Overwhelm. Has it ever happened to you? When your mind is racing, your heart is pounding and your stomach is in knots. In my opinion it is one of the most unpleasant sensations you can feel. The idea that there are so many things tasks on your list and not enough time or space or resources to complete them. When I was growing up I dealt with a lot of anxiety, so the feeling of overwhelm is a familiar one. In my past overwhelm would leave my curled up in a ball crying on the bathroom floor. Now a days I have developed some sure fire coping mechanisms for dealing with the “walls closing in on me” times, and I want to share them with you.
1. Make A List
Stopping the cycle of nagging thoughts that often come along with the feeling of overwhelm by writing them down on paper is highly effective technique. It can be very easy to get caught up in “circular” thinking when feeling that there are too many things on your plate, and this only adds to the unpleasant feeling. By purposefully interrupting your thought pattern and writing all of your tasks down on paper you will be sending a message to your brain that it does not have to keep reminding you of all you have to do. This is especially effective when you have racing thoughts when you are trying to fall asleep. To make this step even more effective, try prioritizing your list, writing times and dates that things must be done. Often times just the act of organization helps to diffuse the stress.
2. Take A Nap
My mother always used to say to me that everything is so much harder when you are tired. And this is so true! When you are lacking sleep, your reasoning skills will be diminished, your emotional reactions will be heightened and you will be more susceptible to the feeling of being over taxed. In the moment, taking the time to go sleep may feel like the last thing you want to do, because it might feel like a waste of time. The truth is that by getting some rest you will be better able to handle what you have to take care of, and will have a much more stable state of mind to work with. All it takes is 20 minutes to recharge your batteries.
When you are in a state of stress, you most likely are going to be breathing at a more rapid and shallow pace. What this does is send signals to your brain that you are in danger. This causes your body to produce more and more stress hormones because your body cannot tell the difference between a mental and a physical threat. Your body reacts by producing stress hormones that would help you to fight or flee when you are under emotional stress just as it does when you are physically in danger. By consciously slowing your breath (bonus points for breathing into your belly), you will be allowing your body to switch from your sympathetic nervous response (fight or flight) to your parasympathetic nervous response (rest and digest.) This will give you a clearer head and can help to reduce anxiety, stress and tension.
4. Move Your Beautiful Body
Endorphins are one of the best remedies for overwhelm and stress. These magical happy chemicals literally help you to think more clearly, and help to put you into a better more positive state of mind. Choose an activity that you genuinely enjoy and do it for 15-20 minutes. This does not have to be a boot camp workout, and you don't have to sweat for 75 minutes for it to work. Going for a quiet walk, rolling out your mat and doing a few of your favourite asanas, taking a quick swim or bike ride are all good options. Just like with napping, it may feel like you should skip your fitness routine when feeling like you have too many things to do but taking the time to nurture and care for your body in this way reap so many benefits.
Exercising when you are feeling stressed is also a great way to burn through any stress hormones your body may be producing. When you are stressed and your body goes into “fight or flight” it will release cortisol and adrenalin. If these hormones are not “used up” through physical activity they can stay in the bloodstream causing damage. Doing some physical activity will burn through these hormones leaving you in a better state of health.
5. Call A Friend
We are social beings and social interaction is critical for our mental health. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is really easy to get very caught up in your thoughts and to be totally in your own head. Connecting with a friend or loved one really will help you to see things more clearly. Even if you do not talk about your issues, you will still be getting yourself out of your negative state by changing your environment. We were meant to live and work together, so you should not feel that you have to face your life alone. If you can, try to work in a cuddle session. Studies have shown that just 20 seconds of cuddling will encourage your body to produce oxytocin, which is the “falling in love” chemical. This will leave you feeling more capable and less frantic.
Overwhelm is no fun, but taking the time to nurture yourself can make a world of difference. Do something really nice for you next time you are feeling overwhelmed and see how it works to change your outlook. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? I would love to hear your tips and techniques!