What to do When Life Gets to Be Too Much

8 Steps for Coping with Overwhelm. 

Let’s be real here, life can sometimes simply get to be too much. We’re not talking about the periodic overwhelm we all feel from time to time when things get too busy or when there’s too much work and not enough time. Those can be real problems, but they usually can be dealt with simply by cutting things out or by calling in outside help. What I’m talking about here is when really serious, potentially life-altering/damaging things completely outside of your control happen to yourself or those around you. Especially when two or more things are going on at once, and they each deserve and need your full attention.

For most of us, when times like this hit, we can’t completely stop everything that we’re doing and devote ourselves to the issues at hand. We still have to work, we still have to pay the bills and for many of us, we still have to be a parent. So how do we handle these times when life, by anyone’s standard, is just simply too much? I happen to have some first-hand experience in this area – both by watching my very strong parents deal with seemingly unimaginable circumstances multiple times and living through those times myself and by dealing with a couple of potentially crumpling times with my own family. Fortunately, I had my knowledge of mental and physical wellness to guide me through the most recent times. That’s why this topic is very important and very real to me and why I wanted to share my eight steps for coping with this type of overwhelm with you.

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  • Do the bare minimum (prioritize). While this may seem obvious to some people, others try to plow right through and keep going as if nothing is different or wrong. While you can’t stop everything, whether it’s at work or at home, focus on the things that absolutely have to be done. That’s about as much energy as you need to be expending on anything other than dealing with whatever big things are going on in your life. If the house was semi-cleaned last week, is it so filthy that it really needs to be cleaned again this week? If you’re assigned to extra projects at work or if you have things that are a couple of months down the road, can someone else do them or start them or is it really going to hurt anything if no one works on them at all for a couple of weeks? Plowing through and trying to act like everything’s business as normal is more than likely only going to end in needless mistakes. Figure out what absolutely has to be done, do those things to the best of your ability and save your energy for what’s most important.
  • Don’t make any major life decisions. You can’t put things on hold forever, but while you’re in the midst of a crisis is probably not when you should decide to change careers – unless part of the crisis is that you’ve lost your job. If you’ve lost your home for some reason, maybe that is the time to make a move if it’s something you’ve been considering anyway. Otherwise, major life decisions are best made when your thinking is clear.
  • Eat foods that are nutritious and that nourish you. I recognize that times like this are when we most want “comfort food” – whatever that happens to be for you. In many cases though, these foods tend to be full of unhealthy simple carbs and unhealthy fats (think pizza, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, and chocolate cake just to name a few). While some of this is fine if it helps you to feel a little better, don’t make the mistake of only eating those types of foods. This is when you need all of your energy, this is when you need to be thinking the most clearly and this is when you don’t need to be distracted by not feeling well physically. Fueling yourself with nutritious food will make sure that you keep running well so that you can deal with whatever life is piling on.
  • Exercise (if possible). While this may not be possible in the first days of a crisis, please try to find a way to work it into whatever routine you can establish. Even if it’s just getting out and walking vigorously for 15 minutes or finding a way to do some yoga stretches throughout the day, movement and exercise will be good for your body and will help you clear your mind.
  • Meditate. Whether you’ve meditated before or not, this is an incredibly helpful practice to have when life gets to be too much. Taking even just a few minutes to stop and go inside or outside of yourself (whichever is best for you) helps to give some balance when it may be in short supply otherwise. During a recent very intense, very serious situation, one of my sons asked me “How are you so calm?” My answer to him was “This is too big to scream and yell. I need to be able to be heard.” Fortunately for all of us, I had meditated that morning and was feeling a genuine calm that even I was amazed by even though I also felt like I was being ripped apart on the inside. Because I was able to respond like that, I was able to listen and talk in a way that helped us to navigate the situation in what I believe was about as positive a way as was going to be possible. If you need some suggestions for resources for meditating, feel free to check out 7 Recommended Meditation Resources.
  • Lean on friends. Some things really are just too big to handle by yourself or even with your spouse if you’re both involved. That’s where really good friends come in. Lean on them. Vent if needed, talk things out, ask their advice if it would be helpful, but mainly, just have at least one other person there to support you, no matter what is going on.
  • Do something fun or at least find something to laugh about. To say that the year that I was 7 years old was fairly intense in the life of my family would be an understatement. My younger brother had been born earlier that year with significant heart defects, had undergone multiple surgeries and was not expected to live for very long. That would have been enough in and of itself, but when he was nine months old, our house burned to the ground. Instead of looking at that time as the absolute bleakness that it could have been, much of what I remember is the laughter. My parents were very good about making sure that no matter what was going on, we all found something to laugh about and that we had fun together. While the stress of that time was evident, they made sure that we all, including themselves, didn’t lose the joy. Finding some way to have fun or to find something to laugh about even when life is darkest is vital for the mental wellbeing of everyone involved.
  • Seek professional help if you need it or have feelings of extreme despair. Again, some things are just too big to handle by yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing and seeking outside help. While whatever is going on may be big, enlisting the help of a professional counselor can help you look at it in different ways and break it off into manageable chunks. Please do this if things are feeling larger than what you can handle by yourself! Don’t try to go it alone.

There’s no doubt about it. Life can get to be too much sometimes. It can be overwhelming. While the steps listed here won’t necessarily solve whatever it is that you’re dealing with, they will help you to tread a little more lightly as you get through the worst of it and get to a point where you can start to see light again.

Lean on Your Community

How do you cope when life gets to be too much? Please share in the comments section below so that we can all benefit from our collective wisdom.

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