No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s normal to have moments (or days, or weeks, or months!) in which you feel so stressed and overwhelmed that you feel like you’re reaching your breaking point. While feelings of stress and overwhelm can be normal, how you respond to those feelings can make all the difference when it comes to your quality of life. Here are just a few tips to help you when you feel like you’re at your wits end.
Tip #1: Accept and validate your emotions (instead of judging them).
I realize this may seem like a silly place to start, but I can assure you that it’s foundational to everything you do going forward. If you immediately respond to your feelings of stress and overwhelm by judging and criticizing yourself for feeling that way, then that is likely only going to escalate those feelings and make it more difficult to think clearly about what’s going on. Instead, practice accepting and validating your feelings. This might look like you saying to yourself, “Whew! I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed right now. It’s okay for me to feel this way and makes total sense given all that I’m juggling right now.”
Tip #2: Remember that you’ve felt this way before…and survived.
Sometimes feelings of anxiety and stress can be so intense that it can seem like you’re always going to feel that way. Remind yourself in these moments that emotions always ebb and flow. You won’t feel this same emotion to the same degree forever. Remember past times when you’ve felt overwhelmed and how that feeling eventually subsided.
Tip #3: Connect with your values.
Feelings are NOT the same thing as values. Anxiety is a feeling. Values are how you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis (e.g. calm, patient, loving, etc.). Instead of letting your feelings of stress and overwhelm drive your actions, take a step back to think about what values you’d want to drive your actions instead. Ask yourself, “What would I tell someone else who is feeling the exact same way I am right now? What encouragement or advice would I have for them?” You can also ask yourself, “How do I want to look back on this experience and say that I handled it?”
Tip #4: Seek support.
Talk to someone else about how you’re feeling – whether it be a friend, significant other, counselor, etc. Venting your feelings can be a healthy release and it can be comforting knowing you’re not going through your struggles alone. In addition, an outsider who isn’t wrapped up in the same situation can often see things with a certain degree of clarity that you can’t whenever you’re in it, so they may be able to give you helpful insight and advice.
Tip #5: Prioritize.
You can’t do it all. Let me repeat: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL. If you’re trying to do everything, that’s likely causing a lot of your stress. Give yourself a break by prioritizing (and maybe thrown in some delegating, too!). This can be hard for the type A perfectionists out there, because the pressure to “do it all” can often lead to seeing ALL things with EQUAL importance. Before you dive into your to-dos, take a step back, and examine what is most important, less important, and not important in the long-run.
Tip #5b: Prioritize self-care.
In all of your prioritizing, don’t forget how essential self-care is to you being able to do all of the things you care about. Otherwise, if you’re going, going, going – without breaks for relaxation and enjoyment – you’ll easily burn out, or be less effective in the things you are doing. Most people don’t just stumble upon an abundance of free time with nothing else to do except self-care, so instead, you’ll need to intentionally make time for it in the midst of your busy schedule.
Tip #6: Remember (and repeat to yourself) the mantra “one step at a time.”
Once you’re out of “planning mode,” be present with whatever it is you’re doing, and don’t get too far ahead of yourself with all that is to come. Think about if you were about to run a marathon. If you started imagining what mile 20 might feel like, what strategies you’ll use to get through mile 21, how mile 22 will be, and how miles 23, 24, 25, and 26 will go, you’ll likely be mentally exhausted before you even reach the end of mile 1…not to mention probably psyched out regarding whether or not you can persevere through such a daunting task. This is how it is with our day-to-day lives, too! Don’t waste mental energy on what you have planned later, but instead, focus on what you’re doing in the here and now, taking things one step (or moment) at a time.
Tip #7: Remember that your to-do list isn’t getting in the way of your life. It IS your life.
It’s easy to view our to-dos as burdens interfering with our lives. But remember that life is being lived as you go through your to-dos! Waking up, showering, getting ready, attending work/school, running errands, making dinner, going to the grocery store, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. are all a part of your life—not getting in the way of it. Make a point to make the best of whatever it is you’re doing. Connect to your senses (e.g. light a candle, listen to soothing music, etc.) to help you enjoy some of the less enjoyable tasks you need to do (e.g. folding laundry).
All in all, while you can’t control your feelings, you CAN control how you respond to your feelings. So the next time you feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed, take a deep breath and walk through these steps. Hopefully these tips will help you to take a step back, gain perspective, and clearly move forward with a sense of purpose and calm.