This has been a difficult time for our collective mental health. Everything from COVID-19 to the climate and economic crises are difficult to ignore. What can I even do as a single person up against all these problems? A recent study from the CDC found that 40% of adults in the United States experienced one or more adverse mental or behavioural health conditions during the pandemic. You are far from alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty functioning, take a few deep breaths and take a moment to reflect. There are steps you can take even when you feel at a complete loss.
When we become overwhelmed, it can be hard to put it all into words. Thoughts of impending doom, nihilism, and anger can swirl in our heads. You can jump from fear to frustration to guilt in a matter of moments. Our bodies have physical reactions to this stress that can manifest in different ways. In this very moment, you can start addressing this by taking deep breaths. Take five minutes to meditate by focusing on a single image or object.
Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. We tend to put a lot of energy into fighting it and feeling guilty for being this way. Yet survey after survey shows that this is a normal and common part of the human experience – as normal as hunger and fatigue. We put so much effort into appearing happy on social media, and professional at work, that this can be easy to forget. Ride out that emotional wave.
At the core of feeling overwhelmed mentally is a lack of control or predictability. This can range from issues with your body, to problems at school or work, to the huge problems we face globally as a species. Make a mental checklist of all the things you can control. These could include fixing a slouched posture, taking time to exercise, creating a daily routine, and eating healthier.
Reach out for help. Your parents and friends are all going through their own mental health experiences. As we become more open as a society to talking about depression and anxiety, talk to the people in your life both about how you are doing and how they are doing. For professional help, start by making an appointment with your general practitioner or family doctor. Look into therapists in your area or online, including low-cost options available.
If all of that sounds like too much, focus on this very moment. Take a break to listen to some of your favourite music or go for a walk outside. Think of it not as a distraction from your negative thoughts, but rather a chance for you to decompress and for those thoughts to get sorted. Afterwards, take note of the different ideas in your head and how they are affecting you. Take time to measure your emotional and physical reaction to specific thoughts, and take advantage of your calmer state to think of counter-arguments to those ideas.
Being overwhelmed is not a problem that will go away with a few simple steps. It is a part of the human experience and will come and go in waves. It is essential to treat your mental health no different than you do your physical wellbeing. You would not simply ignore or learn to live with hunger or an injury. Figure out the smallest steps you are capable of taking to feel even a little less overwhelmed. If you feel clueless as to what that may be, remember that reading this was already your first step. Now take a deep breath and keep going.
DuBois-Maahs Jessica. “How to Management When We Feel Overwhelmed.” Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/feeling-overwhelmed/
Tartakovsky, Margarita. “Overwhelmed? These 6 Strategies May Help.” PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/blog/overwhelmed-these-6-strategies-may-help/
Teboe, Chloe. “Suicide prevention awareness during COVID-19’s toll on mental health.” News Centre Maine. https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/as-seen-on-tv/suicide-prevention-awareness-month-september-during-coronavirus-covid19-pandemic