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5 Steps to Calm the Chaos of Overwhelm

"When you are feeling overwhelmed, take it as a sign that you need to hit pause."

Getty Images
Getty Images

Feeling overwhelmed seems to be one of the most common emotions people experience, and the global coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated those feelings — along with worry, uncertainty, fear, sadness, disappointment, and other negative emotions.

Many people were already feeling overwhelmed before the crisis by overloaded to-do lists, digital distractions, and the day-to-day pressures of work and family. Now many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage of upsetting news, along with other feelings as a result of social isolation, quarantines, or requests to shelter in place. With schools closed and kids home, we may feel overwhelmed by the demands of continuing to care for them while trying to work from home. Or we may be overwhelmed with worry over not being able to work

All of this is normal and to be expected when we are dealing with a situation that is in many ways unprecedented. And although feeling overwhelmed is common, it’s important to look out for your emotional and physical health by doing what we can to eliminate or reduce that negative energy. 

There many different ways to relax or take a break from overwhelming feelings, but those methods will probably be more helpful if you work on finding balance overall. Here are a few tips:

  1. Learn to Say No — Even if you’re already feeling overwhelmed, there are things and people you want to say yes to: your boss, your kids, your friends. Ask yourself if those obligations are really necessary. If it’s going to stress you out, politely say no. If your boss is expecting an unrealistic deadline, remind her or him of everything on your plate and propose a different solution. If you need a personal time out from being with or helping people, take one. It’ll help you be more effective when you’re back at it.
  1. Let Go of Perfectionism — Lin Yutang once said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.” Sometimes we need to learn to let go of the need to control everything or have it all turn out perfectly. This is one of those times. The current situation we are facing will force many of us to let go of perfectionist ideals. Remember, no matter what people choose to show (and filter) on social media, nobody’s life is perfect. Let go of the thought of being the ideal family, spouse, or parent. Setting realistic goals is a good thing, but expecting perfection of yourself, others, or the circumstances of life may easily lead to you feeling overwhelmed — and disappointed.
  1. Simplify — We tend to convince ourselves that the chaos in our daily personal life is put upon us by outside sources, but ultimately most of it boils down to our choices and priorities. For many of us, life seemed chaotic before the current crisis. Now is a good time to take stock. Ask yourself what you can let go of or simplify. Stop overcommitting to anything that is causing you stress, and make time to care for yourself. Spring cleaning is a chance to rid your space of unnecessary objects and create clean spaces in your home. It’s also smart to take regular stock of any ways you might be needlessly complicating your schedule, expectations, or day-to-day living. What can you cut loose, at least for now?
  1. Reconnect — Just as you need to eat regular meals to nourish your physical body, the spirit within you needs to be fed regularly as well. Feelings of overwhelm, worry and sadness are often side effects of spiritual malnourishment. Feed your spirit by watching uplifting movies, reconnecting with people you have lost touch with, calling your parents or siblings or other relatives, and reading positive books and articles. There is a lot of good news going on in the world; you just have to look for it. Consider reconnecting with your faith, since studies have shown that people who have a belief in a higher power are happier and more contented, no matter what they may be experiencing.
  1. Free Yourself Emotionally — When life seems to pile up, you might have so many things on your task list that you don’t even know where to begin. No matter the cause, when you’re truly feeling overwhelmed you might be so stressed that you’re enveloped in negative energy. You might feel frustrated, angry, or confused more easily than you otherwise would.

Letting go of old emotional baggage like stress and overwhelm can reduce your tendency to fall back into those feelings at the drop of a hat. Releasing these old emotional energies, some of which may date back to your childhood, could be key to breaking free from feeling overwhelmed — a potentially damaging pattern that may affect your emotional and physical health.

We all want to stay informed, especially during times of crisis. But we also need to be mindful of our media habits and make sure that we are not fixating on things that cause us to worry unnecessarily — anything over which you have no control.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, take it as a sign that you need to hit pause. Take time to breathe deeply, to reflect in gratitude for the people and things you have to be thankful for, and to care for yourself and those around you. 

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