Yes, we’re still overwhelmed. No, we don’t just need to learn to relax.
With everything that’s happened in the last year, the effects of the pandemic are still very real and will continue to affect us for some time. One of those effects is this feeling of constant overwhelm. Overwhelm of emotions, change, information, grief, and the unknown that is ultimately scraping away at our overall well-being. We mustn't forget that our well-being is always important and just because time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic doesn’t mean that it’s gotten any easier to manage.
We all know, rationally, the things we can do to help: eat healthier, exercise, get quality sleep. But it can be hard to do these things when you’re stuck in overwhelm. So, let’s look at some practical things you can start doing today that may help you get started.
First of all, if you find yourself feeling this way a lot, you’re not alone. It can be difficult to admit but there are more of us feeling overwhelmed than not.
Second, there are some things that you can try that might give you a little breathing room. You’ll notice that a couple of the things I mention below have to do with your body and I believe it’s important to involve your whole self (mind & body) in order to get the most effective results.
Breathe. More specifically, breathe in for 7 seconds and breathe out for 11 seconds. And repeat for at least 1 minute. You can also breathe in for 4 and out for 8, the idea is that you’re breathing out for a longer period of time than you’re breathing in. This method of breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, slows your heart rate down, and allows your body to slow down. I first learned about this technique during a hypnobirthing course I did when I was pregnant and have sworn by it ever since.
Make a list. Write it down using a pen and paper. Make a list of everything that is on your to-do list, everything that is causing the overwhelm. A great technique that I follow was created by Ryder Carroll, the author, and creator of the Bullet Journal. He says to create 3 columns and in the first one write down all the things that you’re currently working on, in the second column make a list of everything you should be working on, and in the third column list everything you want to be working on. Spend time on this exercise, don’t rush it. Each thing can be written down as a bullet point in short form. This method allows you to see your mental inventory. Then you want to look at this inventory you’ve created and ask yourself, for each bullet point, 1) Does this matter? (not just to you but maybe someone you care about) And 2) Is this vital? (to your housing, loans, job, etc.) Any point on your list that you answer with a “No” to both of these questions, can then come off your list. You should be left with only things that matter and/or are vital to you. “Everything else is a distraction,” says Carroll. He also mentions that it’s more beneficial to do this using a pen and paper so that you can be more mindful and present (rather than typing it on your phone or computer).
Learn to say “no”. And then keep practicing until it becomes a natural way for you to prioritize the tasks, people, and situations that you know won’t cause you unnecessary stress. Just like the mental inventory exercise above, notice what activities you’re doing that make you counter-productive and take up a lot of energy, which ones can you stop doing today? Next time someone asks for your help for example, instead of jumping in and saying yes, can you take a moment of reflection to ask yourself whether this is a priority or not? When you say yes to something that you know will stress you out and is not a priority, it’s like you’re saying yes to overwhelm too. What do you want to say yes to instead? How much of the overwhelm is caused by these situations?
It can seem too obvious but when we’ve been practicing saying yes to almost every request, it can seem like it’s part of our identity but it’s not. You are always in control and are always at choice.
Start with one thing today, and commit to practicing the exercise. Carve out at least 15 minutes today to get started and prioritize managing your overwhelm, instead of it managing you.