-on. Sometimes they are more angry, confrontational, or blunt during this stage.

If stress continues or reaches a point of overwhelm, Eights tend to disintegrate to Five. They withdraw, become sullen, brooding, and distant. Often they feel overwhelmed by fears of losing power or control of the situation. During these times, they might feel overwhelmed by a sense of uncharacteristic powerlessness, which they find new and alarming. They may frantically try to learn information to try to feel competent enough, but often they feel strangely incompetent instead.

What Eights Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 8s integrating to 2

To find true consolation when overwhelmed, it’s crucial for Eights to work at bringing some of the Two into their lives. Instead of just looking for power, Eights need to look for healing, connection, and restoration. The Eight naturally wants to have autonomy, control, and independence from others. But sometimes they back themselves into a corner with this, fighting for power over their own territory and becoming more and more detached from others and their courageous nature. By integrating Two, they become more truly brave, benevolent, protective, and productive.

Ways to Reduce Stress and Integrate Two Into Your Life:

  • Do some breathwork to calm your body. Breathe deep, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Focus on your breath and let go of any tension or tightness in your body.
  • Instead of pushing away feelings of vulnerability and neediness, allow yourself to feel them. Lean into them and see what they are trying to tell you about yourself and others.
  • You’re not the kind of person who sits around moping, but sometimes it’s important to actually feel your grief, losses, and hurts. Try to explore why those feelings are there and write them down in a journal.
  • Find someone you trust and open up to them about what you’re going through. Even if it feels odd or uncomfortable, don’t assume that others don’t want to hear about you. The people who have your back WANT to have your back and be someone you can turn to.
  • Examine how frequently you expect people to betray or reject you. Many Eights, unknowingly, send out signals of rejection to others simply because they are so sure others will reject or betray them. Take a moment to reach out to someone you care about and affirm their importance to you.
  • Practice stretching and muscle relaxation exercises to release tension and stress in your body.

Enneagram 9 and Overwhelm

When Nines begin to feel overwhelmed, their initial response is often to retreat into their inner sanctum of peace and tranquility, hoping the stress will simply dissolve if ignored. This escapism typically manifests in procrastination, numbing out with activities like binge-watching TV, or overindulging in comfort food. The more they try to avoid conflict and stress, the more passive-aggressive and disconnected from reality they become.

What Nines Should Do Instead:

Enneagram 9s integrating to 3

Nines should strive to integrate some aspects of the Three enneatype into their lives. By doing so, they can learn to assert themselves and their desires more effectively, while also discovering the value in setting and achieving goals. This doesn’t mean Nines have to sacrifice their peace-loving nature; rather, it encourages them to find a balance between action and inaction, ensuring they’re actively participating in their own lives.

One of my closest family members is a Nine, and she often numbs herself to herself. She “vacates the premises” when she’s stressed, denies having needs, and tries to focus on some inner peace she’s cultivated. The problem with this is that it keeps her in the stressful or painful situation longer when solutions are there to be grasped. For Nines, it’s crucial to practice awakening the self, speaking up for yourself, and becoming more assertive and present to who you are and why your needs matter.

Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Integrate Three Into Your Life:

  • Set small, achievable goals each day. Celebrate your victories, no matter how minor they may seem, to build confidence and momentum.
  • Engage in physical activity to help reconnect with your body and break through the numbness. This can be as simple as a daily walk or a yoga session.
  • Speak up about your needs and opinions more regularly, even if it’s just with friends and family at first. Practice asserting yourself in safe spaces.
  • Invest time in a hobby or skill that interests you, one that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
  • Reflect on your accomplishments and how they’ve positively impacted your life and the lives of others. Recognize that your actions do make a difference.

Find out more about Nines: The Enneagram Nine Child

What Do You Think?

How do you cope with overwhelm? Have you found certain strategies more effective than others based on your Enneagram type? Please share your thoughts, insights, and questions in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (Bantam Books, 1999)

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert (Crossroad Publishing, 2014)

The Enneagram, Relationships and Intimacy by David Daniels, M.D. and Suzanne Dione (David Daniels, M.D., 2018)

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  1. As a 9 that has been struggling with avoidance by procrastinating, binge-watching TV, and overindulging in comfort food. I had decided that yoga was the most important first step for me to prepare my mind and body. But I just couldn’t start. Then, yesterday while I was thinking I should start yoga, my yoga mat fell off the chair (where it’s been for many months) and now your article.
    Thankyou…time for action…I will keep you posted.

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