Over the recent Easter weekend, I took the opportunity to fly interstate to see my family. As you no doubt saw and heard, the airports, and travel to and from them, were chaotic. People everywhere in crowded terminals, long queues for baggage check-in, delayed flights, stressed airline and security personnel. Australians on the move and keen to escape after months of being constrained and unable to travel and enjoy themselves.
While people were polite and patient, at 6am at least, the energy still felt frantic with an overlying sense of anxiety. The possibility of missing flights was present, and the need to restrain the panic heighten everyone’s senses and vigilance.
For me the airport was a metaphor for what is happening in the world at present and that is the sense of overwhelm. That feeling when life is just that bit too much, when all the aspects and responsibilities on the work, home, relationship fronts appear too hard to juggle. Throw in COVID-19 fears, a war in Europe, general living chaos, and a federal election campaign that is vying for our attention and it’s an anxiety cluster bomb.
Feeling overwhelmed, as if you are losing control or need to take control, is a symptom of anxiety and stress. It can manifest as agitation, sleeplessness, depression, frustration, and annoyance. On a cognitive level it can result in mental slowness or a racing mind, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and impaired problem solving. It can exhaust and reduce our capacity to react, to work our way out of the feelings and situations to move into self-care. We can be like animals caught in the headlights – dazed and frozen.
It is important to recognise when we are overwhelmed and to take action. It is also important to be gentle with ourselves and accept that this is just how things are at present. Here are some key tips to add to your self-care plan.
Identify the source of your overwhelm
Take some time to work out what is overwhelming you. Is it your work and too much of it, the number of projects you are managing, spending too much time doing things for others? Once you’ve identified the source, review what is within your control and remove or reduce what activities you can to bring down your stress levels. If that’s not possible, break the tasks down into smaller components to make them more manageable. And if that doesn’t work, delegate tasks to others who are willing to help out.
Get comfortable saying no and set boundaries
‘No’ is a powerful yet often hard to say word. In times of overwhelm it is also an extremely important word to express. In doing so, we set expectations and exercise control over our life and all that goes into taking up our precious time. Saying no allows us to establish healthy boundaries which are crucial to our wellbeing. Time to get comfortable with the NO word.
When in overwhelm, we can experience changes in our behaviour or emotional state. And it is OK to talk to others about it. Our social support network are a good place to start as these are people who know us and can bring some perspective to the situation. Speaking to a licensed therapist can also help us gain a different understanding and explanation of our stress and anxiety reactions.
One of the best ways to calm the sympathetic nervous system that activates the fight or flight anxiety response is the breath. Slowing our breathing slows down the heart rate, allows us to relax, and lowers our stress response. Sounds simple, right? However, I am talking about controlled deep breathing, which is not something we do often. Sit yourself down and take some really deep breaths – often.
Be kind to yourself
Feelings of overwhelm can develop into a downward spiral of negative self-talk, sometimes resulting in us giving ourselves a hard time. So let’s cut ourselves some slack and take the pressure off. Time to step back from perfectionism, over achieving and martyrdom – to recognise our humanness and be kind to ourselves. We are the priority here. It is important to keep exercise, meditation and relaxation routines in place and enjoy being with our people. Come back to the things that bring joy into life.
Remember, what you are experiencing can be temporary. Putting appropriate coping strategies and support mechanisms in place will allow you to manage your stress and overwhelm. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above resonates with you and you’d like to talk to us.