We’ve all been there. That feeling that everything is happening all at once. It seems like it’s just too much. You might feel consumed by your thoughts. The hard part about feeling overwhelmed is that it sometimes takes a big cry or a surge of intense emotions before we realize that we need to slow down or take a break.
Here are some ways to get through all those overwhelming feelings in the moment.
Redirect Your Focus
List 1 thing that is important right now. Can you solve anything right now? If the answer is no, we might need a break. This doesn’t mean that it continues forever. Remind yourself that you’ll come back to your problem. Remind yourself that worrying will not make your worries dissipate.
If you’re fixated on one problem, shift to a different problem. This mental break gives us some perspective. It’s a form of brainstorming.
Help Someone Else
Call someone else and ask her/him about her/his day. This doesn’t mean that you ignore your needs, but if you’ve been thinking about your problem all day, it might distract yourself from your thoughts. Not only will you be there for another person, you might feel useful and feel less powerless overall.
Imagine one of your favorite places. Here, you feel at peace. You’re reminded of the grandeur surrounding you as you visualize. Use all of your senses to imagine this place. How do the clouds and sun interact? Where are you sitting? Imagine how the ground feels and what the air smells like. With this visualization, we’re provided with a temporary escape and chances are, you won’t feel worse than before you tried this exercise.
Repeat a mantra
Find an affirmation and repeat it. Take 20 slow breaths. As you breathe, imagine that your body continues to relax five percent more. Feel the tension lifting from your shoulders.When we experience fear and our heart rates increase, our bodies interpret this situation as a threat, but as our heart rates decrease, our bodies inform our brains that this threat (your problem) is no longer an issue. Continue these slow breaths and repeat your mantra.
I’ve always had trouble maintaining a regular sleep schedule. I’m not sure if you feel that your sleep cycle gets off kilter when you go out for a night and then you’re tired for the next few days. After a few more days, you feel sleep-deprived. You can’t seem to wake up at five thirty because you went to bed at two a.m. the previous night. You’re not alone.
Hold yourself accountable.
Have someone hold you accountable and to meet you for coffee so that you can avoid feeling guilty. Having a friend call you is a bigger motivation. Make it into a fun game where you can try to wake up before the person calls.
Remind yourself that you'll be happier.
We’re all in a better mood and think more clearly when we get more sleep. Even studies show that college students experience more positive moods and are more extraverted when they get better sleep. Focus on the benefits of getting to bed an hour earlier. If the motivation is coming from within, we are more likely to follow through with the desired behavior.
Find a nightly routine.
An hour before bed, create a bedtime ritual. Whether that means turning off the lights and getting out your favorite book (on Kindle or in tangible form), do something relaxing on a nightly basis. When you start to do this activity, your body will associate bedtime with this activity.
Some of my clients have found it helpful to set a timer an hour and a half prior to the "desired" bed-time. The "desired" bed-time might be the ideal time that you'd like to crawl into bed. The reason for the timer is the mental preparation related to going to sleep. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by what sleep entails, and how it means that we're one step closer to tomorrow. What do I mean by this?! Maybe we begin to go over all the things we need to do the next day and that's what makes it anxiety-provoking to think about going to bed. I like the idea of an hour and a half because it gives me time to relax and remind my body that I have plenty of time to wind down before going to bed.
Watch your caffeine intake.
I’m definitely guilty of this. We all need our caffeine. If you need your daily cup of coffee, see if you can stop drinking coffee by 3pm. This way, your body has time to rid of the effects of coffee before you go to sleep. Studies show that coffee intake six hours prior to sleep can disrupt sleep quality.
Invest in bed-time tea.
Sometimes I think that it’s the act of drinking tea that is calming. This means, avoid caffeine-based teas before bedtime. Herbal teas including valerian root, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm can reduce stress and anxiety. After having this tea before bedtime a couple weeks in a row, your body will begin to associate drinking that sleepy-time tea with going to bed. Think back to your Intro to Psych class with Pavlov's dogs. For those who want a refresher, the researcher Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Yes, we are human beings, but the key is that we can retrain our behavior and pair our actions with a particular situation.
Amsterdam, J.D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., Rockwell, K., Mao, J.J., & Shults, J. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 29(4): 378-82.
Drake, C., Roehrs, T. Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(11): 1195-1200.
Gray, E.K. & Watson, D. (2002). General and specific traits of personality and their relation to sleep and academic performance. Journal of Personality, 70(2): 177-206.
When I'm feeling down and exhausted, I have to ask myself what I need. Do I need love from myself or comfort from my friends? Do I need to take some alone time and be by myself?
I don't know if you get to those places where you're just not feeling it and all you want to do is stay home and veg out. But I've noticed that there are times that I have to push myself to hang out after a long day, just because I'd rather be in my comfy pants (literally and figuratively). I guess I'd call that tough-love with myself.
Yes, we can be judgmental. It serves a purpose. Sometimes it tells us that we're feeling insecure about something and that's why our criticism of others or ourselves comes up. At the same time, self-judgment and judging others can be taxing. When we're critical of ourselves, we're actually making it harder to give ourselves that self-love. That criticism adds to our negative thoughts about ourselves.
For an exercise, you could start with acknowledging that the judgmental thought is coming about, "Hey, that's pretty judgmental. It's okay to judge. You're human. What do I need right now?" The reason that "it's okay to judge" is included is that it's about being kind to ourselves when we're being judgmental of ourselves and others. The next step is action-oriented. By asking ourselves what we need, we're creating space for us to take care of ourselves. So as an example, if we're tired and at work, maybe we need to take some long deep breaths for two minutes. Or maybe that means that we need to step outside and call a friend.
Sometimes we make impulsive decisions. It happens. But after awhile, we begin to notice how these quick decisions get in the way of our happiness. We might regret those choices. Or we might feel anxious and question our decisions. Those times when you do slow down and listen to your gut, your decisions are aligned with you and what feels “right” to you. You become more confident and you trust yourself.
Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you that you can improve your ability to listen to your intuition. Let’s get to it.
Acknowledge those “negative” feelings so that you can make room for a decision that’s aligned with you. When we’re a neutral or positive state, we’re better equipped to make decisions. We have more perspective. If we’re in a “negative” mood, we might be more likely to react.
Even if this voice tells you to do something that you don’t want to do, recognize that it might feel uncomfortable. We might not want to break up with our partner(s). We might not want to get off the couch. We might not want to put away that box of cookies. You get it. Generally when you get these feelings, you might not want to follow through because it might mean some “pain” on the other side, whether it’s feeling your feelings or feeling sad or lonely after leaving a relationship. You’ll have more space to think and to make decisions that fit for you.
Allow your mind to wander. When we are curious, we’re more likely to be open and intuitive. Whatever comes to your mind, let it arise. See what it’s like to allow thoughts without resisting them. Mindfulness is another way to practice this exercise.
Lieberman, M.D. (2000). Intuition: A social cognitive neuroscience approach. Psychological Bulletin, 126(1), 109-137.
Volz, K.G. & Von Gramon, D.Y. (2006). What neuroscience can tell about intuitive processes in the context of perceptual discovery. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(12), 2077-87.
Sometimes we might wish that we were in one of Harry Potter’s invisible jackets. It’s safe when we’re with those who make us feel loved. Maybe we’re worried about being judged about what we say or do. This might impact whether you say something. You might be worried that what you say is unintelligent. Or maybe you think that others are upset with you.
It can be overwhelming when we’re caught up by our thoughts and concerned with others think of us. It can make it hard to do the things we want to do if we’re cloaked in anxiety. We might want to feel carefree, or at least less worried.
Are you ready?! Here are some tips to worry a little less about what others think!
It's none of your beeswax!!
Sometimes, shifting our narratives can help us work through these thoughts. One way to rewrite this story is to tell yourself, “What others are thinking about me is none of my business.” If the person is really upset with you, he/she can tell you. That person is responsible for telling you.
Otherwise, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were kind to that person and did nothing wrong!
In the case that person has negative thoughts about you, it often has to do with the other person. If that person is jealous, it means that that person is insecure. Most likely, that person has to do some internal work on themselves and gain awareness of these insecurities if it’s leaking into your space. When we’re worried about what others think, we’re also giving that person a lot of our power. What do I mean by this? Also, the person that you’re concerned with, perhaps you wouldn’t want to be friends with that person anyway. The people that we’re around (and worry about what they think) might not share the same qualities or values we hold.
Share about it.
Another way to approach this is to talk to that person. Maybe you’ll find out that person wasn’t thinking what you thought they were thinking! Or if they confirm your thoughts, it’s a reminder that you’ve got some great intuition. By talking to that person, we might learn something about them. We might find a new friend!
Think about the activities that you are entirely engrossed in, to the point that you don’t care about what others think of you. What is it about those activities that makes you feel self-conscious? Maybe you’re in a comfortable space, surrounded by people that love you. Or it could be that you’re so consumed in the activity that you’re not worried.
Do what you love.
Moments are ephemeral. Think about what you really want to cherish. You make your life. You deserve to enjoy it. To be the main role in your show. Don’t let anyone else take away that power. Do you. If there’s a song you love, belt it out. When we’re doing what we love to do, it no longer matters what others think. If it’s meaningful to you, do it.
Our feelings can have an effect on us. If we’re tired or sad, we might be more self-conscious. Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel worried about how others see you. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling might be making you feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Tell yourself that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Talk about how you feel self-conscious. Sometimes when we share about it, we take the power out of it. Chances are that if you share about it, someone will understand what you’re going through and see you as bold and courageous for telling them about it. Other times, that person you tell might even share that he/she feels the same way. By putting ourselves out there and sharing the truth, we’re brave. We make space for others to experience our humanity. We model that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
I’ve always struggled with letting go. It often comes in the form of aligning my thoughts with the situation. What do I mean by this? Often I’m tempted to alter the situation, but I gain self-acceptance when I am able to accept it as it is. I no longer tamper with it. I take action, and then, once I acknowledge that there is nothing more that I can control, often with an internal struggle, I finally arrive at a place of self-acceptance.
If you are a future-focused person, you might find it helpful to imagine what you’d like to see. You might imagine what acceptance looks like for you. How would you feel once you’ve let go? Or maybe this means investigating what is making it difficult to let go. Perhaps it’s the feelings that you’re experiencing. Or the feelings that you might be avoiding. It might be scary to acknowledge what waits on the other side of acceptance. Or maybe you’re hoping for closure and there’s this stuckness that you’re experiencing. You might wonder about what you might be resisting and how this might make it difficult to let go.
It’s not an easy process. If another person is involved, it’s not a matter of whether the person deserves this forgiveness. It’s about whether you want to continue holding onto this pain and resentment against this other person. So how do we go about this pain?
Be kind to yourself.
It starts with compassion towards ourselves. We acknowledge what we’re dealing with, while maintaining responsibility. It’s not about having pity for ourselves, but rather validating our own experiences. We’re metaphorically embracing ourselves and showering ourselves with the love that we need during this painful process. When we treat ourselves with kindness and non-judgment, we can work through the pain and start to forgive ourselves and others involved. These are some phrases that you could use to acknowledge your own pain and be compassionate with yourself:
“This hurts and I’m here for you.”
“No one should go through this and it’s painful.”
“It’s hard to be in so much pain. What do I need right now?”
Have you ever thought to yourself, “What if I say something stupid?”
I used to get scared. I didn’t know what to say when I was in a big group of people. I was consumed by what others thought of me. But then I did a lot of work on myself. I started with small changes. And then I started to love myself. I realized that a lot of people shared the same concerns.
It can be overwhelming to interact with others, especially when it’s around a large group of people. Maybe you are concerned how others may judge you in social situations. Perhaps you avoid situations because you anticipate the anxiety that you might encounter.
If you have found that your social anxiety has negatively impacted your life, please seek a mental health professional.
3 Tips For Overcoming Social Anxiety
This might mean that you come up with a plan ahead of time. Expect that it might be difficult to drag yourself to the event, and that's okay because it can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Remind yourself that you don't have to stay for the entirety of the event. See if you can connect with one person you know that will be there at the gathering. Knowing someone can increase your comfort level, or at least make it a little more manageable. Or if you don't know anyone, see if you can text someone to let him/her/them know that you're going and that you might reach out to them during the outing.
Remind yourself that others also share the same worries.
It’s something that a lot of people struggle with and don’t necessarily share. But I want you to know that you are not alone and that others also worry about how they are perceived by others.
You are a cool person!
Your friends and family value you for who you are. Remind yourself that bring qualities to the room and that others appreciate your presence.
I get it. Maybe your perfectionism is getting in the way of finishing or starting projects you always wanted to pursue. Or maybe it’s just too scary to think might happen if you scrawl a few words on a page. It can be suffocating in such a way that we’re unable to to keep going, for fear that our work will be criticized, or for fear that we will be perceived as “less than.” Chances are, if another person truly thinks of you as less intelligent as you are, then that person really is unable to believe in his or her own abilities. Whether or not you are worried about how others perceive you, others have similar concerns.
Exercises for overcoming your perfectionism/ workaholism/ not being enough/worthy
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Start asking for what you need
If you really want to fend off your perfectionism, asking for what you need is the best way to open the floodgates of flexibility. If you need to, think of it as an act of service to others. By showing that you don’t know something also gives others the chance to be vulnerable. The repetitive act of clarifying something or asking questions then conditions us into recognizing that nothing will bite us in the a** or recognizing that we survived after asking for help. Practice asking for suggestions. It doesn’t mean that you are “weak” or not the “expert”. Rather, it’s a sign of humility. It’s the way that we all learn and assert ourselves.
Write about yourself from the 3rd person perspective
In this exercise, write about your qualities as a person. This key is to identify who you are beyond your external accomplishments or appearance. It might be easier to pretend as though you are narrating someone else’s life, and therefore gain some perspective.
Practice doing something “imperfectly”
Purposely find an activity that you are mediocre at and find the fun in it. Fully experience what it’s like not to try so hard all the time. Maybe you’ll find relief in it! See if you can be silly while trying not to attain the “ideal” outcome. If you need any exercises: draw with your left hand and have a competition with a friend --who can draw the messiest picture?
Acknowledge that we’re human
Even those who might appear “perfect” on the outside or seem like they have it “all together” have skeletons in their closets. Everyone has some fear or struggles that they have endured. We are all fallible beings.
Make a list of what you really want from life
By writing this list, maybe you’re better able to see your purpose and realize what is meaningful to you. The reasoning behind this question is to shed some light on what drives us at a deeper level, rather than focusing on superficial outcomes.
Most people do not have the goal to be alone on an island. If you do, have at it! Most of us want to make money, but at the end of the day, we really might want to make money so that we can be surrounded by and spend time with those who matter to us.
I used to hesitate and question what I had to say. Remaining in self-doubt required so much energy, and I wondered if my thoughts were valid or valuable. My self-consciousness furthered this spiral; because I felt insecure about what I would say, I prevented myself from interacting with and connecting with others. I felt alone in these thoughts. But through personal work and through practice, I learned that none of this was true. Soon enough, it no longer mattered what others thought. It was through this openness and walking through this discomfort that I gained meaningful relationships with others and felt more comfortable in my own skin. I began to love myself and feel more confident.
Because of my own path, confidence is one of those topics close to my heart. I am excited about sharing these exercises with you!
We often focus on negative memories.
These memories are often based in fiction, or prevent us from investigating other pieces of evidence that contrast our strengths and our abilities. When we focus on negative past experiences, we often leave out factual information reflecting our true qualities. I challenge you to identify five qualities associated with five different memories. The purpose of this exercise is to pinpoint your strengths despite the outcome. Even if it were a so-called “negative” or neutral experience, I am almost certain that you emulate positive attributes.
Let’s reflect upon an experience.
Perhaps you received feedback at work. What are some of the qualities that you exemplify at work? I can guarantee that you are hard-working, determined, attentive, and kind. I am assuming, but I am sure that there are many examples in which you demonstrate these qualities. When are you attentive to others’ feelings? When have you arrived early or stayed late at work? Or maybe you give it your best effort at your meetings.
Be a role model.
When we show others how to do something based on our skills, we’re reminded of our redeeming qualities. In those moments, we will focus on someone else, while reinforcing our own competencies. Perhaps you will gain excitement by mentoring someone and find yourself rooting for that person. Or maybe you will see yourself and your own strengths through this person.
It’s All In The Little Things.
Do something small for yourself. Buy yourself flowers as an act of appreciation for showing up today. Write yourself a note and place it somewhere you will come across it later. Wear your favorite outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks. Cut out an image or phrase from a magazine that reminds you of your amazing self. Send yourself a card so that you receive it at work.
I get it. It’s difficult. Do you ever feel like when you see that friend calling, you’re not looking forward to the phone call? Or after talking to this person, you feel drained? I hear you. It’s hard to talk to your friends about it, especially when you anticipate how your friend will respond. You worry that your friend won’t take it well and that will be the end of your friendship.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not easy, but that it’s not impossible.
Most likely, your friends will respond well to your setting those boundaries. So where to start? With you! Why do I say this? When we take the time for ourselves, we’ve grown accustomed to taking care of ourselves in all aspects of our lives, including in our relationships. So when we start with ourselves, it becomes more natural to trust ourselves and to assert ourselves with others.
This is all so abstract sometimes. What do we say to "set boundaries"? Let's say that you know that you will have a busy work-week, so you might tell your friend, "I can't meet this week. It's really hectic."
We might not know when we'll be ready to hang out with a certain friend. And that's okay.
Part of setting boundaries is listening to what feels good to you. So you might sink into that ambivalence, and when your friend asks if you can attend an event, you might say, "I'm not sure. Can I get back to you?" If you really want to hold yourself accountable, or if you feel pressured to respond, you might include when you'll make the decision, "Can I let you know by Friday?"
Empathize with yourself.
It is scary to set boundaries. Recognize that it does take courage to set a boundary, especially if it is not something that you’re used to doing. Acknowledge the possible guilt of stating what you need, and let yourself know how important and empowering it will feel once you do set the boundary.
Remind yourself that setting your boundaries is an act of taking care of yourself.
For all of us people-pleasers out there, you can let yourself know that sharing what you need is being of service to that friend: by stating what we need, we are not expecting the other person to read our minds. We are also giving the other person a chance to be held accountable for their actions.
When you set that boundary, we create that space for others to respect us.
Let’s say that we set a boundary with our friend, and she doesn’t end up responding positively to our boundary, it’s information. It can be revealing and difficult: our friend’s response lets us know if we want to continue that friendship, based on whether that person can respect our boundary.