In a culture where productivity is awarded and options are endless, the feeling of overwhelm is commonplace. Add to that the barrage of information through many media outlets. In the earlier part of this decade, it used to be mindlessly flicking through TV channels – today the pandemic is scrolling through social media.
Stress comes in many forms. It can come in bit by bit or suddenly sneak up on you. An image, smell, or sound can open Pandora’s box of terrible memories. Similarly, a post, text message, or story can spiral you into an anxiety attack. Today most common being death rates due to COVID – 19. I know because I have been there.
In other words, overwhelm is felt when you cannot cope with the rate of change around you. It increases with self-doubt, anxiety, shame, guilt, and grief.
Below are 10 strategies to cope when overwhelm surrounds you.
10 Ways To Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed
First we will look at 5 ways to calm ourselves when we are totally in the middle of the overwhelm. When the panic and anxiety are high and soon going to take the form of catastrophy.
5 Ways To Instantly Calm Down
1. Take Deep Breaths
We do not even realize how our breathing changes when we are overthinking or going into panic overwhelm. The breaths become shorter and faster. Spiraling the brain into survival mode and preparing your body to fight or run.
When we become conscious of this and instead take deeper, longer breaths – it indicates to our body that we need not prepare for battle. We are shifting our state from survival to revival.
Reviving the control of our thinking brain so we can better assess the threat and come up with viable plans to cope.
2. Take a Short Walk/Shower
Nature acts as a natural balm to our troubles and soothes our senses to feel better. If you live near the sea then walk on the beach without sandals to feel the sand. It creates a soothing sensation in our bodies and we instantly feel better.
Taking a walk in a park nearby is also a great idea to catch some air. If that is not possible, you can stand out on your balcony or terrace and just observe the sky and trees. These surroundings sometimes give us the fresh perspective we are in dire need of.
Otherwise, take a hot/cold water shower. The water running on our bodies and changing temperatures creates pleasurable and relaxing sensations. Thus calming our body and activating our thinking brain. This is something I use in my life. A lot of my problems have been solved and amazing ideas sprung up in my long showers:)
3. Light Aromatic Candles and Play Soft Music
Another way is to inhale the luscious aroma of lightly scented candles. These create calmness in the mind and help your body relax. Along with it play soft music in the background and wear comfortable clothes.
Even propping yourself on fluffy pillows helps. The idea is to smell, hear and feel luxurious. These sensations help the body come back to a state of serenity where it can be its creative best.
4. Cook/Order Your Favorite Meal
Sometimes overwhelm can happen due to a hungry stomach. Since we are already in overdrive, a great way to feel better is to order or cook some of your favorite comfort food.
For me, a piece of chocolate does the trick. When I am in overthinking drive and start feeling the deep anxiety creeping in, good dark chocolate helps me feel better instantly. If it is a crisis then I need a hot bowl of Maggie noodles and chilled Coke.
If you need an instant fix, try drinking some cold water to help you flush out the toxins and feel better in a jiffy.
5. Write In A Journal/Call A Friend
In some cases, venting is the perfect outlet for the overwhelm. Journaling your feelings can help you see some order in your untangled, emotion-charged thoughts. It provides a way to let it all hang out there.
Personally, I have found this a great way to sort out the important and less important stuff. It also helps in coming up with a better plan to cope with similar feelings in the future.
If you cannot write down your feelings then talk to an empathetic friend. They will hear you out and give your feelings validation and direction. After expressing your anxiety, you may be in a better emotional state to assess your situation correctly. Your friend may also guide you with the next steps to take.
Now that we have dealt with the ‘first-aid’ response, we need to think long term. How do we brace ourselves for further such occasions ?
5 Ways to Cope In The Long Term
1. Brain Dump
Overwhelm can be caused by constant thoughts running in your mind too. It is like you are being pulled in multiple directions and that makes you go nowhere.
A great way is to ‘dump’ all your thoughts onto a notepad or notetaking app. It can be long term or short term plans, ideas, problems etc. Once you have dumped them, you can begin to sort out by priority and create time blocks to think about or do them.
This activity can be done a day prior or the first thing in the morning. It gives you a sense of accomplishment early on in the day and an outline of what it’s going to look like.
2. Plan Time Blocks
Dividing activities into time blocks helps get more things done. For example, I have a time block of 10 am to 12pm when I am writing my blog. During this time I will not have any distractions. Especially social media ones. I urge you to keep a time block to specifically answer emails or declutter your mail box too.
Then in the afternoon is my time block for kids. Then there are no work calls allowed. Similarly, I have a time block to plan groceries and decide what to make today.
And make the difficult decisions first. For me its – what to make for dinner?
So either I fall back on my pre-planned menu or get it out of the way the first thing in the morning. Because if after a whole of writing and content creating – I am faced with this question in the evening – I am totally overwhelmed!
Google Calendar is my favorite tool to schedule time blocks. And I love the app Todoist to make checklists.
3. Set Boundaries
Once you create time blocks you need to protect them from intrusions and distractions. Setting boundaries for work time with your kids helps them understand the concept at an early age. Speak in advance on what constitutes an emergency and what does not.
The same goes for work calls at home. Set timings for family and stick to them. Define to yourself what constitutes a work emergency and also how much of your family time are you willing to sacrifice. If these priorities stick with your values they create contentment and your work-life balance.
If you are still unable to cope with workload – try to outsource or delegate.
Another major boundary we need to set today is with our social media/media intake. In the long term, the increased hyperactivity of our brains creates more anxiety and less sleep. Also filter what you consume everyday. It makes a lot of difference in the rate of your media overwhelm.
4. Mindful Lifestyle
While we take care of our social media intake we need to also factor in taking care of our health. The most important aspect being – sleep. For our bodies to function well, a good 8 hours of sleep is recommended by all experts.
Here are a few more tips for mindful living:
- 30 Minutes Brisk Walk
- 20 Minutes Yoga/Exercise
- 10 minutes Meditation
- 8 Glasses of water a day
- Less oily food
- Less sugary drinks
All these practices will intentionally create peace and happiness in our bodies. A good defense against overwhelm.
5. Challenge Your Ideas
Lastly, get to the crux of the overwhelm. Get to the why of it?
Sometimes our values, beliefs and ideas limit our growth and keep us stuck in vicious cycles. For example, reflect on these questions:
- Did I expect too much out of this person?
- Was my goal realistic enough?
- Am I taking care of myself every day?
- Where do I get these behaviors from?
- Am I letting people take advantage of me?
- Do I believe in this path I have taken?
- Have I really healed from this loss?
- Do I need to seek professional help?
The answers will show you the path to long-term healing from this feeling of overwhelming guilt, anxiety, shame and anger. The former ideas are just ways to cope but this is the helm.
(These ideas do not contribute to therapy. If you are not being able to cope with overwhelm and negative thoughts please reach out to a licensed practitioner for the same)
Drop in comments, what are the main reasons for your emotional overwhelm?