No one plans to take a trip to Overwhelm. And once there, no one says, “Oh, this is pretty comfy. I think I’ll hang out for a while.” In fact, just the opposite occurs. You wake up one day feeling completely overwhelmed. The to-do list in your head is a mile long. Your refrigerator is bare. You are double-booked for meetings, and today is your day to drive the carpool. “How did I get here?” you ask yourself. And then the next logical question is, “How do I get out of here?”
It would be nice to be whisked away on a magic carpet from the Land of Overwhelm back to Calm-ville, but that only happens in adult fairy tales. The real way out of overwhelm is by utilizing self-care practices that help you put one foot in front of the other and by making conscious choices when you arrive at forks in the road. Sometimes you are so deep in the overwhelm jungle, that you need a little altitude to point you in the right direction. This can be provided by a trusted friend, therapist, or coach who can see your pathway out from an objective perspective. Once you are pointed in the right direction, consistent self-care practices like the ones below can move you forward.
- Sleep. It may seem odd that my number one tool for moving forward is essentially not moving, but sleep is crucial for our mental and physical health. Sleep helps us to think more clearly. Sleep reduces stress and improves mood. Sleep also helps reduce inflammation and pain and normalizes weight. If a pill existed that promised those benefits, we’d be lined up around the block to get our hands on it. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Top sleep hacks include not using electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bed. If you must (and I ask you to really evaluate if that is a hard must), then use a blue-light blocking program on your device or wear blue light blocking glasses so that melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep) can still be produced. Hack your sleep environment. Sleep in a cool, dark room that is inviting. Black-out curtains and comfortable bedding can help.
- Self-Talk. As you become rested, you’ll have the energy to notice how you talk to yourself. Warning: you may be shocked by how mean you are to yourself. Take comfort in knowing that beating yourself up is common. However, just because it is common doesn’t make it useful. Once you’ve identified the Negative Nancy voice, ask yourself two questions: 1) How is this thought helping me? (it likely isn’t) and 2) Is this thought really true? (again, it likely isn’t). If the thought is neither helpful nor useful, replace it with one that is. It doesn’t have to be a rainbows-and-kittens positive thought. It can be a realistic thought with a decent chance of happening. Changing your self-talk takes effort and practice, but you will be rewarded with less stress.
- Breathe. We breathe all the time, but we often stress-breathe with short staccato breaths from our chest. We rarely take time to breathe deeply from our diaphragm. Doing so sends calming signals to the body and switches us out of the sympathetic stress mode. Like any new skill, deep breathing takes practice and repetition. Put a sticky note on your computer, in your car, or on your microwave reminding you to take a few deep breaths.
After moving forward with those self-care steps, you’ll come to a fork in the road. A mindfulness practice can help you make conscious decisions at those forks. When you are mindful of what you are doing throughout the day, you can ask yourself if you really want to bake cupcakes for the PTA bake sale tomorrow or if you want to say “No.” Without mindful habits, you might say, “Yes” without thinking and then seethe with resentment as you pour cupcake batter into your 75th cupcake at 11:00 pm in a state of overwhelm. Being mindful means checking in with yourself throughout the day to notice how you are feeling (i.e., Am I really tired or do I need some water? I notice that I’m feeling irritable…why might that be?). Doing so can prevent a deluge of frustration that seems to come from nowhere at the end of the day.
You don’t end up in overwhelm by saying “Yes” to one thing, by skimping on one night of sleep, or by speaking negatively to yourself on occasion. You end up in overwhelm from a series of choices and behaviors repeated over time. And that pathway into overwhelm is the same pathway out. Practicing self-care behaviors and being conscious of the decisions you make is the road-map to leave the Land of Overwhelm.
For more self-care strategies to help you get out and stay out of Overwhelm, click HERE to receive the Introduction and the First Chapter of Everyday Self-Care: Your Proven, Holistic Guide to Feeling Better.