Lately, you’ve been feeling especially anxious. Your thoughts are racing. You’re worrying more than usual. You feel pressure in your chest. You feel tired and disconnected.
You find yourself sighing. A lot. Your muscles ache, and your head hurts. You’ve also been forgetful and easily distracted. And you can’t help it, but the smallest things keep getting under your skin. You feel like you’re breathing fire.
According to psychotherapist Shonda Moralis, MSW, LCSW, these are just some of the obvious and not-so-obvious signs that you’re feeling overwhelmed.
What triggers these emotions and visceral reactions?
“We feel overwhelmed when there is a perceived scarcity—of time, energy, ability, confidence, knowledge, or know-how,” said Moralis. “Or, we may feel capable of coping with a situation but are unsure of how to begin and the steps needed to complete a task.”
What can you do?
Below, Moralis, author of the new book Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All, shared these suggestions:
- Stop and take several deep breaths. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to see helpful options. Breathing may seem like an overly basic thing to do. And yet the act of pausing and decelerating your breathing soothes your nervous system and helps you to think clearly. It’s the first step in getting a handle on what’s going on (and calming yourself down).
- Take a birds-eye view. “Step back, gain a wider perspective, and recognize it is not as overwhelming as it might initially seem,” Moralis said. You might even ask yourself whether you’ll remember this on the same day next year.
- Chart a detailed road map. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it appears there’s no way out. Which is why outlining your solutions and options is so powerful. It helps you see, literally in black and white, that your situation is in fact totally manageable. The key to creating your roadmap is to “break it down into the tiniest, most easily accomplished action steps,” Moralis said. “Note when, how, where it will happen. Leave no room for ambiguity.” And you can always modify or adjust along the way, if needed, she added. If you’re having trouble outlining your steps, think about how you’d help a friend (or client). Or pretend you’re coaching yourself, and consider these questions: What will ease my overwhelm? What are the clearcut action steps here? What’s the first step I can take right now? What’s an obstacle that stops me from taking these steps? How can I overcome this obstacle if it arises?
- Ask for help. Talk to a trusted loved one or therapist. “Sometimes we are too close to the problem to discern a solution,” Moralis said. (If you’d like to start searching for a therapist, check out this link on Psych Central.)
Moralis also stressed the importance of taking a proactive approach: “When we create healthy sleep, exercise, meditation, and work/life balance habits, overwhelm arises less often.”
To start, consider what might have the biggest impact on preventing your overwhelm, and focus on creating change around that. For example, if it’s sleep, try going to bed earlier, making your bedroom into a sanctuary, and delegating (or altogether dropping) some tasks so you aren’t staying up late.
Maybe the most pivotal prevention tool for you is exercise. So you try a different physical activity that sounds like fun (or sounds soothing and calming). You take a dance class at your local gym. You find a restorative yoga routine on YouTube. You and your spouse take a walk on most mornings. You join a running club. You add a few stretches to your morning or bedtime routine.
When you feel overwhelmed, it’s like you’re standing in the heart of the fog. You can’t see anything, and you feel so helpless. But just because you feel helpless doesn’t mean you are.
Take your deep breaths, look at the larger picture, and create your detailed plan. And don’t hesitate to seek support from your spouse, good friend, a professional.
You’ve got this. You really do.