Not sure about all of you, but I know that lately, my life has had a tendency to feel like more than I can handle sometimes. What with work, social activities, and random chores I need to get done, I oftentimes feel pretty overwhelmed.
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to get knocked off our center. It becomes difficult to focus and the things that we had to do begin to completely take over our thoughts and state of well-being. Personally, this is when my own anxiety kicks into high gear. Again, the word I choose to use for this feeling is overwhelmed.
I’ve found that the best antidote to the feeling of being overwhelmed is to make a list—a list of all the things I have to get done or that are on my mind. It can be detailed and well-planned or it can be stream of thought that I can sort through later. The point is to just get it done. And while I’m not the biggest fan of screens, utilizing apps like Google Keep can be extremely helpful for this when a pen and paper are not at hand (or you’re like me and lose small, paper lists that you make in a state of panic).
Yes, this is an extremely simple solution to what feels like a massive problem. But there’s some good reasons why this works.
The first is that it enables more sensory organs. When we keep thoughts in our brain and don’t externally process them, they can create spiraling thought patterns that feel out of control and feed our anxiety. However, when you write something down and get to look at it with your physical eyes, it allows your brain to process the information differently.
It’s like the concept of the monster under the bed. We let our imaginations run wild with what could be hiding under there instead of just taking a flashlight and looking to reveal that, in fact, nothing was there in the first place or it was an old stuffed animal which really isn’t so scary.
Making lists is like shining a flashlight into the unknown darkness to see what’s really there. Of course, sometimes there actually is bad stuff there. If you make a list and things like “make insurance payment,” “pay health bills,” and “file your taxes” are all on it, it can still feel scary because there’s other factors at play such as monetary expenses.
However, it’s still a worthwhile exercise because when we’re in this mode of feeling overwhelmed, our brain brings in benign/non-stressful activities for us to stress about (such as going out with friends after work). Thus, when you create a list of your activities, you might find that you can either streamline everything you wrote down or create a balance of stressful items and stress relieving items to take care of.
In addition, you’re also engaging your fine motor skills with writing which can be a very grounding and re-centering experience. Engaging our tactile senses in addition to ocular ones can help us feel rooted in the here and now instead of spiraling out of control with our thoughts.
It’s simple. I know. I oftentimes get feedback that a lot of the coping skills I teach are very simple. However, when we’re stressed, we don’t need complicated. Complicated is difficult to complete. On the other hand, simple coping skills are not. They’re accessible, easy to master, and build confidence over time.
Plus, feeling overwhelmed or too in our own heads is a complex feeling. Doing something simple helps us slow down.
There is also a sense of anxiety reduction that comes with crossing items off your list as well.
Now, my advice with all coping skills is to give it a genuine try to see if it works. If it works, keep using it. Get good at it. Tailor it to make it fit your lifestyle better. If it doesn’t work, try something else and move on. Every coping skill is not meant to work for every person and that’s completely fine.
If you find that you need help with coping skills for anxiety or spiraling thoughts or feelings of being overwhelmed, talk about it with a mental health professional or trusted friend/support person.
Please feel free to leave your comments with coping skills for feeling overwhelmed that have worked for you!