You know how sometimes it just hits you? You have so much going on in your life that you aren’t sleeping at all. Your work is suffering, your relationships are fraught with tension, bills are going unpaid and you have eaten an entire box of Oreos every night this week.
And then one more thing gets piled on top and that’s it. The camel’s back is broken. Your heart starts racing, your brain fills with cotton, you get dizzy and you can’t breathe. You are officially overwhelmed.
Being overwhelmed makes you feel literally paralyzed. It prevents you from moving forward in any meaningful way. It prevents you from moving forward at all. You are simply there, in a vortex, circling the drain. Not good.
I know it doesn’t feel that way but there are definitely ways to survive it. One step at a time.
The first step – awareness. Always key. Know what it is you are feeling – overwhelm. Once you know what it is you can proceed.
Here is my latest: 5 Ways to Fight Back Overwhelm – Even if It Threatens to Win.
#1 – Breathe
When we are stressed out we hold our breath. There is a physiological reason we hold our breath: increased tension in the muscles responsible for breathing. These include the thoracic diaphragm and some of the abdominal, chest, neck and shoulder muscles. When we are stressed these muscles contract and breathing stops. Not ideal.
The manner in which we breathe influences our entire being: our mental-emotional states, the nervous system, hormonal balance, muscular tension, and all the functions of body and mind. When we hold our breath our overwhelm will only get worse, not better.
When you are overwhelmed remember to breathe. Sit up straight and wear clothes that don’t restrict your abdomen (or loosen those jeans). Breathe deeply in, through your nose, for 3 seconds, pulling air down into your diaphragm. Exhale through your nose for 5 seconds. Repeat this series for 5 minutes.
You will start to feel better right away. Physiology declares it be so.
#2 – Walk Away
When you are sitting at your desk, paralyzed and completely overwhelmed by all that is on your plate, it is time to get up and move around.
In addition to breathing, clearing your head is an essential way to beat overwhelm. Just sitting there staring at all of your stuff, or replaying all sorts of negative tapes in your head, will get you nowhere.
So go for a walk around the block, or around the cubicles in the office. Go up and down a few flights of stairs. Do some stretches. Walk over to someone’s desk, or house, and have a quick chat. Give your partner a long hug. Have a good laugh. Anything that will get your mind off of your stuff, even for a few minutes.
Sometimes just a little break can make all of the difference.
#3 – Eat a Good Meal
Remember the aforementioned Oreos? Yes, they are yummy going down but nutritionally they do you no good at all.
What you need when you are overwhelmed is a good dose of protein, some carbs and a few healthy fats.
In the short term a good meal will help your brain work better, help keep your breathing and your heart rate moderate and allow you to get past the overwhelm.
In the long term, your body will be stronger because you are feeding it healthy food. And when you are stronger you are better able to prevent overwhelm from happening in the first place.
Try a turkey sandwich on toasted rye bread with some swiss cheese and cole slaw. If you don’t have time to sit down, feast on some mixed nuts (walnuts, cashews and almonds) and an apple. Add water. Or try a smoothie with coconut milk, flax and chia seeds, an avocado and some berries. Truly yummy.
#4 – Take a Nap
Yeah right, you say. A nap! Ha. You have WAY too much to do to take a nap.
Taking a nap can change everything. It will help your brain quiet for a bit, restore your body and enable you to think more clearly to get through this tough time.
It doesn’t have to be a long nap. Close your shades and pull a blanket over your fully clothed self and set the alarm for 30 minutes. That will give you 10 minutes to fall asleep and 20 minutes to sleep.
You will wake up refreshed and ready to plunge ahead. Really.
#5 – Make a Plan
Before you take this step do at least one of the steps above. You need to manage your body’s reaction to the overwhelm before you can take action to fix it.
One of the reasons that we get overwhelmed is that we feel we have no control over the things that are causing that overwhelm. It’s time to regain some.
Sit down and make a list of everything that you have to do. Everything.
Now review that list and pick out 5 things that need to be done immediately. From that list of 5 break it down again, this time prioritizing. These are the things that you are going to do first. You will ignore the other things on the list, and I mean IGNORE, until those first things are done.
Give yourself a deadline to get each of those things done. There might be an external deadline already in place but if it’s something with no deadline give yourself one. Give yourself an hour or a day but give yourself a deadline and stick to it.
When you are have completed all of the items on the first list go back to your original list and add new things, if necessary. Pick out the next 5 things that need to be done immediately. Repeat the process above.
Take control of your life instead of letting your life control you and you will beat overwhelm. I promise.
So there you go, my 5 Ways to Fight Back Overwhelm.
Unfortunately, overwhelm is not uncommon in this chaotic, jam packed and exhausting modern life in which we live. Almost every one of my clients report having it at some point, often more than once. But there are ways to beat it back and maybe even prevent it from happening at all.
So breathe, move, eat, sleep and organize. You just might find it will change your life.
Looking for more ways to overcome overwhelm? Contact me and I can help!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.