5 More Vital Ways to Navigate Overwhelm
Feeling overwhelmed can feel awful. It can feel like you’re underwater, weights attached to your ankles. It can feel like you’re trapped under a boulder. You can’t move. You can’t do anything.
You feel helpless and paralyzed.
Of course, feelings of overwhelm reside on a spectrum. Sometimes, as described above, you feel incredibly bad. And sometimes, you’re slightly stressed out, wondering how the heck you’re going to get through your to-do list, or an especially hectic week.
Either way, thankfully, there are helpful steps you can take—steps that are small and totally doable.
For starters, consider where your feelings reside on that stressed-out spectrum. Because identifying and acknowledging where you’re at will help you figure out the best ways to move forward and care for yourself.
Yesterday, I shared five strategies that can help us reduce our overwhelm—including taking a break; trying a self-compassionate gesture; setting realistic expectations; and asking the question, “What can I do right now to get me to a place of calm and ease?” Below are five more helpful ideas to try out.
Address your thoughts. “Many times, the overwhelm is mental: We get so focused on the situation or the ‘things’ we have going on, and our thoughts can spin out of control,” said Sara Robinson, MA, a mental skills coach and author of the upcoming book Self-Care for Moms. For instance, you might be thinking: “This is too much,” “I can’t handle it,” “I’m so stressed.”
Instead, try shifting to self-talk that empowers you, Robinson said, such as: “I can handle this,” “I’ve gotten through busy times before,” “I know I can handle pressure,” “Just keep swimming,” “Breathe,” “I’ve handled more than this before,” “I will get this done and don’t need to make it harder on myself,” or “One thing at a time.”
Shifting our thoughts can change how we feel, which helps to “reduce the feelings of overwhelm, and help you move forward to tackle the situation,” Robinson said.
Combine movement with the great outdoors. “When we are inside, the problems may seem magnified as if they are ricocheting off the walls,” said art therapist Sara Roizen, ATR-BC, LCAT. For her, “physical spaciousness of the outdoors, paired with the physical exercise” helps to diminish the overwhelmed feelings.
What physical activities do you love to do? Can you bring them outside? Maybe you can dance on your porch. Maybe you can take a walk around your favorite park. Maybe you can practice yoga on the beach. (Of course, what you do will depend on your weather.)
Connect to your creativity. “Tapping into our creative sides through writing, making music, or creating art can soothe our frayed nerves, re-center us, and provide us with new insight where we were previously stuck,” Roizen said.
For instance, she said, you could draw a picture of what your overwhelm looks like, and ask it some questions: “What do you need? Do you have any wisdom to share? What would you look like if you had more space and understanding?”
Roizen also suggested composing one piece of music to reflect the overwhelm, and another piece that “serves as a salve for the first piece.”
When tapping into your creativity for stress relief, the key is to use whatever method and medium resonate with you.
Unplug yourself. “I find that the near constant distractions and interruptions via texts, email, and social media directly increase feelings of being overwhelmed,” Roizen said. But we might not even realize it, because this kind of technology has become such an automatic part of our lives. She cited this quote from Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments…including you.”
Rozien suggested not carrying our phones as much as possible; calling a friend (instead of texting) and sharing why you’re overwhelmed and what you might need support with; or, if possible, meeting friends for coffee. “Remembering that we are not alone in these feelings can be healing in and of itself.”
Look for longer-term solutions. If you find yourself feeling overburdened on most days, you might need a longer-term solution, according to Tara Pringle Jefferson, a writer, speaker and founder of the Self-Care Suite, a multicultural and intergenerational community dedicated to easy living through the lens of self-care.
For instance, this might include asking for additional help. When Jefferson was launching her business, she had two small children at home. “I realized I was living in perpetual overwhelm.” So she asked her sister, who worked part-time then, to watch her kids two days a week. “It gave me breathing room.”
Maybe your longer-term solution is also bringing in more help. Maybe it’s postponing a project or a goal, Jefferson said. Maybe it’s going to see a therapist, or joining a support group. Consider what (or who) can help you make your life run smoother, and help things feel easier.
When you’re stressed out, it can feel like there’s no solution. It can feel frustrating, and demoralizing. When you’re stressed out, take a single deep breath, and then consider turning to the above tips.
Remember you are not alone in feeling the way you feel. Remember, too, you’ve got this. This is hard, and you can handle it.
Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash.
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