Wisdom//

4 Ways to “Catch a Break” When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

If you're ready for 2020 to be over, you're not alone.

Dean Drobot / Shutterstock
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

When will 2020 be over?

I know I’m not alone in thinking that this has been one of the longest years of my life. From a global pandemic and the worst recession since the Great Depression, to the murders of innocent Black people, and one of the most controversial election seasons in U.S. history, among horrific wildfires in the West and destructive hurricanes in the South, the collective stress and tragedies we’re enduring are almost too much to bear.

If you, similarly, are overwhelmed and looking to catch a break, here are 4 therapy-based suggestions to consider.

1. Try Mindful Movement

According to Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC, overwhelm can look different for everyone. That said, across the board, she recommends people find moments of groundedness and mindfulness. “It doesn’t need to be anything major to have the lasting effects that we are looking for,” said Rice. She believes it’s possible to carve out at least a few minutes every day to move your body in a mindful way without interrupting other areas of your life. She suggests intensive exercises like jumping jacks, going on a walk for a change in environmental scenery, or a muscle relaxation practice like tensing up all of your muscles and then releasing them on an exhale.

Personally, a regular at-home yoga practice has been critical to get me through this difficult time. I like the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene for a wide variety of free, body-positive at-home yoga classes. Classes range from under ten minutes to over an hour so you can select a video that fits into your schedule. I also love having the ability to select a more vigorous class when I’m feeling more energetic or a slower, more relaxing class when I’m feeling depleted. There’s something for everyone.

2. Remind Yourself Everything is Temporary

Rest assured, even therapists admit it’s easy to lose hope right now. They’ve also observed it’s challenging to be the beacon of hope right now. Sometimes you need to just sit in the pain and remind yourself that everything is temporary, that nothing lasts forever. “Just like with all terrible things that happen to us or around us,” said Rice, “there will eventually be some light at the end of the tunnel.” Rice finds that it’s sometimes easier to find gratitude when we have seen what an especially challenging experience looks like. As she says, “When we create our new version of normal, we can do a healthy reflection on what happened in the past and be happier about how we aren’t there anymore.”

I am someone who often “catastrophizes” or imagines the worst case scenario. These days, I’ve been having a hard time not feeling like the world is crashing down around me. I have to actively remind myself that no matter how bad something seems, it will pass. Going on walks where I see seasonal changes, flowers blossoming or leaves falling off trees, helps remind me about the passage of time, that everything is temporary.

3. Connect Your Mind and Body

If you feel burned out, Rice recommends doing something that connects your mind and body at the start of the day. It could be a walk, hike, swimming, or even something more extensive like Orange Theory. Find something that works for you and be intentional about it. For example, if you go on a power walk, challenge yourself to only focus on your breath. If you go for a swim, everytime you hold your breath, bring your mind to that spot. If you go on a hike, bring your focus to the birds chirping or try to make shapes with the clouds. “Pulling ourselves into the present moment is challenging,” Rice admits, “but it’s the only way to get away from getting stuck in the past or in the future.”

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of active meditations. Going on walks around the block in the morning and noticing one thing in the external environment and then bringing my attention inward to notice one thing in my internal environment. I’ve also been enjoying closing my eyes outside and seeing how many different noises I can identify. These little ways to connect my mind and body have helped me stay calm and keep life in perspective.

4. Fill Your Own Cup First

I know how hard it is sometimes to prioritize your health and well-being when it feels like there is so much suffering around you. It makes me feel guilty, why do I deserve to rest when so many others can’t? “My logic is that I can’t assist other people with putting on their oxygen mask if I haven’t ensured that mine is tightly fastened and ready to go,” said Rice.

So, think about: what fills your cup? It might have been a mindfulness practice, a massage, a facial, or spending time with the people you love. The tricky thing is you might not be able to do a lot of the things that normally fill up your cup because of COVID-19. In that case, it’s time to get creative. I’ve been prioritizing spending more time outside, laying in the grass, journaling, talking to my therapist, cooking, and taking walks by myself. As an introvert, spending more time alone and away from the screen has been an important way for me to fill up my cup these days.

2020 has illuminated a lot of ways our society is broken. It’s sad, maddening, stressful, and sometimes evokes so many emotions there’s nothing left for me to do but curl up in a ball and cry. I’ve had more breakdowns this year than ever before and — it’s uncomfortable and disconcerting to say the least. But when I remember we are in this together, and we will get through it, I am able to muster up the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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