Want to know a secret? Though I’m notorious about the importance of self-care and even have dedicated this blog to the subject, I’m not always good about actually taking care of myself. This results in significant bouts of stress and anxiety which cause a fury of chaos and overwhelm in my life. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too? And you are wondering what to do when you feel overwhelmed with life?
When self-care isn’t enough
Here’s the ugly truth.
The past month has been disastrous for my physical health. It all started with a back pain that led to full-on spasms. As a result, I felt excruciating pain anytime I tried to move.
I could not get out of bed or go to the bathroom without assistance. Any small movement sent a shockwave of pain throughout my body. It was terrifying, to say the least.
As soon as my back pain decreased, I got a viral infection which caused me to be nearly bedridden from mere exhaustion for almost two weeks.
The moral of the story is that I stopped listening to my body when I was feeling overwhelmed and just kept pushing on. Ultimately this ended up in me physically getting ill and being forced to stop.
Reasons why you don’t take care of yourself
You are busy.
I get it.
You have things to do, places to be, hundreds of deadlines, and appointments.
Just thinking about all of this might put you in a tailspin of anxiety and feeling swamped.
So what the heck do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed with life?
I wish I could tell you that it’s one simple step and all your problems will disappear.
In reality, it’s all about shifting your priorities, slowing down, evaluating what you are dedicating your time and energy to and most importantly living with intention.
Time to make changes
Instead of getting sick like me and being physically forced to stop, ask yourself what you can do differently?
What can you give up? Say no to? Delegate? All together not do anymore?
When I was crying from sheer physical pain and anxiety, my husband asked me to tell him everything I was worried about.
One by one we broke down the worries that were driving me mad.
Then I started making some changes in order to feel better. I canceled meetings, rescheduled appointments, and made significant modifications to my calendar.
Instead of having six commitments in one day, I scheduled none.
I realized an important thing about what to do when you feel overwhelmed with life is to take a step back and evaluate.
Trust me, do these few things before you find yourself collapsed on the floor.
What to do when you feel overwhelmed with life
1. Take a deep breath and step away
One of the worst things that happen when you are feeling overwhelmed is that you are also anxious.
It may feel as though the walls are closing in on you and you can’t escape. Though it may feel like that, the reality is that your brain is going into fight or flight mode and you are not thinking clearly.
“Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by a situation – when you’re in the darkest of darkness – that’s when your priorities are reordered.”Phoebe Snow, singer and songwriter
The best thing for you to do is to step away.
Create some separation between you and whatever is causing you to feel this way. Then take some deep breaths which promote your body to go into the parasympathetic relaxation response.
Need some guidance on breathing exercises? Check out simple meditation exercises you can do in 30 seconds or less.
2. Learn to say no
Wondering what to do when you feel overwhelmed with life?
It’s easy, start saying no.
I understand it’s easier said than done. As a former people pleaser, I still have a hard time saying no.
But guess what? I’ve exercised this muscle a lot and now I’m more comfortable saying no.
As a result, I feel better, and less stressed, and find that I have more time to do what is actually important to me.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with life, work, and responsibilities so learn to protect your time because it is literally the most precious commodity you have.
When you say no, you find that you have more control over your schedule, energy, and resources. Setting these healthy boundaries will boost your mental health as well as reduce your stress and anxiety.
Ready for some help? Learn how to say “no” without feeling guilty: 6 secrets from an expert.
3. Ask for help
One of the best things you can do for yourself when you feel overwhelmed with life is to ask for help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, talk to your supervisor and share with them what you’re experiencing. If they are a decent person, they will help you break down tasks, give you an extension on a deadline or even reduce your workload.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities at home, then it’s time to talk to your partner and family and ask them for help.
There are only 24 hours in one day and aside from sleeping, there are only so many hours you can be productive.
Regardless of your desire to do it all, you are human and in reality, you can not. So reach out to your support network to help you.
4. Learn to delegate
This is one of the best practices for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed at home, work, or at any stage of their life.
I’m a type-A person which means that I am extremely organized and want to have a sense of control over everything. Guess what happens to someone like me when they feel overwhelmed?
It feels like being stuck in the vortex of a tornado and literally sensing like I’m being sucked into an abyss.
In short, it feels terrible.
So I’ve had to learn to delegate and ask for help BEFORE I feel overwhelmed.
If you work with a team at work, share, collaborate, and explain the different parts of a project and ask for volunteers. If no one wants to volunteer, share that you’re feeling overwhelmed and that you would really appreciate their help, and then start delegating tasks.
The same is true at home. Ask your children, your partner, roommate, or whoever you share space with that you’re overwhelmed and need their help. Then delegate tasks to them and share your appreciation.
In learning to delegate, you decrease your chances of getting overwhelmed in the future because you are not going to take on more than you can realistically accomplish.
5. Write it out
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your mind is a non-stop chatterbox of worry. Perhaps your mind thinks that it is trying to help you but in reality, it’s just pushing you over the edge.
The last time I was feeling overwhelmed, I could not sleep because my mind was racing.
Therefore, I did something I learned from the Headspace app, I wrote down my stream of consciousness.
This allowed me to express myself freely.
So next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, find a piece of paper and write down everything that is running through your head.
Do not censor yourself.
Write down literally every idea, worry, concern, fear, to-do that pops in your head.
Getting those thoughts out of your head will be such a relief and will alleviate the feelings that are overwhelming you.
6. Remind yourself it’s temporary
One of the hardest parts of feeling overwhelmed is that you also may feel stuck. You may be thinking that this is now the new normal and that it is always going to be this way.
Take it from me, you are going to get through this, it is only temporary.
One lesson I’ve learned from practicing meditation is the idea of impermanence which is basically the notion that “everything changes and nothing lasts forever.”
This is true for both the good and unpleasant aspects of our life.
So when you are going through an especially rough phase, remember that the feelings you’re having are temporary.
You will get through this.
Learn to engage with the right coping mechanisms and support. In doing so, you can take care of yourself when things feel overwhelming.
7. Be kind to yourself
When I collapsed on the floor, wondering how the heck I got there, I started recriminating myself. Rather than being kind, I was angry with myself for not being strong enough.
Did that help?
No, it made me feel even worse than I already felt.
So instead, try to practice self-compassion and remember that what you are feeling is a normal response to stress.
Remember that feeling overwhelmed is okay, especially right now.
In addition, remember that this feeling will not last forever. Give yourself some grace and know that no matter what, it’s going to be okay if you need to ask for help, an extension, or even miss that birthday party.
Ultimately your physical and mental health is the most important priority in your life.
8. Start to practice self-care
Self-care isn’t something you do on a special occasion. It’s not a quick fix or band-aid. Instead, it’s about activities you do regularly to help calm your mind and relax your body.
This is something important to consider when you’re wondering what to do when you feel overwhelmed with life.
Take control. Feel better.
Start your Self-care Journey.
Unsure what to do? I’ve got you covered!
To help you get started here are some easy ways to practice self-care. I’m confident you’ll find a few practices that you can start incorporating into your self-care routine.
In the end, I’m going to be real with you. At some point in your life, you will feel overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s from work, school, social obligations, or just life in general.
However, we can also choose to live our life differently and overcome this. You may think it’s easy to brush off feelings of stress, worry, overwhelm, and anxiety.
However, I suggest that you DO NOT push through these feelings.
Your mental health matters and if you’re feeling the pressure, it’s a sign from your body to take a step back and slow down.
As for me, to be honest it’s been scary for me to make these changes because I’m not used to not being busy.
It feels weird for me NOT to have everything planned in advance or for my calendar not to be full of social commitments and activities.
At the same time, I feel truly liberated.
I feel free and relieved because I’m not tied down to obligations, restricted by time and commitments that I don’t even know why I dedicated to in the first place.
I’m terrified because I don’t know if I can keep up with this new pace.
It requires me to breathe, relax, slow down and live with intention.
But I’m tired of living with the panic, the fear, the anxiety spiral that keeps me awake at night, and the sheer dread of my endless to-do list.
So I hope you can take respite too and find a way to do less. Ultimately life is too short isn’t it?