Feel Overwhelmed? Regain Control in 5 Easy Steps.
I’m in Brazil. It’s stunningly beautiful here. The sun is shining, brightly colored birds sing unfamiliar songs, and the beach is only blocks away.
I should be overwhelmed by gratitude and joy, but instead, I’m overwhelmed by emotional stress.
I see my friends here planning hiking trips or signing up for surf lessons. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to ride the endless wave that is my life lately.
Work has been intense. I had forgotten how stressful my job could be after working at a slower pace for so long, thanks to the pandemic. Turns out I may have lost some of my pre-pandemic stress tolerance. Now, I can’t seem to find the mental energy to perform my duties peacefully.
For starters, I haven’t been taking the rest I need. Add onto that the novelty of being in a foreign country, becoming immersed in a language I do not know, and having my Airbnb randomly infested with bees. Yep, I came back from the co-working space one day to find at least 70 bees bopping around my apartment, looking as frantic and confused as I felt that day.
I haven’t been this overwhelmed in quite some time. Sure, I’ll get emotional sometimes or fall into the occasional rotten mood, but I’m typically able to get myself back on track within 24 hours. I’ve been meditating for many years, and I’m even trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
My go-to strategy has always been to sit in a short meditation, give myself a pep talk, and open my eyes to a renewed sense of motivation and hope. Hah! Nope, not going to cut it this week.
I did attempt to sit in stillness, but I was only met with more of the same intense overwhelm. Besides, I honestly didn’t know what pep talk I even needed. I couldn’t separate myself from the stress. The idea of thinking long enough to see my situation from a new mindset required a level of emotional energy I just didn’t have.
I needed a new strategy, something easier to gradually get my body and mind on board. But what? To start, I did the only thing I could do: I rested, for about 48 hours straight.
Five Steps to Freedom
Thankfully, after two days of books, Netflix, and naps, I started to feel some emotional energy returning. Yet I still felt overwhelmed and didn’t know how to get unstuck. I decided to come up with some sort of escape plan, broken down into small steps, to help me move forward.
I drew on my mindfulness research and personal experience to craft a five-step plan to beat stress and regain control. Each step on its own felt manageable to me. Plus, historically, I had used each of these techniques to self-heal with great success. I knew this would work!
I instantly felt better knowing I would soon be on the other side of this mood. I reminded myself I simply had a rough week — it happens sometimes! I’ve gotten through hard weeks before, and I’ll get out of this one, too, using these five simple steps:
1 | Rest & Recharge
Rest until you feel mentally ready. Listen to your body and allow it to recharge. Give it lots of water, good food, and extra sleep.
2 | Feel Your Feelings
Sit with your emotions. Let whatever comes up be present, and welcome it without judgment. When you connect with these emotions, do they show up anywhere specific in your body? If so, just notice it. Allow yourself to cry, feel shame, punch a pillow… you get the drift. Validate your emotions by paying attention to them. The goal is to simply reconnect with your emotions with mindful awareness.
3 | Self-soothe
Remind yourself that you are powerful and that you will get through this. Send yourself love and compassion. I like to use positive affirmations at this stage as well. Acknowledge the hardship you’ve been through and send yourself reassurance. You are resilient! You are just as deserving of peace and happiness as any other human.
4 | Visualize Your Desired Future Self. What Advice Would You Give?
When you’re feeling hopeless, seeing yourself as achieving all your desires renews your motivation. Imagine living the life of your dreams one year from today. Really get down to the little details. How does it feel to be living this future life? Once you’ve got a clear picture of your desired future self, ask him/her for a pep talk. What advice can they give to you?
Feel loved and protected by your future self, and let her/him help you see your current situation from a new mindset.
5 | Move & Take Action
Personally, I find it helpful to immediately move my body to complete the stress cycle. Yoga, HIIT, or a run can help release those intense emotions you’ve been feeling.
Next, make an intentional action plan. Ask yourself what you can do right away to feel more in control of your life. Maybe this includes a list of mindset shifts to be mindful of over the next week or two. Or maybe it’s a list of physical tasks to complete or new habits to adopt. Here’s what my intentional action plan ended up looking like:
- Do yoga ASAP.
- Check in every night or morning with my future self. What new advice can she bring?
- Do what flows. Looking back on my day, where did I struggle? Where am I forcing when I should be flowing?
- Be mindful of the enjoyable moments of my day. Feel gratitude in those moments and revel in the positive feelings.
- My #1 priority = Peace in the present moment.
It doesn’t matter exactly what it is you choose to put into your action plan. The crucial step is that you take action in the first place. There is power in personal agency. You take back your power when you move forward with intentional action. And once you feel more in control, those feelings of being overwhelmed will start to fade.
Clarity in Your Control
It’s only human to get overwhelmed sometimes. I hope this five-step plan will help make it easier to move through intense emotions and get you back on stable ground sooner. It is possible to shift your mindset, even when you feel completely out of control! All you have to do is follow these five simple steps one at a time, whenever you’re ready. Soon enough you’ll be back to peace and enjoying life!
Lauren Smith is a certified Mindfulness teacher and co-author of The Mindful Dating Journal: Find a Healthy Love that Lasts. An example of a typical millennial dater, she has spent years researching and growing through bad breakups to blaze a mindful path for other self-aware daters.