I’m writing this at a time of great change and huge-scale upheaval. 1000s of people are fleeing their homes and risking their lives to find a safer place to live. People are dying in the most awful of circumstances, trapped in lorries, drowned, crushed, starved, falling ill, being asphyxiated.
Solutions are both simple and deeply complicated, bound up in what it is to be human and how we respond to others’ suffering along with the politics of fear and the economics of self-protection.
Feeling overwhelmed may be particularly triggered and accentuated when faced with these continual reminders of others’ suffering. It can put our own into perspective. But it doesn’t mean that your own suffering might be less real or painful too.
So what can you do to manage feelings of overwhelm in your life? How can you deal with feelings of anxiety or when panic attacks happen? This week I’m offering 10 Lifelines to help with overwhelm, anxiety and panic attacks.
1 Take it a step at a time
When you look at the big picture, it can feel too big to deal with. That in itself can be paralysing and difficult to motivate yourself out of.
Try breaking down whatever it is you are struggling with into the smallest steps and think about just taking the next step. Whether it’s signing a petition, making a donation or taking something for recycling, think about the little thing you can do next. And remember to congratulate yourself when you’ve completed it or to be kind to yourself if even that feels too much.
2 Focus on your breathing
The breath is a fantastic anchor when things feel overwhelming. Just allowing yourself to turn your attention to your breathing moment by moment can help move you away from being in your feeling of overwhelm to simply experiencing it as a gentle observer.
If your overwhelm is tipping into anxiety, taking 3 long slow breaths, inhaling for a count of 6, holding for 6 and exhaling for 6 can really help bring you back to yourself.
3 Trust yourself to work it through
As a Psychosynthesis counsellor, I work with a belief in each person’s inner wisdom to support them through their life. Sometimes, we get disconnected from that wisdom, or distance it.
Allowing the quiet voice from within to speak what is important and true for you can be very powerful. It may help you with what your next step needs to be.
4 Take some exercise out in nature
Research shows that being in green spaces reduces blood pressure and slows the heart rate down. Being physically active also reduces feel good chemicals into the blood stream.
Combining these two by taking exercise out in nature can have a strong benefit of grounding you, bringing you back to yourself and reducing those feelings of overwhelm.
5 Eat healthily
When things get tough, it’s tempting to reach for all the foods that release sugar into the bloodstream very quickly: sweet foods, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, fizzy drinks.
The rush from the sugar brings a moment of relief and release. But the after effects are difficult for the body to process and can leave you feeling worse or in a slump.
Being aware of the impact of food on your body and noticing your cravings can help you make different choices when you are about to reach for something unhealthy.
Eating well helps you feel more energetic but it also has a benefit on mood. Choosing to eat well can also feel empowering, that you are taking control of your life.
6 Do yoga
Yoga has many benefits, but in the context of feeling overwhelmed, it’s particularly helpful because it brings all your attention to your body and your breath.
Doing yoga can help you feel more grounded and relaxed, while also feeling more alive in your body. It can help take you away from the feelings of overwhelm and back into an experience of the moment.
7 Write down your thoughts and feelings
If you need to get something off your chest, writing it down can be very helpful. It’s not about crafting a wonderful piece of writing, but just connecting with what’s going on for you.
Free writing can be particularly helpful for this. Set a timer and take 10 minutes and just allow your pen to write, whatever it / you want. Don’t worry about the content, form, spelling or grammar. Just write.
After the 10 minutes take some time to reread what you wrote and see what stands out as important to you.
Another powerful exercise is writing to someone saying all that you wouldn’t normally be able to say. It’s not a letter you will send, but just having the space to say those things can feel very liberating.
8 Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling
Sometimes just voicing what’s feeling overwhelming can be very helpful.
Take care to choose someone you trust and who is a good listener when doing this. Consider seeing a professional, like a counsellor or psychotherapist if your feeling overwhelmed is persistent and getting in the way of you living the life you want.
9 Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is about being awake to your current experience in the present moment. Part of this is acknowledging that feeling overwhelmed is both normal and ok some of the time. You can end up spending so much energy trying to distance yourself from the feeling when what might be more helpful is to be in it and then to pass through it.
If you can accept that it’s ok to feel this way sometimes, you might find you relationship with being overwhelmed changes.
10 Take responsibility for yourself
Everything in this list is about taking responsibility for yourself. Although feeling overwhelmed can be very difficult and unpleasant, knowing that there are ways for you to feel differently can be very empowering and make a significant difference to how you feel about yourself.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, experiencing anxiety or having panic attacks and would like some help…
Sometimes getting out of this situation seems like an impossible task. Finding someone you can trust to help you through can make a real difference. If you’d like to discuss with me how counselling could help you feel better about yourself, to help you manage better with anxiety, overwhelm and stop panic attacks, why not get in touch to make a first appointment?