It’s 2022 and I am more open to admitting that I suffer from anxiety. I always have, but was never fully aware of it. My anxiety usually left me overwhelmed, a symptom that I learned how to overcome. As a kid, I was surrounded by an excess of stimuli. I grew up with a big family and a culture that loves to express joy in laughter, music, and chatter and more negative emotions openly. I spent much of my childhood with a book or fast asleep. Frequently, I was highly irritable, frustrated, or crying. I couldn’t understand my anger until I was in my thirties. The realization that I felt really calm when I had a lot of space, time, and quiet changed my life. Since then, I have learned what to do when I feel overwhelmed. Today, I want to share 10 things I do to overcome overwhelm.
But before we get into that, you may also like to read the following similar posts!
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10 Things I Do When I Feel Overwhelmed
- I make lists. You’ve probably noticed that my blog posts have recently taken on a list format. This is not a recent infatuation. I have always written to-do lists. My husband once joked when we were still dating that he had to write ‘breathe’ on my list, in case I forgot to do things outside of my list. List making organizes my mind, and organization makes me feel more in control of my life. A lot of my anxiety arises when I perceive a lack of control. That’s why lists work so well!
- I tidy the home. More accurately, I do a deep clean of my spaces. This goes back to organizing so that I feel in control of my environment. This is especially useful when my anxiety leads to stress. The physical act of cleaning releases endorphins. I like to ‘sweat out the stress’. Meanwhile, tidying minimizes the clutter in my environment which reduces the ambient noise. Not only do I feel more in control, but I feel calmer too.
- I empty the calendar. My overwhelm is sometimes caused by me not acting in alignment with my values. It’s when I say yes to things or do things that do not give me joy. Overwhelm can also happen when I do too much. That’s why I write about slow, intentional living. Emptying the calendar helps a ton! I always have a planner wherein I make long lists of things I want to do. I go through my lists and cross off anything that isn’t pertinent, necessary, or joyful. I usually am able to cross of 50% of the things I wrote down. It’s a great reminder, too, that busy is not the same as productive.
- I sleep. My parents still tell stories about me as an infant, falling asleep everywhere. At restaurants my head would dunk into the plate in front of me. Once, I nearly fell out of a high-chair. I am known to take up the whole couch in someone’s house during parties. No one could sit down because of me. In college, I used to sleep in my car in between classes. I also sleep in my car on my lunch breaks. Sleeping is kind of my super power and I am quite proud of it. Anytime I feel especially anxious or overwhelmed, I take a power nap in the middle of the day or call it quits by 8pm. I wake up refreshed and ready to tackle whatever was ailing me before.
- I write. Reflective writing is my form of therapy. Only recently did I realize that my anxiety is born from a perceived reality created in my mind. It helps to separate the facts from my interpretations. I realize that a lot of my overwhelm comes from the way I internalize things. When I feel like I cannot control a situation, I start to get that pitter patter in my chest. The good thing about writing is it forces me to sit down, and reassess my thoughts and emotions. It’s almost like mentally finding a way out of a situation. Writing works best when I jot down my thoughts by hand. Tactile tracing of letters is like drawing out a path from point A to point B. Either way, seeing the letters on paper and knowing that I put them there in a controlled manner is calming too.
- I chug a glass of water. I get an illogical feeling of calmness after chugging water. I absolutely LOVE water! It just makes me feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and hydrated. I wonder if it’s akin to pets when they get stressed or anxious. They tend to pant a lot, and maybe humans have a version of that subconsciously happening. It’s not like I hyperventilate or something when I am anxious. But I do feel parched when I am overwhelmed. Stopping to drink a glass of water gives me pause as well as shows myself a bit of self-care. That, itself, is enough.
- I get a good workout in. Recently, I have been turning to sweating out the stress. If it’s really bad, I will go for a run in our neighborhood. I know I’m really anxious when I start to do mini-sprints. For milder cases of overwhelm, I will do a forearm plank, or pick up some free-weights and start doing arm exercises. If I have the time, I will roll out the yoga mat and tune in to Yoga with Adriene. Oddly, working out calms me down. Plus, it preps me for a good nap (woo-hoo!).
- I go outdoors. There are a few things that really work for me. First, simply getting in the sun helps a ton. If all I can do is lay out on our balcony and soak in some rays, I will do that. A better option is to couple the sun with a bit of water time. Getting in the pool to swim laps, or in the ocean to jump in some waves is great therapy for me. In the winter time, I would also use the jacuzzi a few times a week. And if the week is especially tiresome, I plan ahead for long hikes with my husband. 10 to 14 miles of hiking in the mountains does the trick! These days, I run a dog-sitting business and it has been the perfect antithesis to dentistry. Having dogs at my house forces me to go on walks early in the morning and after a long day of work. I never cheat the dogs. They will always get a 30 minute to one hour walk with me, but in reality, they are doing me the favor and improving my mental health! I am so grateful to be a dog-sitter and I think many people can benefit from this side-hustle. That’s why I wrote a mini-course to guide others who want to get into dog-sitting.
- I schedule a hangout with a friend or family member. I have to admit that I usually try to do alone-things first, such as clear the schedule, write, sleep or work out. The reason is probably because I am a natural introvert. I also treat others the way I want to be treated and I would hate to be a burden to someone else. It would make me feel guilty to call someone up and just dump all my problems on their lap. But now I realize that hanging out with friends and family is a two way street. I can also listen to their suffering and perhaps together, we could uplift each other’s spirits through the commonality of our suffering. It’s a give and take. We can offload our stresses and then take on their stresses. While it may sound like this would add to the anxiety, the opposite is quite true. As we realize that others are also doing the best they can in life, we have more grace for ourselves and our perceived shortcomings. Hanging out with people reminds me that doing my best is enough.
- I ask for help. On that last note, I have become better at asking for help. I used to hate doing that. I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t good enough. But I now know that asking for help means I am already doing my best. When I get overwhelmed, I reach out to people around me and delegate some of the tasks that I cannot handle.
- I ask my husband to help with household chores.
- I ask my assistants to do more of the prep work.
- I ask my front-desk to block out the schedule.
- I request a vacation from my boss.
- I ask my siblings to help with my parents.
- I ask my parents to help with the cat.
- I ask myself to let things go.
Side note: The trick to efficiently asking for help is to be very specific about your needs. Instead of asking my husband to help with the household chores, I say, “Today, can you please do one load of laundry and clean the kitchen.” I tell my brother and sister, “For Mother’s Day, can you (brother) make the reservation and (sister) help pay for lunch.” Being specific helps others help me. At the same time, it helps me determine how important those tasks really are. Are they worth asking others to work on it? If they aren’t, then I simply delete those tasks from my to-do list and that’s a relief, too!