5 Tips for When You Feel Overwhelmed

September 24, 2020

By Jenny Reesor, CFT Graduate Intern

You’ve heard it: “2020 is out to get us!” We live in a year where we feel bombarded with uncertainty, tragedy and catastrophe. Here in Oregon, we have added inferno to pandemic and social upheaval, and the upcoming election season creates anxiety for those on every part of the political spectrum. Some of us may be able to look to the future with optimism and hope. Some of us may feel overwhelmed, engulfed. Some of us may feel all of the above. How do we live with so much change in our world, and how can we manage when we’re feeling everything at once?

Here are some concrete, manageable things to do when things feel overwhelming and when the uncertainty becomes too much:

1. Ground Yourself

The events we are living through can make us feel more anxious. One tried-and-true way to ease out of a panic attack, or just to lower the level of anxiety we’re experiencing, is to use the 5-4-3-2-1 method: 

Sit with your feet flat on the ground and, as slowly and deliberately as you can, noticing every detail, do the following:

Find 5 things you can see and describe them to yourself. 

Find 4 things you can touch.

Find 3 things you can hear.

Find 2 things you can smell.

Find 1 thing you can taste.

This exercise is designed to distract and calm a racing mind and body that has gone into fight-or-flight mode. It will also serve to connect you with your physical environment and the present moment.

2. Exercise

Our bodies need to move. Movement helps us to deal with the mental and physical effects of anxiety and trauma. This does not mean you must join a gym or run a marathon! It could be a walk around your neighborhood in the morning, or a 20-minute home workout using an app or YouTube. Anything to engage your body while giving your mind a different, positive kind of stress to focus on is great. The side benefits of gaining physical strength and improving your health will further help you to cope with what life throws at you.

3. Connect with Nature

A professor of mine shared some wisdom she had learned: When things are stressful, go outside, look at the sky, look at a tree, breathe in, and breathe out. Just taking a few short minutes to yourself, connecting however briefly with nature, and taking a few belly breaths will help you regulate your stress response and let your body know it is all right to downshift. 

Sometimes, stepping outside is not an option: smoky air or crowded conditions may mean it’s safer to stay in. Connection to the natural world might look different indoors, but it can lead to similar benefits. Cultivate a potted plant, dust the leaves, check its soil. Stroke a pet’s fur, tend to a terrarium, or watch the fish in their tank. Close your eyes and imagine a green forest, sunset on a beach, or snow-covered mountains. Take three deep, slow breaths, then return to the task at hand.

4. Connect with Community

Sharing our experiences can help us to get through the hardest times. Connection could mean volunteering to help others. It could also mean accepting help when you need it. Calling a friend, sending a text – letting others in on what is happening and listening to how they are doing can help you know that you are not carrying the burden alone.

5. Seek Counseling

Therapists are trained to listen to your experiences with compassion and empathy, help you sort through feelings and strengthen your coping skills. If you feel it would be helpful to talk about your experiences in a safe, non-judgmental space, consider calling Eugene Therapy to schedule a session with one of our therapists.

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