There’s nothing worse than the feeling of being overwhelmed. Hell, it’s scary to imagine having absolutely no control over anything in your life. And that’s pretty much what overwhelm is – the feeling of drowning in life. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s difficult to focus and nearly impossible to problem-solve. This article provides 5 tips to help you when you feel overwhelmed.
While I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional of any kind (and I recommend if this is an ongoing occurrence for you that you find one of those people), I do have more experience in this area than I’d like to admit so I’ll share the tips that have worked for me. I hope they help you too. But please, don’t hesitate to see a mental health professional. How do you think I’ve learned all these tricks anyway?
Tip 1: Breathe
Sounds simple right? I mean, really breathe (not to be confused with hyperventilating). Go in the bathroom, lock the door, and take a few deep, slow, calm breaths. You won’t be able to do anything else until you do this because your brain has been hijacked and you aren’t thinking clearly. It’s a scientific fact that when we are overwhelmed or stressed, we don’t breathe effectively. We literally cut off the oxygen to the brain. Our breathing becomes more shallow as we reserve it for fighting “the beast.” And we can become addicted to that feeling. STOP. Take a few breaths. Walk around the perimeter of the house. Everyone will be okay while you take 30 seconds to get some oxygen to your brain. I mean, when you think about it, not breathing actually has greater consequences.
If you have time to meditate (five minutes), do it. But if not, just breathe.
Better yet, spend five minutes getting some sort of exercise. Exercise forces you to breathe. Dance in the living room. Walk or run around the building. This will get the blood and oxygen flowing and your brain will thank you for it.
Have kids in the house? Regardless of their age, make a game of it. Believe me, even your teenagers will appreciate a mini “dance party” while you get your head together.
Tip 2: Determine the Root Cause of Your Feelings.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, we think everything is causing it. The sad truth is, your son asking where his socks are just sent you over the edge – it isn’t the root cause. And if you don’t figure out the root cause, you’ll continue to feel overwhelmed. You might stifle it for an hour, day, or even a week, but believe me, it will rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time if you don’t figure out the root cause. There are several ways to go about this and all of them will work more effectively if you write them down. Trying to remember things while your brain is not getting enough oxygen is not exactly a recipe for success. Try listing all the things that are causing your feelings of anxiety. Then ask a couple of simple questions:
- What exactly is making you anxious right now?
- Why does that make you feel anxious?
- Is your belief about this event or situation 100% accurate?
Let’s try an example.
- What is making me anxious? I have too much to do at work.
- Why does that make me anxious? Because I personally have a belief that I should have everything completed before leaving each day.
- Is my belief about this event 100% accurate? It may be worth it to explore if my boss feels the same way. Maybe it isn’t necessary to have everything done. Maybe it isn’t even possible. Or maybe I could relinquish some control and ask for help. I can ask my boss to help me prioritize.
Root cause: In this case, if it’s your beliefs that are causing the stress then your root cause is your personal expectations. The good news is, your beliefs and personal expectations can be changed immediately. . . if you want. You may want to explore your beliefs more and determine why you have those beliefs.
Related: How Beliefs Affect Behavior
Our beliefs can cause a great deal of stress. We believe the house should be clean at all times, there should be no mistakes in our work, and we should be hot and sexy for our partners. Damn, girl, that’s a lot of self-imposed stress!
There may also be times when your beliefs are accurate. Let’s take the aforementioned scenario as an example. Maybe you have a boss who actually does expect everything to be completed each day. Then you have a decision to make. Just be sure your decisions and anxiety are based on reality and not some self-imposed expectation you have created.
Tip 3: Apply the Five-Year Rule.
This may be my favorite tip on the list. The question is, five years (or even one year) from now will this (whatever is overwhelming you) matter? If the answer is no, it’s not worth risking a heart attack over today. In our world of instant gratification and results, we have a tendency to put more emphasis on the immediate than is necessary or healthy. Think longer-term, past this minute.
Example 1: Janie put on mismatched socks today and you just discovered it on your way out the door? Will anyone care in a year? No, believe me, nobody will care.
Example 2: Gary took credit for the project you spent weeks perfecting. Will you care about this in five years? Hell, you probably won’t even remember who Gary is in five years. Let it go already.
Example 3: Your spouse annoyed you? Will you remember this annoyance in five years? If not, let it go.
Tip 4: Eliminate Things That Add to Your Stress.
The feeling of being overwhelmed often happens because we feel a lack of control. We feel like we are being done to instead of having some say in the direction our life or day is taking. Take a good look at your life and eliminate those things that add to your feeling even if they aren’t the root cause. Here are a few easy examples:
- If your workload is coming from your boss, you likely could have a conversation about the workload and/or the priority of the projects. I’ve been a boss and can tell you that half the time I made assignments, I wasn’t thinking about the other things on that person’s plate. I was relying on them to tell me if it was too much. If work is overwhelming you, have a conversation with your boss. At least give them an opportunity to make it better if they can. Related Article: 5 Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Boss
- Quit watching the news. Something to remember here. News stations are a business. They make money based on views. In order to keep you watching, there has to be drama, excitement, flashy headlines, and the feeling of a looming disaster. Good grief, if you didn’t feel like you had no control before, you certainly will after watching or listening to the news. I promise, if the world is coming to an end, someone will call and give you a heads up.
- Quit watching crime television. Yeah, I know, you think by watching how a serial murderer stalked his prey, you’ll be better prepared to not have a serial murderer stalk you. I doubt it. While these shows make you think you or someone you love could be murdered, the truth is in 2020, the murder rate in the US was 6.5%, a decrease of 3% since the 1990s. The murder rate is actually decreasing. And if you are lucky enough to live in Canada or England, that rate is even lower, less than 2% (source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/195331/number-of-murders-in-the-us-by-state/). Crime television promotes fear. You worry about your kids and your friends more. Every time someone is late, you think the worst. What a shitty way to live your life. Just stop. Related Article: How Do You Know the Facts Are Actually the Facts?
- Distance yourself from negative people. You know this already but it bears repeating. Let the phone call go to voice mail and return it when you are in a better place of mind. I’m not going to belabor this point. You know what to do here. Want to learn more about the impact of negativity on you? Try this article: How Negative People Impact Your Life
Step 5: Control What You Can Control.
And let the rest go. I know, easier said than done huh? There comes a time when you have to just do the best you can, know it’s your best, and let the rest go. I could refer you back to Tip 3 and be blunter about it. Is anyone stressing over this but you? If the answer is no, you might want to re-evaluate your rationale.
One of the things I love about meditation is learning it’s not about controlling my thoughts. It’s about acknowledging the thought is there and then just letting it float away. There is something so amazingly freeing about not having to be in control, that it’s okay that my mind wanders. It’s in letting it go that I then have the space to focus on what I want to focus on. When trying to control my thoughts, it ends up being a never-ending loop of exactly what I don’t want to think about. Letting go allows us to be gentle with ourselves and just see it as a thought and then let it float by. While it takes a bit of practice, if I can do it, I guarantee you can do it.
If you can control any aspect of what is causing the feeling of anxiety or overwhelm, do it.
If being unorganized is the cause of your feeling of being overwhelmed, start to take small steps to get organized.
If watching the news is stressing you out, turn it off (or at a bare minimum, limit your time).
If the fear of getting sick is causing stress, do what you can to make sure you are healthy.
If you need to ask for help, do it.
Remember, we feel overwhelmed when we feel out of control.
Unfortunately, by the time the sense of being overwhelmed hits us, we aren’t thinking clearly enough to know what we need to do and the only thing that seems plausible is screaming. We get better at virtually everything by practicing. Commit these five tips to memory and start practicing. Before you know it, they will be second nature to you and you’ll be handling things like a pro!
I’d love to hear what you do to overcome anxiety or a feeling of being overwhelmed. Please jot down any questions or ideas you have below!