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9 Ways to Cope with Overwhelm During Hard Times

With the CoronaVirus pandemic very much in our midst, I know that many of us are feeling overwhelmed. Over the past month, I found myself reflecting on the nature of overwhelm in my own life: my husband was recently in the hospital for a surgery, and my son was being picked on at school. And so this week on the podcast, I’m choosing to focus on 9 ways to cope with overwhelm during hard times.

One morning, after my husband was home and before the pandemic was full tilt, I logged on to Instagram and was met with a post that said … “Enjoy the process.”

9 Ways to Cope with Overwhelm During Hard Times

Let’s be honest, there was nothing I could say I was enjoying about my current “process.” And, I’m guessing you feel the same way about the things that are going on with the Coronavirus and its impact on your life.

This little quote of “Enjoy the Process” brought me to reflect on the question of how each of us can deal with stress and overwhelm in healthy ways.

I haven’t found that pushing overwhelm away or pretending that hard times are enjoyable to be helpful. Nor do I believe that we can simplistically will or effort our way to being happy. I think that trying to force joy misses the point entirely, and sugar coats the realities of true emotions, feelings, and possible mental health issues. You don’t do yourself any favors by faking that you are happy or pretending you’re “ok” when you are not.

9 Ways to Cope with Overwhelm During Hard Times

1.Stop worrying about trying to find the silver lining, or the bright side of the situation
I believe that it is very difficult to find the bright side, silver lining, or blessing, in the midst of an overwhelming situation. After you’ve had some time and space away from whatever you’re going through, you will likely be able to see the lessons you’ve learned in the chaos. Putting pressure on yourself to name or claim the goodness when you’re in the middle of being overwhelmed is BS. Let yourself be in the moment, focus on the situation and what you need to do, and reflect later.

2. Embrace “let it be” instead of “let it go”
While I was working on this episode, Jennifer Lee sent out an email reflecting on the difference between letting something go, and letting something just be.
“Sometimes we’re faced with circumstances or challenges that go beyond simply releasing. These are things to “let be” or at least “let be” for now. This is not about acquiescing but rather it’s about trust, surrender, patience, and acceptance when things are out of our control.” So, when you are in a situation that is overwhelming, release yourself from the pressure of feeling like you need to work through things enough to “let it go,” and allow yourself the space and time to work on letting it be.

3. Notice the emotions and feelings that are present
When you’re in overwhelm, you likely also have a lot of emotions coming up around the situation. It’s helpful to notice whatever emotions are coming up for you. Here are a few ways that I have found helpful in naming and noticing emotions:

Try Centering Prayer as a way of observing your thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way. Two to try: Mine, on YouTube or mine on Insight Timer

Check out Byron Katie’s Work, and work through the “Judge Your Neighbor” Worksheet.

Catch yourself in the “Gap Moment,” and make your decisions for actions based on love.

Ask yourself these questions:
If you’re stressed and feel yourself getting upset, get curious about why. What can you do about it?
If you are stressed and getting obsessive about following up on current news, catch yourself on why, and if you need to check in again right this second. Does throwing yourself into the information again help you in any way?

4. Mindfully choose what is most important, and what (or who) you want to give your energy to.
When there’s a lot going on, and if you’re in the middle of big stuff, sometimes everything feels important all at once. That might be the worst thing about overwhelm is that it feels like there’s no room to wait on anything. And because you’re stressed, it’s hard to slow down and feel like you can pick what’s most important.

-It always seems like there’s extra stuff that bubbles up during these times and present themselves as urgent, and they may not be truly urgent. You get to decide if these extra things are urgent.

-Define, and focus on WHO receives your priority attention when you’re overwhelmed. Generally this will be yourself, your immediate family, and few key other people. Be clear with yourself on who is important, and understand this is not a selfish act. You can have compassion, love, and space for others, but you only have a set amount of “resources” to help others.

A note here on energetically needy people: there is often a bystander or non priority person that pops up during difficult situations, and gravitates to assuming that the worst is happening. In my experience, this person is often one who needs ongoing reassurance, calming, comforting, and caring for, and is demanding information, even though their role is as a bystander to your situation. It is not your responsibility to soothe this person, when the drama they are creating is their own.

How to handle needy people when you’re already overwhelmed? The thing I’m working on integrating for myself is remaining calm and taking care of myself and family when someone with needy/frantic energy is present and wanting me to comfort, care for, and calm them.
What does it look like to take care of yourself when someone else (who isn’t immediately involved) is demanding to be attended to, even when they are not the center of what really needs your attention? It’s OK to let them be taken care of after you’ve taken care of your own priorities.

A great book on the idea of what is most essential is Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and his point of view is that essentialism “is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Five things to consider when working with overwhelm:

1. Can this thing wait? When you are overwhelmed, everything can feel like it needs immediate attention. Maybe a few of the things can wait, or be dropped from your to-do list.
2. Take a break from the situation. Even if this is opting for a nap, or a moment away from the news to read a book, it is OK to take a break and give your brain some downtime from the overwhelm.
3. It’s OK to treat yourself. Look for small rewards or little things that feel comforting as part of taking care of yourself during a time of overwhelm. It might be something as simple as going shopping or going to the salon to get a permanent hair removal (check out different removal methods) that you’ve always wanted. Notice if you’re leaning towards doing it as part of numbing, though. Treating and numbing are two different things.
4. You are not your thoughts. You may find that you have racing thoughts that jump all over, and bring up wild conclusions about things. You may find that you’re jumping to quick judgment on things. This will happen. You are not your thoughts, and when you tap into leveraging the gap moment, you can pause and choose a more aligned type of action for yourself.
5. Sleep is important. You know this, but you need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation can make everything harder, and studies show that it actually makes your brain function as if you are hung over. This amplifies the effects of feeling overwhelmed.

You don't do yourself any favors by faking that you are happy or pretending you're