Having anxiety and depression is like being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure but no urge to be productive. It’s wanting friends but hating socializing. It’s wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. It’s caring about everything and then caring about nothing. It’s feeling everything at once and feeling paralyzingly numb.
You might feel like you will never feel better, but you will. I know, because I beat anxiety and overwhelm. You are stronger than you think. Let me show you how…
Fear and Overwhelm
It was seven in the morning and already I felt like a complete failure. Tears blurred my eyes as I searched the dresser, trying to find a simple pair of socks my four-year old would agree to wear. We were already late – again. I had lost my temper – again, and just shouted, no, screamed at my sweet little girl in anger, grief, frustration, and overwhelm.
I didn’t know if I could keep doing this. Working full-time, single parenting, driving 200 miles every week to exchange the kids with my angry and manipulative ex-husband. I had lost my mother the year before, and my father the year before that. And now my marriage of eight years was over. I felt so alone.
I felt weak, overwhelmed with my life, angry, and disappointed. Facing custody battles, job changes, moving again, and bankruptcy. Constantly sick, and exhausted, I felt like my life was falling apart.
But I survived
That was nine years ago, and somehow I survived it. Writing this, I realize I never gave myself credit for all the things I was doing right. For the courage it took to make changes in my life and to simply keep going.
Things aren’t so complicated these days. The stresses in my life are far less catastrophic. But like snow packed into a ball, rolling along and getting bigger and bigger, the small daily stresses can quickly become too much.
What are you stressing about?
There are so many ways to live a life. Why is it so many of us live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety? Maybe the specific causes of our overwhelm are different, but I see and feel it everywhere. We are stressed and angry and fearful. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I don’t live a perfect, stress-free life. And I don’t have all the answers. But I can share what helped me during the most traumatic time of my life, and these are the things I try to remember when I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Conquer Anxiety and Overwhelm
- Give yourself permission
- Use the Power of Gratitude
- Give Yourself Credit
Giving Ourselves Permission
The tired advice to think positive when we are faced with anxiety and overwhelm is shallow and only leads to feelings of guilt. It seems to imply we shouldn’t feel bad. Ever.
How about we give ourselves permission to feel angry, stuck, overwhelmed, exhausted, and just plain unhappy. For the longest time I thought I had to keep a brave face, and denied even to myself how miserable I truly was and how much I was struggling.
“I acted like it wasn’t a big deal when really it was breaking my heart.”~Unknown
It’s OK to feel angry, exhausted, and overwhelmed. And it’s OK to share these feelings with those closest to us. Far too often, we are afraid to admit just how much we are struggling. I met so many women during my years of health coaching that were struggling against really tough circumstances, but just didn’t want to burden others with their problems.
But sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is to shed our mask and share our burden with others.
The Power of Gratitude
OK, I know I said I wasn’t going to suggest you simply “think positive”. But experiencing gratitude is much more than simply trying to think happy thoughts.
I frequently write about practicing gratitude and the positive changes it can have in our daily lives. Our modern culture is one that encourages us to feel discontented – marketing and media want us to find solutions to our unhappiness in their products. And although social media and the internet are great ways to bring us together, they can also cause us to feel inadequate when we compare ourselves to others who seem so much happier, healthier, wealthier, and wise.
Focusing on the good in our lives, even the small things, causes a powerful mental shift that also affects us chemically. Thinking of the many blessings in our life can alter our brain chemistry by causing a surge in the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, and the more we practice gratitude, the stronger and longer-lasting the positive effects.
But how do we do feel gratitude when our world seems to be falling apart around us? How do we find gratitude when we are in pain, angry, overwhelmed, or just plain feeling miserable?
It takes practice. Start small. Find ONE THING you are grateful for, and then find another. Make gratitude a practice – when you wake in the night and your mind won’t stop and you feel your anxiety rising – STOP and remember your gratitude. Keep bringing your mind back to something good, breathe deep, and see what happens.
Many days I would feel so completely overwhelmed with my life and the many circumstances out of my control, I found it hard to breathe. But I kept coming back to the practice of gratitude anyway. I needed it.
There are many ways to approach the practice of gratitude when life is too much. Some people keep a gratitude journal where they write their list and review it daily.
I approached practicing gratitude with my mother’s rosary. For every smooth bead on her rosary, I had to say one thing I was grateful for. And it was incredibly difficult. But the more I did it, the more I found to be grateful for. Blue sky, happy memories, the songbirds outside my window, anything to remind me of the goodness in life.
Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.
~Sarah Ban Breathnach
Give Yourself Credit
When life keeps throwing things at us and we feel one more thing will break us, how can we focus? I know when I feel overwhelmed, a lot of the underlying feeling is FEAR. And that fear can be gripping. Can we ask ourselves – “what are we afraid of?”
Nine years ago, I had just lost both my parents within a year and a half. A year after that my marriage ended. I felt weak, vulnerable, and I feared I could not cope.
I feared I couldn’t manage single parenting while juggling two jobs and that I would be a terrible parent to my young children and they would be ruined for life. I feared letting my personal crisis interfere with my responsibilities at work and letting my employer down. I feared financial ruin.
I wish I had remembered back then to give myself credit for how courageous, strong, and determined I was. Sometimes we are so busy beating ourselves up and feeling afraid, we forget to acknowledge everything we are doing right.
What are you doing right in your life? Can you tell me five of your greatest strengths? How about ten? How often do you consider your strengths and all the things you do right? Why is that?
The four-year old little girl I lost my temper with all those years ago is growing into a compassionate and wise young woman. During that awful time in my life, my biggest worry was for my children and their well-being. It turns out, we all survived.
What ever you are going through, you will survive too. Remember to be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to experience the fear, anger, and overwhelm. But don’t let yourself get stuck there. Find your gratitude – and carry that little bit of bright light with you.
And give yourself credit – you are stronger than you think.
In peace and contentment
More Resources on Contentment:
Seeking Joyful Simplicity – Slowing Down and Living Joyfully
Leo at Zen Habits has a really thought-provoking article on Practical Steps to Contentment.
Mark has a funny take on happiness –Stop Trying to Be Happy
Everyone finds contentment in different ways. I’m curious, how do you find yours?