What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

Life can get overwhelming at times. One minute we are going ok and the next, we can barely cope. We feel like we are suffocating under the pressure of it all.

I have felt this recently.

Current world events haven’t helped. It feels like there is so much terrible news. The cost of living is out of control.

We live in a time where there is so much distraction. We have access to continuous news and entertainment. We never have to be bored. It is both a blessing and a curse.

We can be contactable after hours. On the weekends. On holidays.

We can check emails out of the office. Notifications pop up. Everything is on our phones which can make it hard to escape from.

When we are feeling overwhelmed, the temptation is to hide under a blanket and ignore all the things. While this can be wonderful, it often doesn’t solve the problem. It merely pushes down our feelings and our stress. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone away. When we choose to Netflix and Chill and not deal with the things on our mind, we have underlying stress that simmers under the surface.

This is where different personalities come into play. My husband has an amazing ability to block out the stress and can compartmentalise his life. He can happily play a game or watch a movie and completely switch off. I find this difficult. It’s an area I want to work on. I struggle with being able to relax if I have lots of incomplete tasks. It feels fun at first to procrastinate and ignore. However this doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

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It’s kind of like having a warning light flash up in your car. In Season 2, episode 5 of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon informs Penny that her engine light is on. Her reply? “It’s fine. It’s been on for like a month.” Her response to the warning light was simply to ignore and hope that it would go away.

In Season 3, episode 11, the problem hadn’t gone away.

Beverly Hofstadter: Your check engine light is on.
Penny: Yeah, I gotta put a sticker over that.

Penny had an ingenious plan. Cover it up. Problem solved, right? She was no longer reminded of something that needed attention. Something needing to be fixed. She continued driving and things were fine. The problem was that deep down she knew that something was wrong. Covering up the warning light didn’t change what was going on underneath the bonnet. Sooner or later real damage was going to occur, and the longer she left it, the bigger this would become.

Here are 8 steps to reduce the overwhelm :

1. Write it down.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

When life gets overwhelming, there is often a lot that is on our mind. Do a brain dump of everything that is stressing you out. Write down things that you need to remember. Things that you need to do. People to reply back to. Events you need to organise. Presents that you need to buy. Bills you need to pay.

Women often talk about the mental load. This refers to all the things that they need to remember and take action on. It is a lot. Men are not immune from this. There is a lot of life admin to be on top of and I feel that it just continues to grow with our busy lifestyle.

I keep a paper diary to record appointments and events. When I am on the phone, I like to be able to flick through a physical diary and see when I’m available. I also like to write down lists. I realise that there are electronic versions of this that are modern and easy to use, but I much prefer the paper version. The act of writing it down helps me to remember and takes it off my mind. Find what works for you and helps you cope.

2. Get on top of the little things.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

When life feels overwhelming, you need to keep things simple. Look at your brain dump and make a plan about how to get these done. Tie up loose ends and finish odd jobs. Get things done so there is less on your mind.

Start with emptying your kitchen bin and recycling. Take out your kitchen organics bin. Collect up books and toys to return to the library so you have less to manage and remember. Go on a drive to do some errands. Return belongings to friends and family. Drop off the donations. Get that shoe repaired, the jacket fixed, and the watch battery replaced.

Unsubscribe from promotional emails. Pay your bills or schedule a time for them to be paid. Book that doctor’s appointment, the specialist, the eye test, the haircut, the immunisation.

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Clean out your fridge, throwing out things past their best before date. Put the items needing use up in a prominent spot or basket. Do the same in your freezer and pantry. Plan some meals that incorporate these ingredients and write down any missing items to grab from the shop. Challenge yourself to make do with what you have and get creative. This will save you money and food wastage.

When we spend time addressing what is stressing us, we often feel better.

3. Declutter.

I write a lot about decluttering. I can’t help it. There is a strong correlation between the amount of stuff we store in our homes and the level of anxiety that we feel. When our houses are bursting at the seams, it can be hard to concentrate. We can feel distracted and overwhelmed. This is especially true for mothers and those at home for extended periods of time. I know from personal experience that the amount of stuff we have directly affects the way we feel.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

If this is adding to your stress, take some steps to change this. Go through and toss any obvious junk. Walk around your house with a box and start grabbing things that you no longer need or truthfully should never have entered your house. Recycle old newspapers and magazines. Throw or donate the happy meal toys, the party bag trinkets, and the destroyed books that your toddler got to. The clothes that don’t fit you or you never wear. The cookbooks that gather dust. The novels you don’t have time to read or you don’t plan to read again. The hobbies that you were going to do but life got in the way.

Keep a bag or box by the door for donations. Work like a crazy person to get it done. Once it is full, take it to your local op shop or charity store. Get it out of your house so you can move on. Declutter until you can notice a difference in your home. It is something that most of us need to keep on top on, so continue the habit of going through your stuff regularly.

4. Slow down.

When we have seasons of overwhelm, it might be beneficial to take a step back from things. Step down from volunteering. Have some weekends at home. Reduce your commitments. Enrol your children in fewer activities. Say no. Remove some items from your schedule.

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Be honest with yourself. What fills your tank and what drains you? What makes you happy and what stresses you out? What do you look forward to and what do you dread? Which hobby brings you joy? Who brings out the best in you and makes you laugh?

Deep down you probably know what you need to do. It’s something that only you can answer. It can be hard to make changes like this, especially if you enjoy being busy and feeling needed. Know that it won’t be forever. It’s just for a little while until you can cope with more again.

5. Tidy surfaces.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

This is a simple task that can make a huge difference. Visual clutter can add to our levels of overwhelming more than we think.

Clear off your kitchen bench. Anything non-essential put into cupboards. When we first moved into our home, I stored a bunch of stuff on our bench. Soda Stream, tea, coffee and sugar canisters, knife block, radio, bread, toaster, kettle, coffee machine, chargers and a bowl of fruit. After watching a wonderful clip by the Minimal Mom where she revealed her clear bench tops, I saw mine in a new light. I had never noticed how cluttered they were.

I took her advice and removed all the non-essential items. I found places for them in cupboards and only left the appliances that I used multiple times a day. Right now I simply store our kettle and coffee machine in view. There is a dish drainer on the sink. Knives are on a magnetic strip.

Free space means more brain space.

6. Choose quiet.

We live in a noisy world. When there is too much going on in our lives, we don’t need any more external pressure. Hearing about the latest world tragedy is not helpful. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we need to focus on coping. We do what we need to do and eliminate the unnecessary. Reduce the content that you consume.

Turn off the radio in the car. Take a break from podcasts and audiobooks. Stop scrolling social media. Quit watching the news.

Make space for silence. Let your thoughts wander. Daydream. Think and dream and plan. Sing. Pray. Listen to the birds.

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It can be uncomfortable to sit with our thoughts. It can be really hard and confronting. When we allow ourselves space to simply be, it can help us get to the root of why we are feeling a certain way. It can help us figure out answers to problems. It can provide space to care for others. It can help us feel more like our true self.

7. Get outdoors.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

When we are feeling down or overwhelmed, making a conscious effort to get outside can do wonders for us. A combination of Vitamin D, fresh air and exercise increases our endorphins and clears out head. Being immersed in nature often calms our bodies and reminds us of what is really important.We feel happier and healthier.

Depending on where you live and what season it is, try one of these. Sit in the sun. Take a walk. Go for a run. Head to the beach. Hike up a hill. Visit the botanic gardens. Walk in a national park. Ride a bike.

Make it part of your daily routine or on as many days as you can.

8. Talk to someone.

Opening up to someone that you trust is important. This can be a friend, a family member or a professional.

We all need someone to talk to. We need to be able to vent, to share, ask questions and cry with. Life can be really hard. We can get stuck in our own heads. Our thoughts can be negative and spiral into unhelpful and dangerous places. When we verbalise what is going on for us, it can be a powerful means to deal with the past and make a plan moving forward.

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There are some circumstances that do require some expert help, from a trained counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. These professionals can be invaluable.

When you are in a bad place and the idea of even making an appointment or getting a referral feels too much, add it to your brain dump. Message a friend and ask them if you can call them. Tell them you are struggling and need a chat. This isn’t easy to do. There have been many times that I haven’t started writing out a message admitting that I’m finding things hard, and then delete it. I don’t want to burden others or don’t have capacity to talk about it.

What to do when you feel overwhelmed?

I am learning that I need to be real with people. Our friends and family want to be there for us. They want to do life with us. When we are brave and share how we are struggling, it enables them to care for us.

Having a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on is important.

If you know that you need to talk to someone but don’t know who to turn to, consider Lifeline or Beyond Blue. There are wonderful people who will be there for you. They are trained in or have lived experience of anxiety, depression and grief.

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Many workplaces often have free counselling sessions that you can access.

Your doctor can write you a mental health care plan to receive cheaper psychologist appointments.

We all struggle and have moments of overwhelm.

It can be debilitating. We can feel isolated. Know that you’re not the only one feeling like this. Making a conscious effort to be intentional about how we spend our time, can help us feel more on top of things.

When we write down the things that are stressing us out, we can make a plan to get them done.

When we get the little jobs done, we feel more on top of things.

When we remove the excess clutter, we have more clarity of thought and physical space.

When we put boundaries in place, we have more time and energy to focus on what we need to.

When we have clear bench tops, we have more brain space.

When we choose quiet, it allows our thoughts to calm.

When we get outside in nature to exercise, we feel better.

When we admit that life is hard right now, it can help us get back on track.

When we find ourselves not coping with the simple things, getting back to the simple can be just what we need.

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