Life as we know it has changed and continues to change. There’s so much that is unknown and unknowable at this point, and yet we have to find ways to stay safe and well and continue to move forward, even when we don’t know what that means.
Some people handle change and the unknown quite well, and others struggle with it. What happens when that stress and anxiety build up so that they completely overwhelm you?
Even if you do usually handle stress and change quite well, many people are feeling overwhelmed right now, so how do you bounce back from that?
In this post I’ll be sharing strategies to help you bounce back whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Anxiety and Overwhelm
Anxiety can turn into a disorder when it affects your ability to function. That’s not what I’m covering here - and if you do feel you have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to receive professional help and treatment.
When you are faced with regular, day-to-day anxiety, which can lead to overwhelm, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself, and that’s what I want to look at here.
How to Cope When You Feel Overwhelmed
Take a Breath
This is something you can do anytime and anywhere. Simply put your focus and attention onto your breathing. Be aware as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
For this, you don’t have to change your breathing, simply put your attention on it. You can even repeat to yourself (in your mind) “I am breathing in, I am breathing out” with each breath.
If you want to take it a step further, you can imagine that as you breathe in you are breathing in calm energy, and as you breathe out you are letting go of all stress and anxiety.
You only need to do this for a few breaths, perhaps 5 - 10, which will take less than a minute.
This article in Psychology Today goes into more detail about how to use breathing to relieve anxiety and shares more breathing techniques.
Focusing on your breathing keeps you in the present moment, rather than worrying about something that’s happened or that might happen.
Let Go of Resistance
The truth is that it is happening. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you will be able to change it. When you keep fighting something because it ‘shouldn’t be happening’ you will stay stuck in it much longer.
Resisting something takes up a great deal of your energy. It depletes you and, as the saying goes “what you resist persists.”
When you let go of resistance and accept that whatever is happening is happening (even if you don’t like it) and release needing to label it as bad, you can claim your energy back.
Surrendering in this way brings peace and it also brings solutions to difficult problems. The solutions can’t come when you are focusing your energy on the fact that it shouldn’t be happening.
Resistance brings fear, and acceptance brings clarity.The energy of acceptance and appreciation will move you forward faster than the energy of resistance and resentment.
If you don’t like the word ‘acceptance’ because it feels like giving in, then choose another word, like ‘acknowledge.’
Re-Frame Your Thoughts
“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” - William Shakespeare
Most of this happens unconsciously. All you know is you feel terrible and it’s difficult to get things done – and you’re probably not too much fun to be around, particularly if you constantly talk about those worrying thoughts.
What do you think about obsessively? Do you worry about your health, money, relationships, or your weight? Do you worry about the economy or constantly think about the danger your children could be in or whether you’ll still have a job tomorrow?
Identifying what you think about – particularly your repetitive thoughts – can come as something of a surprise. Most people are surprised by just how many negative and unhelpful thoughts they have each day.
Pay attention to your thoughts and notice when you think negative and unhelpful thoughts or when you’re thinking the same thoughts over and over. You may be surprised at what you find.
Once you know what you’re thinking you can make a conscious effort to change the unhelpful thoughts. This will renew your energy and, since you attract into your life what you focus on, it will help you to attract more positive people and situations into your life – and that’s always a good thing.
People often feel that changing your thoughts means you have to force yourself to think positive thoughts, but that doesn’t work and can actually be counter-productive.
You can’t deny that you’re thinking the thoughts you are thinking and forcing yourself not to think them doesn’t work. Instead, you can use them, and learn from them, which then allows you to change them.
So if you’re trying to force yourself to think positively, try paying attention to the thoughts and ask yourself what you can learn from them. This is the first step to being able to change them.
If you find it difficult to change your thoughts, try one of these techniques:
Try turning any negative what if’s around, like this:
- What if it doesn’t work?
- What if it works really well?
- What if I can’t figure it out?
- What if I have access to all the answers I need?
- I’m really tired, what if I can’t make it through the day?
- What if I have all the energy I need to accomplish everything I want to today?
You get the idea. This is a technique I have used many times with great success. Our minds tend to go easily to negative what-if’s, so just turn those around to more positive ones.
Reframe with Affirmations
Affirmations can be helpful, but they must be believable. If you’re feeling absolutely exhausted and you tell yourself you are filled with boundless energy, you know you’re lying and I think that no amount of repeating that affirmation will change things.
The answer is to change it to something more believable. Instead, you could say :
“I have all the energy I need to accomplish what I want today.”
Since I have had challenges with insomnia over the years I often feel very tired. Whenever my thoughts turn to how tired I am and how little energy I have, I tell myself I have all the energy I need to do what it is that I need to do. And you know what? I always do.
Another way is to remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can. This is also a good way to quieten those unhelpful thoughts, such as:
- Even though I feel like I’m struggling with this situation, I’m doing the best that I can and I will move through it.
- Everyday I find new ways to move forward. Answers are coming to me.
- I now choose to transform unhelpful thoughts and welcome more positivity into my life.
- I have the power to change my thoughts about anything. I now choose to reach for the most positive, uplifting and powerful thoughts I can in all situations.
- I have the ability to keep my thoughts focused on what I want. I now release all thoughts that do not support me.
Write out your thoughts
Sometimes there are so many thoughts running round in your head it’s difficult to keep track of them all.
This is where writing can really help you. Get a notebook and write out everything that’s on your mind. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. You can write any thoughts or words that come up. You’re not going to publish it or show it to anybody.
The purpose of doing this is to calm your mind down by getting the thoughts out of your head. Don’t think about it as you write, just write. You may be surprised at some of the things that come out. There could be thoughts you didn’t even know that you were thinking.
Once you know what you’re thinking, you can ask yourself if these thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Are they supporting you or harming you?
Think about what thoughts would be more helpful and then, whenever you notice your mind going over the unhelpful thoughts, you can choose to replace them with more helpful ones.
Let Nature Help You
I know that for me, if ever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed with something, I just have to go for a walk outside, or sit on my deck and listen to the birds and feel the energy of the trees and I feel better very quickly.
If you are not able to go outside, there are other ways to benefit from nature. You can surround yourself with pictures of beautiful nature scenes, you can have beautiful indoor plants, you can even listen to nature sounds. I like to use Insight Timer, which is a free app, where I can listen to sounds of the ocean waves and birdsong or a waterfall or rain falling anytime I want.
In a recent article I published on self-care, Joan Vorderbruggen shared some of the benefits of the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, which has become popular all over the world as a way to bring people back to balance.
Never underestimate the healing power of nature. If you have animal companions I’m sure you also know the calming effect they can have too. Just being around animals can have a calming and balancing effect.
Let nature support you and help you maintain a sense of balance in stressful times.
Move Your Body
I have certainly found this to be true. For me, I enjoy walking, playing tennis and yoga and find them extremely beneficial.
I think that when your body feels healthy and strong, you feel better mentally and emotionally too.
Walking is certainly easy to do - no equipment needed. If you want to do yoga or find some other form of exercise there are many YouTube videos and I’m sure you can find one that you like.The most important thing is that it’s enjoyable and you do it consistently.
Calm Your Mind
Meditation - many people struggle with the idea of meditation because they find it difficult to switch off their mind. I’m the same way.
The goal of meditation is not to stop you thinking, but rather to notice the thoughts and let them pass through your mind. When your mind is overwhelmed with thoughts this can also be difficult - that’s when guided meditations can be helpful, or you can use music for meditation or simply practice focusing on your breathing.
The other difficulty people have is carving out time to meditate. You don’t have to meditate for hours each day for it to be effective. Even if you did 5 or 10 minutes each day, that would be extremely beneficial.
This article from the Ram Dass organization shares 17 ways you can use meditation to help with anxiety and has some good advice for letting go when you feel overwhelmed.
Emotional Freedom Technique - You’ve probably heard of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and there’s no doubt that it can be very helpful.
I have used EFT in the past and it did help. For some reason I don’t find it’s as effective for me any more, but if you haven’t tried it I think it’s worth a try.
EFT Practitioner, Brad Yates, has a helpful YouTube Video with a 6-minute exercise to help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Journaling - If you’ve never tried journaling or you think that you don’t have time for it, I recommend you give it a try. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and you don’t even have to do it everyday in order to benefit.
I have used journaling in the past to help me process my thoughts or simply get them out of my head. I find it helps to bring clarity and helps to uncover thoughts that were well hidden.
I find it particularly helpful to do first thing in the morning, before starting your day, or last thing at night before you go to sleep - this is particularly helpful if you find it difficult to sleep because of all the thoughts going round in your head.
This article from VeryWellMind (an online resource for mental health) shares some helpful journaling techniques for coping with anxiety.
Music - It is well-known that music can soothe or energize us. Whenever you have the chance, let music calm your anxieties and bring you to a place of peace.
Everyone’s choice of music is different. The important thing is to know what type of music really relaxes and soothes you.
I think music is a resource we often forget about when stressed or overwhelmed. Remember that it has the power to reduce stress and incorporate more music into your life.
Organize Your Environment
Isn’t it frustrating to be disorganized? How often do you find yourself wasting time looking for something that you know you have, but you can’t remember where you put it? It wastes time, it creates frustration, it drains your energy.
It’s easy to become disorganized when you’re very busy. It seems as though you cannot take the time to organize things because you have so much to do. But if you do the time to organize, you’ll actually be much more efficient at doing everything else.
The thing to do is to schedule time – actually put it on your calendar – to organize. Whether you do it once each week or once per month doesn’t matter, as long as you do it. If necessary, hire a professional organizer to come in and help you. When everything has a place and you know exactly where to put it when you’re finished with it, life is so much easier and you’ll be much more energized.
Sometimes it may be difficult to get started, but usually people find that once they do start, it feels so good they want to let go of even more.
If you find it difficult to let go of things, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Do I love it?
- Do I need it?
- Does it bring me joy?
- If I moved, would I want to take it with me?
If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, then why are you keeping it?
Decluttering frees up your energy and opens up the space for new and more positive energy to come in. Letting go and being organized feels really good you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed.
Master Your Self-Talk
If you want to feel less stressed and anxious and handle overwhelming situations with greater ease, you’ll want to learn to master your self-talk.
Being aware of and changing your thoughts, as we’ve already discussed, is the first step to helping you master your self-talk.
I have a couple of other favorite methods that I like to use that I’ll share with you:
Use powerful questions: When you don’t know what to do, or you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed here are some helpful questions that will make a big difference:
- What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself in this situation?
- How can I best support myself through this?
- How can I find the easiest, most enjoyable and effective way to do this?
Don’t expect a major aha moment as soon as you ask these questions, instead, let the questions sit in your mind and be willing to be guided towards the answers. The answers will come, whether it’s the same day or the following day or in a week, it doesn’t matter.
The point is that in asking the questions you are taking care of yourself and supporting yourself through a difficult situation, which is much better and more effective than beating yourself up or worrying.
Use my favorite affirmation: This affirmation is so powerful I share it with everyone I know who is experiencing a difficult situation.
It’s from Louise Hay and you’ll find that it has an immediate calming effect on you, and, even more than that, it will result in a positive outcome:
“Out of this situation only good will come, for the highest good of everyone. I am safe.”
I love this affirmation and you will too.
Practice Radical Self-Care
When you take care of yourself, not just externally, but internally, you’ll find that you handle difficult situations with greater ease.
Taking care of yourself in this way means that you bring the best of yourself to everything you do. Your energy will be lighter, you’ll feel better, you’ll attract more people and situations that feel good to you.
Self-care is not selfish, it is exactly the opposite. Learn how to take good care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically and spiritually and you won’t allow anxiety and overwhelm to take over again.
The more you do this, the easier it gets and the better it gets. These strategies work and they are simple.
Whether you feel overwhelmed at work, overwhelmed at home, or overwhelmed with life in general, you don’t need to look outside yourself for solutions. Pick one of these strategies and use it. When you’ve mastered that, choose another one, and so on.
You have the power to bounce back quickly from anxiety and overwhelm.