Have you ever noticed how life’s challenges always seem to come in multiples? As soon as you finish resolving one problem, along comes another, ready to knock you back on your butt again. It’s just one dilemma after another, and you can’t seem to catch a break.
When life gets like this, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong. You feel anxious and stressed out all the time, ready to scream your head off or burst into tears at any given moment.
A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2020 revealed that 60% of participants felt overwhelmed by the number of issues America is currently facing. If you add to that workplace stress, family challenges, and money issues, it’s no surprise that many people feel overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out.
Ignoring your problems is not the answer, and neither is pushing your emotions aside. What is a person to do when they feel overwhelmed by all the things going on in their life?
1. Figure out why.
Any meaningful life change usually starts with defining the “why.” That’s probably because we so often do things automatically, without really examining the reason we’re doing them. Have you ever been in a bad mood, but when someone asked you what was wrong, you couldn’t articulate what the issue was?
Take a minute to examine your feelings. Sit down in a quiet place and write out everything that makes you anxious or stressed and generally overwhelmed. When you’re clear on what is causing you to feel this way, you’re one step closer to resolving the problem.
2. Make time for self-care.
We live in turbulent times. Don’t underestimate the amount of pressure you are under just by simply living during this period. Now more than ever, you need to prioritize your self-care, and you need to give yourself time to relax and unwind.
Do something that rejuvenates your mind and body. Whether it’s a daily ten-minute walk outside, playing golf once a week, or time spent journaling, find a way to mentally shut down and relax.
Perhaps the pressure is coming from your place of employment. You’re swamped with so much additional work that you’re forced to take lunch at your desk, stay late, and work over the weekend. Self-care in the workplace means establishing boundaries that help you focus better and be more productive so that you can get things done in good time.
Without regular self-care, you cannot function optimally. You cannot be the best partner, parent, employee, friend, or sibling that you could be.
3. Try breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises help you relax because they send a message to your brain to calm down. Once your brain is calm, it sends that message to the rest of the body.
Breathing exercises are easy to learn and help reduce tension and relieve stress. The best part is you can do them anywhere. Below are three simple breathing exercises you can try (courtesy of Very Well Health):
Morning Breathing Exercise
The morning breathing exercise is perfect for when you’re getting out of bed. It’ll help you have a calm start to your day.
Stand up and bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle at your sides. Inhale slowly and deeply as you return to a standing position, lifting your head last. Hold your breath for a few seconds. Exhale slowly as you return to the original position (bending forward from the waist).
4-7-8 Breath Exercise
Begin by sitting with your back straight. You can do this exercise while lying in bed, but wait until you’re more familiar with the steps before doing so.
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of your mouth, behind your upper front teeth. You’ll keep it there for the entire exercise. Completely exhale through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose as you mentally count to four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making another “whoosh” sound to a count of eight.
Diaphragmatic, or abdominal, breathing helps you use your diaphragm while breathing. Your diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. This technique allows you to use less effort and energy to breathe. It also helps slow your breathing rate and reduce the body’s demand for oxygen.
The next time you need relief from anxiety, try this technique. You can do it while standing, sitting, or lying down.
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should only rise a little. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, slightly purse your lips but keep your jaw relaxed. You may make a soft “whoosh” sound as you exhale. Repeat this breathing exercise. Do it for several minutes until you start to feel better.
There are many breathing exercises you can try to help you relax and calm down when you’re feeling anxious.
4. Step away from the issues.
Sometimes you just need to step away from the issue. If someone in your life brings a constant stream of drama, it’s easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of solving their problems. Try stepping away from the issue and not working to solve it. One option puts the other person’s needs and wants first, and the second option makes your mental health a priority.
There are some situations and people where the best option is for you just to walk away. There is no solution to the challenge, no repairing the relationship. The longer you stay, the more anxious and stressed out you feel. So for the sake of your mental health, you should walk away.
5. Ask for help.
Too often, we feel people should know when we need help. But if you never ask for help, how will the other person know if, and when, you need it?
Even if they do love you, their own needs will be the first that come to their mind. If you continue to silently carry everything on your shoulders alone, most people will let you. It would be unfair to blame them or resent them for that because they were not born with the gift of reading your mind.
Let people know if you need help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out for support, delegate the work, or hire some help. You don’t have to do it all alone or by yourself. But you do need to ask for help.
6. Write it out.
Start journaling. If you don’t know what to write, try stream of consciousness writing. That’s where you write your thoughts as they come. There’s no proofreading or overthinking, just transcribing every thought that pops into your head down on paper. It’s kind of like having a brain dump, where you declutter all the thoughts that are going through your mind.
The stream of consciousness journaling technique allows you to express yourself freely. When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, it’s a great way to get negative thoughts out of your head and alleviate your feelings.
If you prefer to journal with a prompt, try one of the following:
- How was your day?
- What five things are you grateful for?
- Describe the last time you felt the most alive.
- What does happiness mean to you?
- Describe a perfect day.
- If money was no object, what would you do with your life?
With these prompts, you’ll be able to get started writing. Don’t second guess what you’re writing or worry about the journal, or fear that you’re getting too personal. No one else will read this but you.
7. Take a mental health day.
Take a day off from work to focus on your mental health. You don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. All you have to do is relax.
This is the perfect time to binge-watch your favorite shows or immerse yourself in that book you’ve been meaning to get to. You could also go for a walk or do some yoga or just potter around the house all day long.
The main point is to relax your body and your mind. In that vein, avoid doing the following on your mental health day:
- Spending the whole day on social media
- Wallowing in negative emotions
- Focusing on negative thoughts
- Feeling guilty for taking time off
- Spending the day with friends and family
Remember, the day is about you slowing down to rest your mind and body. Don’t pack the day full of activities and distractions.
Sleep in if you have to and indulge in your hobbies. Just relax.
8. Talk to someone.
We keep too many things to ourselves, and it’s almost as if we’re ashamed to let people know we’re struggling. Or maybe we feel like we’d be burdening them with our problems by telling them ours.
Have you ever supported a friend or loved one? Perhaps they were going through challenging times, and you were there to hear them out. How did that make you feel? Did you feel as if they were inconveniencing you with their issues? Were you embarrassed to find out that they were struggling?
Or did you do everything you could to help them through it?
When they finally got through the challenging time, how did you feel knowing that you could help them? Probably pretty good. By keeping your burdens to yourself, you’re preventing your friends and loved ones from supporting you in the same way. You’re denying them the opportunity to show love to you, the same way you showed love to them.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling. Discuss with your boss how overwhelmed you feel at work.
If you can’t do either of those things, talk to a licensed therapist.
9. Say NO!
Stop being a people pleaser to your own detriment. You’re helping other people while putting your physical and mental health in danger. Only one side wins in a scenario like that, and it is not yours.
Saying no carries a considerable amount of guilt, especially if you are not used to saying the word often. You feel as if you are letting people down, and that’s a huge hurdle to get over.
Start small with things that don’t really matter. For example, when you go to a restaurant, and they ask you if you’d like a refill on your drink, say “no.” Or when you’re in a mall, walking past a person eagerly approaching you, ready to spray the perfume tester in your direction, smile and say “no.”
Getting comfortable saying no in casual situations like this will give you the courage to say “no” the next time someone asks if it’s okay for them to dump their hyperactive children at your place or when a colleague asks you to finish up their work.
But if your anxiety is already at a critical level, you may not have the luxury of time to ween people off the assumption that you’ll always be available to help. If this is the case, then go cold turkey – no more favors for anyone (at least for now), no exceptions. You need to focus on your mental health. So, everyone gets a no.
You need to replenish before doing any more favors for anyone.
10. Pay attention to your diet.
Are you eating enough nutrients and getting the right vitamins? If you’re not, the increase in stress and anxiety you’re feeling might be your body’s way of getting your attention because it’s not getting what it needs to function properly.
Certain vitamins, such as B Complex, control our brain function. Vitamin D is essential for brain health. It also boosts serotonin levels and thus plays a vital role in regulating our moods.
Studies have suggested a link between low levels of critical vitamins to depressive disorders, confusion, anxiety, and more. With guidance from your doctor, review your diet and check to see if you’re getting enough of the needed vitamins and nutrients. If not, make the necessary adjustments and supplement your effort by taking multivitamins.
Pay attention to your daily water intake. A 2014 study showed that when you reduce the amount of water you drink, you also reduce feelings of calm, satisfaction, and positive emotions. Another study in 2015 on a group of 120 women showed an association between low water intake and greater tension, depression, and confusion.
Improving your diet and increasing your water intake may not completely resolve your feelings of stress, anxiety, and general overwhelm, but they certainly can’t hurt. Do your part to make sure your body has the right ingredients to regulate your emotions.
11. Get sufficient sleep.
The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep every night. If you’re not getting this amount, you’re putting your mental health at risk.
There is a strong correlation between psychiatric conditions and sleep deprivation. In a typical psychiatric practice, 50% to 80% of patients have chronic sleep problems. In fact, sleep problems are common in people who have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).
If you’re in the habit of sleeping in on the weekends to make up for all the sleep you miss out on during the week, don’t be fooled. Research shows it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep and up to nine days to eliminate a sleep deficit entirely. Prioritize sleep and make sure you get enough sleep every night.
If you are getting the recommended amount but still find yourself yawning and feeling tired during the day, consider using the following tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) to improve your sleep quality:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
- If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Go do a quiet activity without a lot of light exposure. Don’t use any electronics.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
- Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
Take steps to not only improve your quality of sleep but also the amount of sleep you get at night. Remember, everything looks better after a good rest.
12. Get some fresh air.
Do you find you spend most of your day inside behind a desk? Perhaps you leave your house in the morning just as the sun is rising and leave work just as it’s setting? You may want to incorporate some time outside into your busy schedule.
Spending time out in the sun helps our bodies create vitamin D. Vitamin D, in turn, encourages the promotion and release of serotonin, also known as the “happiness hormone.” Serotonin is associated with boosting a person’s mood and helping them feel calm and focused.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face two or three times a week to reap the vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun.
Take a walk around the neighborhood or take your dog out for a walk to increase your intake of vitamin D.
13. Get some exercise.
Your physical health strongly impacts your mental health and vice versa. You can’t hope to have good mental health when you’re not taking care of your body. Part of taking care of your physical health is getting regular exercise.
Aside from the physical benefits like weight loss or control and improved muscular strength, regular exercise also helps improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve our mood by reducing feelings of depression.
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as a brisk walk, every week. This should be coupled with at least two days a week of activities that strengthen muscles.
Pick an activity you enjoy, like swimming, gardening, golfing, or mowing the lawn. You don’t have to force yourself to go for a run if that is not what you enjoy. You’re less likely to exercise regularly if you do something you hate.
But whatever you pick, give it your maximum effort. Do whatever it takes to get your heart pumping.
It has been shown that when you cuddle with someone you care about, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. It is often referred to as the “love hormone” or the “cuddle chemical” because of its involvement in human behaviors like sexual arousal, recognition, trust, romantic attachment, and mother-infant bonding.
Oxytocin helps calm you and makes you better able to deal with stress. It can also lower anxiety, depression, and blood pressure.
When we touch – cuddle, hug, or hold hands – our bodies release this hormone, which is why a hug sometimes makes us feel better. When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, engage in some cuddle time with your significant other, get a hug from a loved one, or even snuggle up to a pet.
15. Meditate/practice mindfulness.
Practicing meditation or mindfulness is a great way to restore calm and peace when feeling overwhelmed. Both are easy to learn, and they don’t take up a lot of your time to practice. Below are two simple exercises for you to try:
Walk and meditate technique – You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking, such as in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk, or at the mall. Slow down your walking pace so you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as “lifting,” “moving,” and “placing” as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
Prayer – People rarely associate prayer with meditation. However, it is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others.
Seated exercise – Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If your mind drifts off to random thoughts or physical sensations that interrupt your focus, note the experience and then return your thoughts to your breath.
Single-Tasking exercise – The basic requirement for this exercise is that you fully focus on whatever task you’re working on. If you’re working on the computer, focus only on one task at a time. Close all the browser tabs that aren’t relevant to the single project you’re working on. This will help free up your mental space and create laser focus.
To deepen the exercise, focus on:
- Your breath: How are you breathing?
- Your body placement: How does your body feel in your seat? If you are standing, how do your feet feel against the floor?
- The environment: The sensation of the air around you or the feel of your clothes against your skin
- The structure and posture of your body
There are many benefits to practicing meditation and mindfulness, such as lower blood pressure, better management of anxiety and depression, and other mental and physical health problems. There are many apps and YouTube videos available to help people practice meditation and mindfulness.
16. Clean out your space.
It may not be time for spring cleaning, but it is time for you to clean out your space. There’s just so much stuff in your space that you don’t even know where to put it. Some of it you can’t remember buying. Other things hold such painful memories that you’re not sure why you still have them.
Stop delaying. Buy some cleaning supplies and get to work. Or hire someone to help you do it. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need by throwing it out or giving it away. If you’re not sure if you should keep an item, don’t keep it. Be militant about giving yourself a livable space free of clutter and dirt.
If the clutter has reached a level where cleaning it up feels overwhelming, try the following tips:
- Start small. Pick a cabinet or drawer to clean out and organize. Seeing that space is well organized may give you motivation to continue. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. Pick another small space tomorrow to work on and so on. Eventually, you’ll tackle your entire living quarters.
- Invite friends over. The thought of them coming over to your untidy house just might spur you to get things neat and tidy. Make sure to give yourself enough time to declutter and clean, though. It usually takes longer than we expect it will.
- Aim for functional, not perfect. Organize your space in the way that you use it. If you don’t watch television, consider getting rid of it. Don’t keep it just because you’re supposedto have a television. Put items you use regularly within reach. Organize your space around the way you live.
Decluttering and organizing your space may be challenging to get started, but you deserve to live somewhere that is neat and free from clutter.
17. Digital media detox.
If you’ve been thinking about doing a digital media detox but wondering if you need one, the answer is likely a resounding yes. On average, people spend 142 minutes every day on social media globally. According to The Nielsen Total Audience Report, which was published in 2021, US adults spent an average of 10 hours a day on their phones, computers, or televisions in the 3rd quarter of 2020.
For the sake of argument, let’s say out of the 70 hours a week adults spend glued to their electronic devices, 40 hours is because of work. That still leaves 30 hours spent scrolling through social media, talking on the phone, liking pictures, watching television, or arguing in someone’s comment section.
That’s a lot of time to spend with the drama and toxicity that a majority of digital media brings into our headspace.
Doing a complete digital media detox for a prolonged time is not realistic for many people. Check out the techniques below for ways to make the detox work for you.
- A digital fast:Try giving up all digital devices (including television, mobile phones, and social media) for a short period, such as a day or up to a week.
- Recurrent digital abstinence: Pick one day of the week to go device-free.
- A specific detox: If one app, site, game, or digital tool takes up too much of your time, focus on restricting your use of that problematic item.
- A social media detox: Focus on limiting or even completely eliminating your social media use for a specific
While detoxing, fill up your free time with some activities you haven’t been able to enjoy in some time. You could go out to dinner with friends or for a walk or read a book. Use this time to reconnect with yourself and others.
With our busy schedules, it’s challenging to find time to socialize. There are so many errands to run and work to do that taking time out to socialize with friends or spend with our significant other can seem like a waste of time.
Throughout our lives, we are part of one social group or the other. We were never meant to live in solitude. When we are in a community or around others, we function better. Humans are social creatures, after all.
Socializing can lighten your mood and make you feel happier, and it gives you a chance to confide in others and they in you. A study titled Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy revealed that “social relationships affect many health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, health habits, and mortality risk.”
Your weekly habit of having drinks with friends or going out for brunch isn’t a waste of time. It’s helping you improve memory formation and recall and protects your brain from neurodegenerative diseases.
19. Reconnect with your place of worship.
Life is sometimes so chaotic that it’s difficult to make sense out of it. People behave in ways we don’t understand. Disasters happen all the time around us. For many people, religion provides structure amid the uncertainty of life. It gives us a sense of purpose, something to believe in, and a chance to socialize with like-minded individuals.
Reconnecting with your place of worship can help you make sense out of all the things that happen which are out of your control. Speaking with a spiritual advisor or someone with similar beliefs can help put the challenges you’re facing into perspective. Joining a local assembly can give you a sense of belonging with people who believe as you do.
Revisiting your religious affiliation may provide the grounding you need when you feel overwhelmed by circumstances that are outside your control.
20. Try adult coloring books.
Remember when you were young, and your parents handed you a couple of crayons and a coloring book to play with when they needed to focus your attention on something quiet? For at least a few minutes, you concentrated on finding the right colors and staying between the lines, allowing the adults to have some peace and quiet.
Thankfully, the same joy you found while coloring as a child is now available to you as an adult. With adult coloring books, coloring is no longer just for kids. Due to its many benefits, adult coloring books have grown in popularity over the years. Some of the benefits of coloring are:
- It quietens your mind – As you are coloring, your brain is focused on one activity, staying within the lines. As simple as that sounds, it’s not something you can do while distracted. You need to pay attention.
- It puts you in a meditative state – Focusing on a single activity like coloring interrupts inner dialogue and removes negative thoughts and emotions from your mind. You stop worrying about your challenges and focus on the here and now.
- Improves your motor skills – Complex designs with smaller spaces for coloring require you to use your hand-eye coordination and motor skills. These skills are essential as we age.
- Reduces stress and anxiety – Coloring for 20 minutes or more can help reduce anxiety, lower your heart rate, and mental stress. It is a repetitive activity that requires attention to detail. When you’re concentrating on coloring, your mind is not on the events that caused stress during the day.
You can try coloring before bed to help clear your mind before sleeping. This will keep you away from scrolling through your phone, which hinders your sleep quality by exposing you to blue light. With coloring, you’ll take your mind off your problems and sleep better.
Put on your favorite playlist, the one with an upbeat tempo that puts you in a good mood. And dance. If you can’t dance, just close your curtains and bust a move. No one needs to see you. You’re not dancing for anyone else but yourself.
As we probably already know, dancing has many physical benefits, such as weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, and increased flexibility. It might surprise some to learn that dancing has several mental health benefits too. Studies have found that dancing helps to reduce stress and depression while improving brain health. The Journal of Applied Gerontology also revealed that dancing with a partner and musical accompaniment helps with stress relief.
Dancing is an activity that is beneficial across several parameters. It has physical, mental, and social benefits. Grab a partner and dance in the comfort of your own home or sign up for dance lessons and make it a date night activity.
Give yourself grace when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Do not brush your feelings off or push through whatever is causing you to feel anxious – your mental health matters. Take active steps to deal with your feelings constructively.
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