Life, as wonderful as it often is, can also be quite stressful. Demands and deadlines can stretch people to their limit. Many different things can cause us to feel overwhelmed. The stressors of daily life can take a tremendous toll. Relationships can be difficult to navigate. If these weren’t challenging enough, sometimes we’re hit with big whammies like disease, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, or personality disorders.
You can reduce that overwhelmed feeling and thrive. Rather than waiting for stressors to pass so you can feel better, take charge right now. Sure, you might not be able to get some problems to instantly disappear, but that’s okay. You don’t have to be problem-free to feel mentally healthy. These four simple steps will help when you’re feeling overwhelmed no matter the reason.
Four Simple Steps to Take Back Your Wellbeing
Pause. When we’re overwhelmed, it can be hard to think and easy to become disorganized. In response to stress, heart rate and blood pressure can increase, and breathing can become more rapid and shallow. Muscles tense. Anxiety can set in. When you notice the physical and mental symptoms of stress, pause. Put some space, both distance and time, between yourself and what is making you feel overwhelmed. Breathe deeply and practice mindfulness. Taking even a short break can help you reset and return feeling better.
Partake. Do something to nourish your mind, body, and/or soul in the moment. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing, you might sip hot tea or coffee, take in fresh air, breathe in essential oils, mindfully peel and eat an orange, or anything else that’s healthy and that you find personally soothing.
Purpose. Sometimes, we get so caught up in problems that we lose sight of what’s important to us. When tasks, relationships, and more feel like an overwhelming burden, remember your greater purpose (and do so as you pause and partake). Knowing that there’s a reason we’re doing something can make life feel less overwhelming.
In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, for example, Brian Cunningham suffers greatly from anxiety disorders and avoidant personality disorder. He works as the sole custodian on the night shift at an elementary school so he can avoid having to deal with people, but when a neglected and abused little girl crosses his path, he is forced out of his safe comfort zone. He is overwhelmed and his perpetually high anxiety skyrockets further when he has to interact with people in order to help her. At times he is so overwhelmed and stressed that he wants to quit and retreat, but when he remembers his purpose, to help a hurting little girl, he is able to endure and regain a sense of mental health and wellbeing.
Plan. Sometimes our circumstances feel like a trap. We try and try to break free from the trap, but we simply spin our wheels. This going nowhere only increases stress. Know what you want to accomplish, and create an action plan involving small steps taken intentionally in order to achieve it. Often, having a tangible plan and acting on it is empowering and enough to feel mentally healthy rather than overwhelmed.
Additional Ways to Take Charge, Recover, and Achieve Mental Health & Wellbeing
Pausing, partaking in something soothing, remembering your purpose, and planning are effective ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed in order to take back mental health and wellbeing. There are other things you can do, too, to enjoy life once again.
Reach out and allow others to help. Whether its for help organizing clutter or easing symptoms of mental illness, accepting help can make you feel better more quickly. In the novel Leave of Absence, Oliver Graham is in a behavioral health hospital. His doctor tries to convince him to allow people in to help:
“Nothing at all makes a bit of goddamn sense.”
“Exactly. You need help processing all of this. You participated actively in an art group on Saturday. That played a part in allowing you to open up yesterday…You were starting to process this mess.” Dr. Wilson stopped talking. When she resumed, her tone was softer. “It is indeed a mess, isn’t it?”
“Hang in there. Let people help you through this very difficult time.”
Do What You Need to Do in Each Moment
Most of us are rather skilled at imposing rules onto ourselves, believing that we should be doing x or shouldn’t be doing y. Berating ourselves only makes us feel more overwhelmed and unwell. Instead, plan what you need right now and do what it takes to help you regain mental health.
In the novel Twenty-Four Shadows (named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016), Isaac Bittman begins to attend a special treatment center after learning he lives with dissociative identity disorder. He is struggling, and his doctor, Dr. Charlie, knows that he needs to rest. Isaac feels that lying down is a waste of time. Here, Dr. Charlie convinces him that it’s okay for him to do what he needs to do in each moment.
“Remember that I said you get a private room? It’s for journaling and meditating and resting. You need to participate in the activities here, but this is only day one. You had two switches; it looks like they’ve taken a tremendous toll on you, and you need to sleep them off. I promise we’ll work on things here, but right now, you need to lie down. Other patients do, too. That’s why we have private rooms with beds. What do you think?”
“I…” Isaac’s voice cracked. Rather than trying again, he nodded vigorously. Dr. Charlie escorted him to his room.
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is an unfortunate part of being human. A fortunate part of our humanity is our ability to take care of ourselves. Pause, partake, remember purpose, plan, accept help, and do what you need to do moment by moment. In so doing, you’ll increase your mental health and wellbeing.
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