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6 Reminders For Anyone Feeling Overwhelmed

6 Reminders For Anyone Feeling Overwhelmed

Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. Those feelings are completely valid, but sometimes you need a little reality check. David Cain, author of Raptitude, shares 6 reminders for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed:

One maddening tendency of any small electronic device is that whenever the battery is low, it wastes most of its remaining power beeping and flashing to tell you that battery is low.

Similarly, the human body comes with many self-defeating features. For example, whenever you’re low on oxygen, say while trying to recover your electronic device from the bottom of a public pool, the body goes into panic mode, raises the heart rate and burns away what little oxygen you have to work with.

The mind exhibits this kind of foolishness too. In has a cruel habit of misplacing its wisdom whenever you need it most. There are certain truths I really need to remember when I’m in a panicky state, which is exactly the time they are hardest to remember. So you may want to bookmark these gentle reminders, because the next time you’re overwhelmed you will never remember them.

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1. The sky has fallen a thousand times already

I can’t count the number of times my world has ended. At least several dozen times in my life I’ve found myself in a situation so tangled and hopeless that I could not believe I would ever be happy again. Somehow, during each of those personal apocalypses, I forget that each of the previous ones somehow worked themselves out and are no longer relevant. Yet in real-time, the current catastrophe always seems to promise the death or at least permanent disfigurement of my entire life, and I crumple into despair and indignation. If only I could remember that almost all of the problems I’ve ever had are currently solved except the two or three most recent developments. This is just the way life moves along. It is my problems that are always marching to the gallows, not me.

I’m sure your sky has fallen many times before too. The overwhelmed mind underestimates the scale of a human life and therefore over-calculates the ultimate importance of any particular problem. Don’t be fooled.

2. Your problems are the same problems human beings have always had

You will never end up finding a way to suffer that hasn’t been fully explored yet. Heartbreak, death of loved ones, sickness and old age, chronic pain, shame, addiction, failure, poverty, and introspective nightmares are all realms that have been braved by people consistently and exhaustively for thousands of years, and to degrees much worse than yours. There are ultimately only a few basic kinds of human trouble, and they’ve all been suffered and confronted before.

Humankind’s vast experience with suffering is an asset to every one of us, because for every classic human problem there is a world of literature about the best ways to deal with it that other humans have found, and it’s never been easier to get access to this wisdom.

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3. Being overwhelmed comes from a breakdown of your thoughts about your life, not a breakdown of your life

The feeling of being overwhelmed creates a convincing illusion. It makes you think everything is happening at once, but that’s not really possible. While different conditions of your life situation can happen concurrently — say your debts are in collections at the same time your relationship is falling apart — life still only unfoldsone moment at a time, and it’s quite rare that you need to do more than one small thing in any given moment. Each issue might demand that you deal with a number of difficult moments, but as a rule you only need to deal physically with one particular moment at a time. The “everything is happening at once” feeling is a mental phenomenon that doesn’t reflect the linear way in which concurrent life problems actually unfold.

Thoughts change over much more quickly than life’s actual happenings do, and so in one minute of worried thinking you can experience a dozen problems mentally. It’s easy to get lost in this abstract realm, thinking that there’s too much happening “at once” to possibly know what to do, but when you’re ready to actually deal with a problem in the physical world, you can safely ignore the others for the moment it takes to act on one of them.

4. It is mathematically unlikely that your problems are as bad as you think they are

Most people seem to be pessimists. I certainly have that tendency and I’m slowly re-calibrating toward the optimistic side. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not hard to understand why we tend toward catastrophizing our setbacks. If you run from every snake just because it may be a deadly one, then you’re less likely to die by snakebite, even though 85% of the time you are running from a creature that ought to be running from you. Pessimistic tendencies may aid self-preservation overall, across a lifetime of ambiguous situations, but this comes at the cost of increased stress and a lot of unnecessary running from things.

To know you are a pessimist is to know that things are generally better than they appear to be. A pessimistic mind will usually create a mental image of the situation that’s much more dangerous and difficult to address than it ultimately will be in real life.

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And for many of us, we’re not talking about slight exaggerations of the seriousness of our challenges. On the many occasions in which I realized I may have made a mistake at work, usually it expands quickly to certainty that I have made a mistake, that I will be found out and fired, and that I will never work in this industry again. Within a half a minute I’m suffering a mental movie of myself pounding the pavement on a gloomy day, handing resumes out to fast food managers. If this mental reflex sounds familiar — and if you’re overwhelmed often, it probably is — you are likely a pessimist, and you can almost depend on the situation turning out to be easier to deal with than you initially imagined.

5. Things change pretty quickly when you start doing things instead of thinking so much

The darkness in the overwhelmed person’s mind comes from the feeling of helplessness, and helplessness comes from the belief that nothing you do matters. Although this feeling is common, it is almost never true. However bad the external circumstances actually get, they are probably not quite Auschwitz, and even there you would be able to fall back on Viktor Frankl’s great discovery — that nobody can take away your freedom to choose your way of relating to your circumstances. Wherever you are, you can do something to make the rest of the day better than it would otherwise be, and that means you are not helpless. No matter how small the action, once you see you are capable of improving your position, the feeling of helplessness cannot survive unless you want it to.

Overwhelm is an affliction of messy thoughts rather than messy circumstances, and this becomes clearer when you start acting on the circumstances. Repeatedly throughout my life, a hellish day becomes bearable the moment I make a dent in just one of my dilemmas. It spoils the mirage of total catastrophe, and makes it hard to remain a passive participant in your bad day.

6. It is most tempting to not do things when you most need to do things

Another self-defeating habit of the normal human mind. There is a tendency to freeze when things feel like they’re going off the rails, for two reasons.

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The first reason is that you are afraid to make things worse. The ground feels shaky everywhere, and in your apparent stupor of incompetence you don’t want to step in the wrong place. But the bigger reason is that by making a decision to do something you are deciding to take responsibility for where you are, and that’s not a natural reflex for most of us. Particularly when you believe your problem is someone else’s fault, it’s tempting to wait for the person responsible to actually be a responsible person. That doesn’t usually happen, and often I’m mistaken about who is at fault anyway. I know I always want it to be someone else’s fault, and I don’t think I’m unusual there. Believing another party is responsible is tempting because it lets you fantasize about a deus ex machina ending to your crisis, the timely swooping-in of the cavalry, which makes for a lame movie because it makes a fool of the protagonist, and never really happens in real life anyway.

Defy the temptation to cross your arms and wait for some form of cosmic justice to save you — or at least remember that you will feel a temptation to do nothing, right when you should probably be doing something.

David Cain is a Winnipeg-based writer and blogger. He is the author of Raptitude, a street-level look at the human experience.

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Siobhan Harmer

Siobhan is a passionate writer sharing about motivation and happiness tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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