7 Skills to Try When You Feel “Overwhelmed”

7 Skills to Try When You Feel “Overwhelmed”

Have you ever felt completely overcome by an intense emotions? Have feelings at times felt challenging to manage and overcome? The experience of being “overwhelmed” is uncomfortable and impactful in your life at work, home, or school.

 

Defining “Overwhelm”

Emotional overwhelm entails more than being stressed. You can feel submerged life’s current problems, to the point where you lack efficacy and feel frozen or paralyzed.

Compare the feeling of being overwhelmed to being submerged in a rough wave. It’s a scary experience! You may not know which way is up or what way to swim. You may feel stunned and unable to react. You may be unable to think or act rationally or functionally.

 

Whether brought on by events in the world (ahem, global pandemic) or events in your work or family life, emotional overwhelm can occur for a short burst of time or over a much longer period.

 

Sometimes, like many are experiencing in 2020, a series of hardships and challenges occurring in rapid succession can trigger someone to feel overwhelmed. Common experiences that may have lead to emotional overwhelm this year include:

 

  • Suddenly homeschooling your children
  • Experiences of racism or discrimination
  • Worry about systemic or political matters
  • Quarantining and isolating from friends
  • Cancellation of social hobbies and sports
  • Physical illnessor worry about COVID-19
  • Traumatic events
  • Relationship crises
  • Increased workload
  • Serving as a front-line worker
  • Newly working from home
  • Getting laid off or furloughed
  • Financial distress and insecurity
  • Deadlines and time constraints
  • Death of a loved one
  • Wildfires or other natural disaster
  • (And can we also add Murder Hornets?)

 

Managing Emotional Overwhelm

Here are some strategies that can help mitigate feelings of overwhelm:

 


  1. Embrace Anxiety

Fighting against high anxiety doesn’t help. In fact, it can add on a “secondary anxiety” that makes you feel anxious about your anxiety. Instead, try to remember that anxiety is an expected response to being out of your comfort zone. It is a “normal” human emotion.  The feeling is uncomfortable but not dangerous.

Acceptance means allowing for uncertainty and discomfort, mindfully acknowledging it, and keeping on with what you can do instead of dwelling on what you can’t. Sometimes “acceptance” means non-judgmentally sitting with the feeling in your body, assuring it that it’s “welcome,” and allowing yourself to experience it with curiosity.

If you’d like to learn more about this skill, check out “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and start Living” by Russ Harris.

 


  1. Challenge Negative Thought

Distorted, negative thoughts build up as anxiety grows and can amplify your feelings of overwhelm. In his book “Feeling Good,” Dr. David Burns lists 10 common cognitive distortions that often fuel feelings of distress. By noticing negative thought patterns, stopping them in their tracks, and re-writing them with more balanced, neutral, and accurate thoughts, you should notice a reduction in distress.


  1. Practice Mindful Grounding

If your feelings of overwhelm are future-oriented “what if” thoughts, try out 5-senses grounding skills to bring you back into the present. The Calm meditation app is a great resource for guided meditation and practicing being present.


  1. Prioritize and Let Go of the Rest

Ruthlessly cut out extraneous and optional activities that don’t fully align with your top priorities and core needs. There aren’t as many “shoulds” and “have-to’s” in this life as sometimes our culture makes it seem. What are the true “essentials” in your life?  Is there anything you can let go of for now?


  1. Center on Core Values 

If you are feeling powerless over world events and broken systems, center on your core values. Give your values a specific name (ex. Acceptance; Equality; Freedom). Imagine that your value is speaking to you right now. What does it whisper? Feel it encourage, uplift, and ground you. Imagine yourself feeling rooted in them.


  1. Get Organized

Write down your to-do list and track activities on you schedule. When life becomes too busy, holding these things in your head is too much. Your thoughts can spin with all of your to-do’s so you don’t forget. Let a piece of paper (or your smart phone) hold on to the to-do’s for you. If you struggle with staying organized, you might try out Microsoft To Do, an app for organizing lists and tasks.


  1. Start Therapy

There are times in everyone’s life when it’s time to ask for help. A therapist is able to help you identify triggers for your feelings of overwhelm and craft a coping plan specifically for you. Help is available! You don’t have to do this by yourself.

 

7 Skills to Try When You Feel “Overwhelmed”

7 Skills to Try When You Feel “Overwhelmed”

Have you ever felt completely overcome by an intense emotions? Have feelings at times felt challenging to manage and overcome? The experience of being “overwhelmed” is uncomfortable and impactful in your life at work, home, or school.   Defining "Overwhelm" Emotional...

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Are you among the millions of people that have lost work since a state of emergency was declared last month? Employment numbers keep rising across the country. And those numbers don’t account for those whose applications for unemployment remain in limbo. There is an...

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Are you among the millions of people that have lost work since a state of emergency was declared last month? Employment numbers keep rising across the country. And those numbers don’t account for those whose applications for unemployment remain in limbo.

There is an understandable financial strain; the impact of which is palpable. Calls to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) increased 891% compared to this same time last year.

 

But what is it about this experience of scarcity that triggers so much stress?

Abraham Maslow theorized these basic physiological needs for human survival:

  • The need for health
  • The need for food and water
  • The need for shelter
  • The need for sleep
  • The need for clothing

Maslow teaches that BEFORE you have a chance of feeling “safe” and “secure,” your physical needs MUST be met. This is why we cope with ACTUAL scarcity by prioritizing basic needs.

With that in mind, here are a list of local resources that can help with basic needs during this crisis:

 

 

Emergency Food Assistance:

Housing & Utility Assistance

If changes to your personal pocketbook aren’t enough, news reports trickle in day by day, hour by hour, reminding us of the faltering state of our economy.

 

ABOUT SCARCITY MENTALITY

What happens if your financial situation is indeed secure, but you don’t feel secure? Maybe you begin to take precautions as if you were under financial threat. Maybe you hoard food, ration the toilet paper, and cut back on expenses. Perhaps you bolster your savings. Or maybe you just feel anxious when spending money, as if that fear will prevent you from overdoing it.

 

Scarcity mentality is defined by a sense that there is never enough. It impacts our thought life, our feelings of fear and caution, and drives us to action.

 

Impact of Childhood Experiences

Many of those that experience scarcity mentality (but are otherwise financially secure in the present) have had past experiences of insufficiency.

 

  • Past experiences with homelessness, hunger, or poverty
  • Difficulties affording basic needs
  • Sense that there’s “not enough” to cover the “wants” of life (For Example: the cost of engaging in sports or music lessons)
  • Sometimes subtle messages that there isn’t enough to go around (“clean your plate so nothing goes to waste” or “we need that to last all week”).

 

Those past experiences fuel a belief system that predicts future instability in order to protect against a similar lack of resources.

 

If you are experiencing scarcity mentality, a counselor can help by:

 

  1. Helping you process past experiences feeding your current distress (which may be stored in your brain as a ‘trauma’ memory)
  2. Using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help you shift out of negative thought patterns
  3. Teaching you skills (such as thought defusion) that help you ‘let go’ of unhelpful intrusive worries.
  4. Coaching you on how to use (and take a break from) ruminating thoughts.
  5. Giving you a toolbox of other skills for lowering overall anxiety, including:
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Grounding
  • Thought-stopping
  • And many other skills, depending on the theoretical orientation of the therapist

Having Difficulties Affording Therapy?

At Star Meadow Counseling, we know there are people who may be unable to pay for therapy as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This is why our graduate student counselor is currently offering pro bono services to those impacted by the crisis. She has immediate openings for telehealth and is ready to help!

 

 

How To Stop Beating Yourself Up

How To Stop Beating Yourself Up

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Why I Think “Worthless” Isn’t a Feeling AND Why that Matters

Why I Think “Worthless” Isn’t a Feeling AND Why that Matters

Have you ever been so dejected or depressed that you began to question your worth as a person? What triggered that moment for you? Was it:

  • A rejection, break-up, or abandonment?
  • A harsh word or critique that hit like an arrow in the heart?
  • A failure to live up to your own expectations?
  • Feeling in over your head, burned out, or unable to perform?
  • Something else?

As counselors, we often hear clients describe their feeling during these moments as “worthless.” It’s as if some lack of performing, achieving, belonging, or approval could strip away a person’s value as a human, leaving them with a sense of emptiness.

Do you have a sense of self-worth that goes up and down? A conditional self-worth that is dependant on being liked or on your achievements? As you’ve perhaps experienced, having a conditional self-worth can be risky:

  • Perhaps you overwork, overachieve, and compulsively climb ladders trying to prove yourself. Do ever really reach the finish line or are you stuck on a hamster wheel constantly striving? Does that cost you time with your family or friends? If a setback occurs, do you name yourself “failure” and pay a cost with anxiety, depression, or a suicidal urge?
  • Perhaps you base self-worth on the condition of others’ approval (which can go up or down). Do you have a good or bad day depending on if someone else’s reactions to you? Does that ever lead you to over-committing or people-pleasing? Do you hold back, minimizing your voice in relationships? If a subtle rejection occurs, do you notice yourself having a big emotional response?

Perfectionism is the embodiment of achievement-oriented or approval-oriented self worth. Brene Brown describes perfectionism and its cost best:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfet, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

It’s time to change how we think about WORTH. What if you could experience a form of self-worth that did not ebb and flow with your achievement or approval? Would you step off of the “conditional self-worth” rollercoaster? Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience security in your self-worth despite successes or failures!

I want to suggest two key strategies for revolutionizing your experience of self-worth.

  1. Clarify what you really feel when you say you feel “WORTHLESS.”

I want to suggest that “WORTHLESS” is a judgment NOT a feeling. It’s a proclamation of subjective self-assessment. It is more thought than it is emotion. These judgments are similarly not feelings:

  • Bad
  • Failure
  • Fat
  • Ugly
  • Stupid
  • Crazy

But, you might argue, “I DO feel strongly when I have those thoughts!” YES! A distorted negative self-evaluation would certainly evoke a strong feeling! Let’s see if we can clarify what you are really feeling in those moments. Perhaps one of these feeling words would more accurately describe the emotion that goes with that thought:

  • Disappointment
  • Shame
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Guilt

This perspective shifting skill is essential: Instead of going along with the “I’m worthless” judgment, NAME WHAT YOU’RE FEELING and WHY.

For example: “I’m feeling ashamed because I yelled at my kids.” “I am feeling afraid because I lost my job.” “I am feeling sad because she broke up with me.”

2. REDEFINE WORTH.

The striking reality is that there is no standard measurement of WORTH. There is not a test you can take, a medal you can earn, or a status you must reach. The concept of what defines self-worth is unscientific, self-determined, and deeply personal. YOU HAVE THE POWER to change your self-assessment.

What if you were to intentionally choose to believe WORTH is a birthright, something inherent in your humanness? I think that’s what the founders of our country believed when they wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

WORTH does not have to be conditional. You can found your self-worth on the powerful certainty that you have sustaining value that can not be earned nor lost.


HYPOCRICY CHECK: Do you apply unconditional worth to other people better than to yourself?  For example, if you’re a parent, your child might make choices that make you lose their trust, but could they ever lose worth in your eyes? Never! You might already believe in unconditional self-worth, as it applies to others. Are you applying the same concept to yourself? If not, now’s the time. Take the leap of faith. It’s worth it!

 

Now, if we combine the name-your-feelings skill with the concept of unconditional self-worth, you can see how it’s possible to make mistakes, have setbacks, and receive rejection without it meaning anything at all about your worth as a human.

 

If you’d like help building a secure sense of self-worth (or overcoming your achievement- or approval-oriented perfectionism), a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling is available to help.

 

 

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Understanding Cognitive Therapy: The Basics

Understanding Cognitive Therapy: The Basics

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What Is An Extroverted-Introvert – And Are YOU One?

What Is An Extroverted-Introvert – And Are YOU One?

Are you one of those people who has never quite felt like an introvert but are definitely not an extrovert? Have you read descriptions of either personality and thought, “Mmmm, close, but not quite?” If so, you might be what is called an extroverted introvert (EI).

Extroverted introverts, also called “outgoing introverts”, “ambiverts,” or “social introverts” have qualities of both personalities. They are not entirely loners but don’t necessarily enjoy spending time with large groups of people.

Most people are, in fact, somewhere in the middle of the extrovert/introvert spectrum, sharing qualities of both introversion and extroversion. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of an extroverted introvert.

You are Sensitive to Your Surroundings

How you feel can be directly linked to your environment. What kind of music is playing, how many people are there, and the overall noise level can affect you greatly. If you’re an EI, you will either feel energized or drained depending on your surroundings.

You Have a Love/Hate Relationship with People in General

There is a part of you that truly enjoys meeting new people and hearing their personal stories. Then there is the other part of you that loathes the idea of spending every second of the day with other people. You like people, but you can only take them in small doses.

You’re Both Outgoing and Introspective

You’ve been known to hold your own in witty small talk and can make a room full of people chuckle. But when alone, you are generally thinking about the meaning of life and other huge topics. You like to have fun, but if you’re honest, you prefer to be left alone to think things through.

You take A While to Warm Up Around Others

You’re more like a cat than a dog. While you can be outgoing and find other’s company enjoyable on occasion, you’re not going to feel comfortable around strangers right off the bat. It takes you awhile to warm up to new people and situations before you are truly comfortable enough to let loose and be yourself.

No One Believes You’re an Introvert

Whenever the topic comes up and you tell your friends and relatives that you’re actually an introvert, no one believes you.

If this sounds like you, welcome to the club. Many artists, writers and other creative types often identify as extroverted introverts so you are in good company!

When is the Right Time to Try Couple’s Counseling?

When is the Right Time to Try Couple’s Counseling?

For better or worse. Those words seem easy to say at the time, but when worse gets really bad, many couples are ready to throw in the towel. Here are some things to consider that might indicate that your relationship is ready for a tune-up.

The Stigma of Counseling

It can be hard to make the decision to go to couples counseling because it means you have to face your problems and admit you and your partner are on shaky ground. That can be incredibly scary to admit. It’s not dissimilar to thinking something may be wrong with your health, but you’re too scared to face the music and so you ignore the issue until it gets way too big.

Beyond having to admit you and your partner have problems, there’s also the discomfort of not being familiar with therapy. It can definitely feel a bit mysterious and scary sitting down with a total stranger and sharing personal information about your relationship.

For these reasons, far too many couples let their marriage issues sit on the back burner, percolating. But the better option is to nip an issue in the bud as soon as it rears its ugly head.

To save you some confusion, here are some of the most common relationship issues that typically require some time in couples counseling.

Broken Trust

Whenever there is a major breach of trust, such as an extramarital affair, there is usually a need for couples counseling. A therapist can help you both rebuild the foundation of trust.

More Frequent Arguments

To each relationship, a little rain must fall. But when you start having frequent torrential downpours, it’s time to ask for help. An increase in fighting and intensity of fighting often means significant problems under the surface.

Stonewalling

If you and your partner aren’t talking at all about important matters, this too can erode a relationship. Feelings of resentment can build up and be difficult to address if left to fester for too long.

You’ve Experienced a Devastating Event

Life throws us events in our lives that are hard to rebound from. Whether it’s a financial loss or the loss of a loved one, as in the loss of a child, the trauma can change the way you and your partner relate to one another.

These are just a few of the reasons you and your partner should consider exploring couples counseling. It’s always better to seek help than try and go it alone.

If you are interested in treatment options, please be in touch with us. We have a licensed marriage and family therapist now accepting new clients.