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.

 

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Exposure and Response Prevention for Effective OCD Treatment

Exposure and Response Prevention for Effective OCD Treatment

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that involves purposefully exposing yourself to feared stimuli or situations in order to learn a new way of responding to them.

 

If you struggle with OCD, this explanation of ERP may sound counterproductive or terrifying, but the goal of ERP is to do more than cope with intrusive thoughts and instead completely change the way you respond to them.  We have excellent research on the effectiveness of ERP for long-term reduction of symptoms. Let’s break down why it works.

 

People with OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, or obsessions that can focus on all sorts of content. Examples might include:

  • “Did I turn the stove off?”
  • “Did I just run someone over with my car?”
  • “I’ll get sick and die if I don’t wash my hands before eating”
  • “I looked at that person too long, am I attracted to them?”

 

When this happens, you’ll likely experience an anxiety response. Increased heart rate, sweaty palms, nausea, vision changes, and shallow breathing are all part of the body’s physiological response to a perceived threat. If the threat it’s responding to is a bear charging at you, there are some obvious courses of action to take to find safety, but what happens when it’s our thoughts that feel like the threat? In people with OCD, the brain finds alternate ways to feel safe, typically in the form of compulsions.

Compulsions can come in many different forms:

  • counting
  • checking to see if you or others are safe
  • excessive cleaning or organizing
  • reviewing memories
  • repeating phrases to yourself
  • google searches, etc.

 

Once you do the compulsion, you signal to brain that you are now safe, and the fear response subsides. Sounds fine right? If I’m experiencing a fear of contamination and it subsides when I wash my hands, I’ll just wash my hands when I feel fearful. Unfortunately, when someone continues this pattern a couple of things can happen:

 

  1. The brain learns that the only way we can feel safe from this perceived threat is by doing the compulsion, and if we are somehow prevented from doing that compulsive behavior it can cause significant distress and, or sometimes the compulsive behavior itself is problematic or dangerous.

 

  1. The brain feels temporary relief from the specific thought you had (I checked that the front door was locked four times, now no one can get in the house”), but we then start a pattern that to feel safe from any uncertainty, we must perform compulsive behavior, for example “But what about the back door?”, “But what if they can pick the locks?”, “But what if I didn’t actually lock it properly?”. As soon as we attempt to maintain absolute certainty that things are safe and all is well, OCD will run through other scenarios, often escalating the anxiety we were so desperately trying to reduce.

 

You may have previous experience with clinicians or well-meaning loved ones telling you to do things like deep breathing, thinking positive thoughts, or mantras to remind yourself you are safe. These can be wonderful tools for some people and can be temporarily relieving for people with OCD, but they have likely been unsuccessful in long-term management of obsessions and compulsions. This is where ERP comes in.

 

With the help of a skilled clinician, you will confront specific feared situations, thoughts, objects, images, etc, whatever spikes that familiar and uncomfortable anxiety you would typically seek to relieve with a compulsion. In ERP, clients make a commitment to not engage in the compulsive behavior no matter how uncomfortable the distress becomes.

 

You might be asking yourself why would I do this? Willingly make myself anxious? The answer is the brain’s incredible ability to experience habituation. When you expose yourself to your fears and tolerate the anxiety and uncertainty long enough without performing compulsive behaviors, the brain eventually experiences a reduction in anxiety and (this is the important part!) learns that it can still be safe even when it experiences these thoughts. It learns it no longer needs the compulsive behaviors to be safe and comfortable.

 

With consistent practice both in and out of sessions, you’ll habituate to each of the fears you expose yourself to so that the once feared obsession, intrusive thought or image no longer feels like a threat, and rather just a thought.  Over time, the way that your respond to uncertainty as a whole will shift, so you’ll feel better prepared to respond to any fears that come up in the future.

 

For more information about ERP or OCD, please visit the International OCD Foundation’s website at www.iocdf.org.

About the Author

Kate Scolatti is our on-site OCD and ERP specialist. Here’s a link to her bio where you can learn more about Kate and her work: https://starmeadowcounseling.com/counselors/kate-scolatti/

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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!

 

 

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As we adjust to a new normal that includes self-quarantining, a shift in plans and routines, and significant uncertainty, it’s important to find ways to maintain our mental and emotional health. We’ve gathered some recommendations here, but strongly encourage you to reach out if you feel you’d like more support. Our clinicians are now offering telehealth sessions in order to continue serving our community.

 

1. Acknowledge and feel any emotion that comes up. Feeling uneasy? Strangely calm? Frustrated that events or services you were looking forward to are canceled? Fearful of financial insecurity? Struggling to adjust to increased time with family members or how to juggle working remotely with others around? We all respond to high stress in different ways. Allow yourself to notice and feel whatever comes up without judgement.

 

2. Ground yourself in the present. When facing uncertainty, our brains attempt to “prepare for the future” and our body’s response to this is a feeling of anxiety. While this can be a helpful motivator to encourage us to take appropriate precautions, left unchecked it can lead to feelings of panic, lots of “what if” questions, and a feeling of lack of control. To combat this, try to ground yourself in the here-and-now instead of the past (“I should have..”) or the future (“what happens if…”). Try finding ways to utilize all 5 senses, cook a comforting meal, light your favorite candle, specifically choose comfortable clothing, put on music you enjoy (nostalgia can be great here!), and organize or arrange things in your home in a way that feels cozy.

 

3. Get creative in the way you engage in activities. A significant number of your usual events and activities are likely canceled, but you don’t have to go without them for the duration of this time, but you might have to get creative.

  • Your standing weekly movie night with friends? Try Netflix Party, where groups can get together virtually to watch Netflix titles on their computers at the same time, including a chat room to share reactions as you go!
  • Did you have tickets to a concert or show that’s been cancelled? Some of your favorite artists may be finding alternate ways to still share this experience. NPR has an excellent resource to find these.
  • Do you enjoy cooking interesting meals, but have limited ingredients on hand? Round up what’s in the fridge and challenge yourself to make a Chopped-inspired meal using only those ingredients.
  • Enjoy exercise but your gym or fitness studio is closed? Many local and large-scale companies are offering free extended trials or low-cost online courses (check out Peleton, Planet Fitness, Down Dog, Nike Training Club, or investigate local options).
  • Like to learn? Many colleges and universities are offering free online classes, try something new!

 

4. Prioritize. Regular contact with family, friends, coworkers, and service providers can be a vital resource in maintaining a sense of connection and reducing loneliness. Our typical schedules can be demanding and we can find ourselves not having enough time with the people we care about. Use this time you reconnect with loved ones; call an old friend, email a favorite former co-worker,and have impactful conversations with family members.

 

5. Stick to a flexible routine. You’ve likely heard this one before, because it’s frankly good advice any time, but times like this warrant some additional focus here. Things like waking up at a similar time every day and completing your morning routine, but it’s also important to allow flexibility in your schedule. That exercise class you go to every Wednesday at 5pm? Substitute it with a walk or online class and fit it in when you can. It’s important to strike a balance between finding comfort in routine, and routine and feeling distressed when the routine is inevitably different.

 

6. Start (or grow!) your mindfulness meditation practice. Studies show the powerful benefits of mindfulness meditation, and this is an excellent time cultivate a practice. Start by using an app with guided meditations, some to check out are Stop Breathe and Think, Insight Timer, and Calm. It can feel odd at first, but with practice it can be a wonderful tool to increase physical and mental relaxation,

 

For those who must continue to work and interact with others (healthcare workers, sanitation workers, grocery store employees, etc.) now is the time to increase self-care and ways you de-stress. What we’re experiencing is not “just part of the job” and it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Talk to others in your field to foster a sense of community and support, and recharge yourself in whatever way is most beneficial to you. Know that your community appreciates you and will support you in whatever way it can!

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3 Ways to Kindly Say “No” to Invites for Introverts

Life is challenging when you’re an introvert. What are simple interactions for many people can feel anxious and uncomfortable to you. The mere idea of taking part in certain social events can be exhausting and emotionally draining to an introvert.

While some social functions, such as business meetings, cannot be missed, there are social gatherings that can be, and it is totally okay for you to say no. This may feel almost as uncomfortable to you as actually attending the party or event, but it’s important to put your own needs ahead of others in times like these.

If you are an introvert that generally has a hard time saying no to invites, here are some ways you can do it kindly:

 

Be Honest-ish

We tend to feel a lot of pressure to give myriad details on why we can’t accept an invite to an event. If we don’t have a “good enough” excuse, some of us will blatantly lie, which then makes us feel bad.

There is no need to lie and no need to give more details than necessary. You can simply say, “Thanks so much but I already have plans.” We all have plans all of the time. You may plan on doing the laundry that night or watching Game of Thrones while eating pistachio ice cream (which is a great plan, BTW). That is the truth but it is no one else’s business but yours.

 

Be Gracious

Before saying “no,” be gracious and thank the person very much for inviting you in the first place. It will make the other person feel good that they made you feel good by thinking of you.

 

Practice What to Say

It’s easy to say no in a text or email, but when you will see that person in person, saying no can feel incredibly awkward. The best thing to do is just practice saying, “Thank you so much for asking but I already have plans that day/evening,” so that it comes out naturally and so that you feel at ease saying it.

I would like to suggest that, before saying no to an invite, you really weigh the pros and cons. I know being introverted can be challenging, but I also know that it can get pretty lonely at times. Saying yes once in a while may not be as bad as you think. While saying no to a huge, loud party may make sense for you, be open-minded and look for those new social situations you actually might be able to handle and enjoy. You never know the kind of fun you could have or new friends you could make.

 

Introversion vs. Social Anxiety

Introverts tend to feel exhausted after social interactions, but so do people with social anxiety symptoms.

How can you tell the difference between the two? Be curious about why you’re avoiding social interaction.

  • If you’re worried about what other people think about you, that is likely social anxiety.
  • If you feel nervous, worrying about the “right” thing to say, that’s probably social anxiety.
  • If you ruminate about or replay a social experience on repeat after the fact, that’s probably social anxiety.

 

A person can be an introvert AND have social anxiety. A therapist can help you honor your introversion needs, while working to overcome social fears.

 

 

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