17 Powerful Tools To Deal with Emotional Overwhelm This Year
This year has been overwhelming. And the wide variety of emotional challenges many of us are facing cannot be underplayed.
While we may not be able to shoot over a digitally-savvy nanny for your kids, a stimulus check for your business, or any instant solutions for the societal ills that face us, what we do have to offer are these simple tools to help you navigate your ever-adapting priorities right now with a greater sense of calm and ease.
Some of these tools are simple and so easy to use, they may feel like an invalidation of the serious challenges that face us right now. The truth is that the tiniest shifts in daily mood and thinking are often the most potent when it comes to retaining our personal sense of well-being as we navigate it all.
Let’s make it our goal through the remainder to the year to look back from January 1, 2021 and see that we learned to deal with stress and uncertainty with more clarity, grace, and personal strength than we were ever able to do before. It’s one of the only plans we can make for certain right now!
Return to your best teachers. Recall to mind those few books, quotes, figures or songs that you treasure the most. Maybe it’s a biography that inspires you or a book you’ve dog-eared and highlighted to tatters. Even if you’ve pored over those resources many times, make time to do it again now. Spend a moment actually re-reading an inspiring passage or enjoying the art — whether film, print or music — that makes you feel the most yourself. Take the time to immerse yourself in the ideas that re-orient you to what you value most.
Rate your concerns. A sense of overwhelm can compound on itself. Small and large needs all combine to swamp our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Take a sheet of paper or open your journal and use all the space you need to jot down all your current concerns, then go back and rate them from high to low. Often, this exercise can help us to recognize the high priority concerns that truly need addressing and the multitude of other concerns that do not. When we reach a state of overwhelm, the lines between the truly urgent priorities and the tiniest jot on our to-do list can become totally blurred. Once you have all of your concerns in front of you in black and white, can you identify a few low priority concerns that you could let go of right now? It’s possible that by letting those lower priorities slide you could regain some of the energy and space you need to deal with what is most pressing.
Sleep well Real talk, if you’re not sleeping well, all of life can be infinitely more difficult. Often times, we downplay health struggles like poor sleep quality and just tell ourselves to suck it up and tough it out. And, yes, there are times in life where our sleep hours are thin and struggling through the day may be unavoidable, but take stock and use every tool you’re able to restore your sleep schedule when possible. Watch your caffeine and alcohol consumption, consider pre-sleep supplements like magnesium, l-theanine and melatonin, consider having a check-up with your doctor to assess hormones levels, and take a gander at the Chinese body clock.
rest well. Rest and sleep aren’t always the same thing. Many of us have absorbed negative messaging around the value of rest, but the truth is that the well-rested version of ourselves can achieve more than the version in constant survival mode. Recognize and release any shame issues you may have with catching up on sleep and rest when needed. Explore yoga nidra and read our story ‘How To Do Nothing’ with poet, Emma Zeck.
serenity or courage? There are probably a few concerns you’ve written down that are completely out of your control. Remember Reinhold Niebuhr’s often quoted prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Consider another writing exercise by starting two lists side by side: one for serenity/acceptance and the other for courage/change. This list might be less practical and more emotional. Let yourself mull over your responses. Perhaps coming to grips with a few things that can’t be changed and must be accepted will free the energy we need for courage.
release yourself. We all face pressures in life, but perhaps one of the heaviest is the psychic pressure each of us put upon ourselves. Many of us lug along an unnecessarily heavy knapsack full of self-judgement every day — and most of us had help packing that knapsack up at a young age with all kinds of emotionally charged negative feedback. That ‘luggage’ can become a far greater strain on our energy than some of our ‘real life’ stresses and concerns.
Stop and consider one area of your life where you’re doing well and yet negating your own performance in relation to something inside that ‘knapsack’ — likely some unknown and invisible standard you’ve created for yourself. Can you recognize any false standards you’ve created for yourself that are actually hurting your ability to function day-to-day? I may be talking more to the A Types here, but perhaps you’re the most likely ‘type’ to be reading this story in the first place!
write it all down (and dont hold back.) One of the most powerful tools in my life is disposable journalling. If you want total freedom to express and expel the emotions you need to process most, use a sheet of paper you can later throw away — or even burn, ceremoniously. Writing this way, with total anonymity and without any fear, might just give you the courage to be completely honest with yourself. Being radically honest with ourselves can help us identify problems and solutions in life faster than any therapy I’ve ever heard of.
Radically honest writing can also help us to detox from emotions that need expressing and simply don’t have an appropriate place to go. For example, if you need to vent about a relationship issue, whether personal or professional, there may be things you can process and resolve through writing, that, said aloud to a friend or colleague might not be as constructive. When speaking with others, we consciously or subconsciously protect ourselves in our own story-telling or not give full vent to our truest emotions.
Get radically honest on the back of a napkin or sheet of paper that can be tossed. In this way, we can better see irrational fears more clearly and laugh them off. We can also notice attitudes and ideas we’ve developed that, once aware of, we can more easily shift away from.
The 3-Day Mindset No, your daily business metrics and toddler’s school schedule can’t shift from their daily cycles, but it’s possible that some of your personal goals can. Most of us judge our own performance daily — evaluating our mindset, mood, relationships, fitness goals and diets per every twenty-four hour period. We have “good days” and “bad days”.
But, if you’re facing overwhelm, try the three day mindset tool and see if it helps you maintain more balance. Tight deadlines are stressful. When our days are packed with unavoidable pressures, consider adjusting your assessment of personal ‘performance’ from a daily thing to a three day thing. Stop racing the clock along with your business, school or family schedules and give yourself more room to work with.
For example, let’s say you’re struggling with eating clean or dealing with a tightly wound temper. Whether you ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ for the day might weigh heavily on your mind. For many of us, failing to meet a personal goal for just one day can send us reeling and lead us to either give up on our plans in entirety or feel an over-sized sense of self-judgement.
If you’re in a season of overwhelm and are juggling more work or a heightened emotional state, try simply “extending” your personal deadlines and reframing your goals along the spectrum of a three day period rather than a daily period. The simple adjustment in thinking may help you to feel less stress, become more fluid and, in the long run, more committed to your goals. You’ll likely be able to make better adjustment over the course of three days and feels a sense of accomplishment that will fuel your commitment to the goal in the long-term!
understand your nervous system The mind-body connection is a subtle and fluid one. When we’re navigating mental wear and emotional stress, understanding what’s actually happening in our nervous systems can help us find balance more easily. Recognize when your body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Learn to notice where you’re holding tension and how you feel when your nerves are frazzled. Self-awareness under stress is key here. I find the study or practice of breathwork to be best.
On the extreme, tools like the Wim Hof Method (cold therapy) can trigger our stress response and help our bodies become wildly resilient under stress. There are also potent tools like TRE (tapping) and psilocybin (therapeutic mushroom trips) that allow us to tap into our nervous system health and release systematic stress or stored trauma.
harness your micro-stress On a more casual level than the above, I like to use the smallest moments of aggravation in life to hone the strength of my nervous system, so that when I really need my nerves to come through for me, my body knows what to do.
If you learn to strengthen your nervous system under the pressure of minor stress, you’ll have more resources to turn to in difficult circumstances. For example, over the years, I’ve learned a variety of breathwork techniques. When I end up on the wrong side of a Monday morning or the wrong lane on L.A.’s 405 freeway, I put them to use. Now I’m familiar with which tools help me the most and I’m better equipped to deal with larger stresses. I’m aware of my own tension and how to release it faster.
make a joy list: Big or small, logical or not, make a list of experiences that bring you joy — a visceral sense of giddiness, if not at least a casual smile. Include as many small things as you can and try to fold a few of them into your plans for the day or week. Joy can have a very real effect on our brain chemistry, fueling and strengthening us more than we might expect.
Too often, when we’re under pressure, the idea of ‘joy’ can trigger feelings of more stress or even self-pity. Perhaps the relief we’re really after (12 hours of sleep! A two week holiday!) seems unobtainable and making a joy list just highlights that. Don’t let the absence of dramatic relief disqualify all the little joys that are at your fingertips.
get serious about breaks. Serious burn out can’t be healed in an afternoon, however you might be surprised by how quickly rejuvenation can occur in 24 hours. If you need a break, get serious about making a plan for just a morning, afternoon, or overnight away. How can you enlist family and friends to help make that happen even if it’s just for a couple of hours?
acknowledge yourself. Many of us who work hard or excel at the juggle of life, also look for external validation before we’ll allow ourselves to celebrate our own achievements. Especially if you happen to be a mother of young children or if you’re in the throes any big life struggle, take a pause and make a note: What five qualities have been required of you in this moment; tenacity, faith, superhuman strength, ingenuity? Write them down. Look at you.
reevaluate priorities. Yes, you need to work out, but at what cost to your mental health? Maybe you used to read five books a month and recently you haven’t skimmed a single page. It’s key for many of us to be reminded that schedules can change without actual damage to our value as a human being. List your priorities for the season or just the week and rate them. Now take a look at those priorities with low numbers, can you let go a little perfectionism and cut them until you regain a more restful state and peaceful state of mind?
re-assess + Delegate. Where in your life are you not asking for enough support? Stop and assess any missed opportunities to re-route responsibilities to capable others. Overwhelm is nearly universal right now, so it is possible that your associates, family and friends are also at maximum capacity, however it never hurts to stop and make this assessment every 2-3 months. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to release work that has become useless for you, but might provide a new opportunity for someone more junior in the business or even a child in the family who needs to learn a new life skill.
I.D. energy drains. Identify your top six energy drains. Write them down and be incredibly specific. Here’s why: “Karen” herself can’t be the energy drain. How or when do you relate with Karen? How can you address the way you interact with her either internally or externally? Now that you’re acknowledging the drain, can you identify a conversion that needs having or perhaps smarter boundaries that need putting in place?
I won’t pretend that there’s a simple solution for every energy drain, but sometimes the ‘fix’ can be surprisingly small and practical. For example, maybe a ‘draining’ task needs to be rescheduled to a more optimal time of day. Perhaps you can add some of those items from your joy list to the routines currently hooked to habitual negative thoughts.
This list may also help you realize where your own attitude is majorly affecting an area of your life and needs attention. Resentment, anger, unforgiveness and other unresolved emotions are huge energy drains. Being honest with ourselves and de-calcifying our own negative emotional habits can free up more energy than just about anything.
Drink more. Water that is. As aggravating as it can be to hear when you’re hangry, burnt out, exhausted or feeling frustrated, have a glass of water first, then reassess how you’re feeling. Becoming and remaining deeply hydrated day to day can work wonders on everything from the quality of our brain power to the quality of our sleep. If you’re looking for a free and immediate way to alter your burnt out mood, aim for that cliche 8 glasses a day and see how you feel after one week. Yes, you’ll be constantly interrupted by running to the bathroom, but you’ll also notice your entire life becoming more ‘in the flow’.
fatigue is physical. How are you eating and supplementing? When it comes to mental and emotional health, the wellness world is buzzing with new science designed to help more of us supplement smarter. If you have yet to explore herbs, foods and supplements to optimize your day to day ‘performance’, I hope you’ll feel encouraged and relieved to know that there are a ton of safe and powerful tools awaiting you. Wellness gets a bad rap from informercial-like teas and supplements, but I would advise you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
A great example are adaptogens, a class of herbs and foods that are very supportive to help us achieve equilibrium in body and mind when we’re under stress. A few to try are reishi, maca, ashwaghanda and rhodiola, but be cautious with sourcing and start slowly. Every body is different and these mushrooms and herbs can be potent — search the site to find which brands and uses we recommend for these adaptogens and more . Also learn to balance your blood sugar to supercharge your energy throughout the day and learn more about nootropics designed to optimize your brain performance and energy.
How are you adapting and taking care of yourself amid the emotional pressures of 2020? Share with us and other readers in the comments.