Feeling stuck in a number of trials at one time can quickly drag you into feeling panicked, inadequate, hopeless, and disappointed with any chances of getting ahead in your life. You begin to invert all of the difficulties onto yourself disheartened and questioning, “What is wrong with me that this is my life?”
Oh, have I been there. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if trials came one at a time?
If you’ve lived long enough you’ve soon come to realize that reality doesn’t typically work out that way.
The car breaks down at the same time your finances are shaky at the same time a conflict just emerged with a relationship at the same time a deadline is coming up at the same time health issues arise…sound familiar?
It’s hard. It’s messy. It feels shameful. You may have even felt like you wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear from it all.
Can I relieve you just a bit in saying that most of us have felt the exact same way at some point.
Not too long ago someone asked me on my Instagram Q&A how I knew I was seeing progress in my own mental health- and one of the biggest signs for me was witnessing myself react differently to the enormity of life’s trials. The way I would’ve reacted mentally and emotionally seven years ago compared to today has completely changed. I do believe some of it came with age- learning how to navigate my resources from past lessons along with the reassurance that I’ve gotten through “the impossible” before.
However, no matter how far along you are in your mental health journey there naturally remain times when life can unexpectedly sweep you of your feet. There naturally remain times when your automatic thoughts will make it about a deficit in yourself. And what I’ve learned makes the difference in how you come out of these overwhelming ruts are two things: How you are processing your outlook and the decisions you make in these moments.
It is possible to remain anchored when the waves are crashing around you. It takes faith and it takes some thought discipline, but I believe that you can do it. I believe that you can begin to practice a new way of thinking with practice and intentionality. So here are a few ways to practically stay grounded while moving through the overwhelming.
First things first, let go of what you can’t control.
It’s the phrase we hear all too often but have the hardest time relinquishing when issues arise. Are you overthinking and getting yourself worked up over something that is completely out of your hands? You can’t control what someone else is thinking, you can’t control someone else’s choices, you can’t control what happened in the past and you can’t usually control the timing or results of how events will play out.
Worrying about things like this only make you feel worse while having no effect on the situation. You may feel if you ruminate on what’s happening long enough some mental breakthrough will change everything and you’ll regain some control. More than likely, when it comes to the issues outside of ourselves- it won’t. And if you’re ruminating from a place of worry, most of the perspective you’re acquiring is painted by fear. So, let’s break things down first.
Your first step is to identify and mentally release the parts that you have no control over. Consider visualizing this process by making a physical list of what they are. It’s one of the main steps in My Self-Therapy Anxiety Guides.
This is the part where you pray and give these specific things to God and leave it in His hands.
Next, make a list of your priorities.
Now that you’ve let go of what you can’t control, let’s get realistic and deal with the things that you do have the ability to impact. When looking at the various trials you are facing, begin to prioritize what needs attending to starting with the most urgent. By prioritizing the issues at hand this is going to help bring that overwhelming big picture into some order. This is where you switch from thinking destructively to thinking constructively. It may look something like this:
- Fix car
- Finish “x” deadline
- Apply for “x” amount of jobs.
- Set up appointment with doctor/therapist
- Call “person” back
Try to get as clear as possible about what’s most important in this moment. This often means that you may have to set boundaries in other areas to focus on resolving core issues- such as, cancelling an event or lessening your load in the areas that you can (at least for the moment). This applies especially if you’re in a state of crisis. Once your foundation is more stable then you’ll feel more at ease about carrying on with the other usual aspects of life.
Think small steps each day.
One of the major thinking dysfunctions we fall into when life feels overwhelming is catastrophizing. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. We zoom out to the big picture, accounting for everything that’s negative in our lives and then come up with a general conclusion about the failing direction of our lives.
Let me just say, now is not the time to be thinking big picture. Big picture thinking rooted in fear or shame always ends in hopelessness. You already did big picture thinking, but this time constructively, when you listed out your priorities in the grand scheme of things.
Now it’s time to start thinking smaller picture. Since your priorities have given you some overall direction of how to move forward you can start thinking about how to implement those priorities into your day to day. But just start with the first 24 hours. What can you realistically do within the next 24 hours that will get you one step closer to getting out of this rut. It doesn’t matter how small it seems. You will feel a little less pressure getting something taken care of and it may even give you the proactive motivation to keep going.
Be okay with the small steps because they are going to add up with time. And in time you could be in a completely different place than you are right now. I’m a witness.
Make space for joy and to be present.
You’ve let go of what you can’t control. You have a plan for the things you can control. You understand your priorities and you’re making day to day progress on these things. Now you can take a deep breath and make some time to help yourself thrive again. You can invest in the things that keep you in the cycle of fear and fatigue.
That looks like resting. That looks like making sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s eating the foods that elevate your mood and cognition (here are 5 Reasons What You Eat Can Help Improve Your Mental Health This Year). It’s choosing to do something that you personally enjoy- even if it’s just watching a movie, playing an instrument, writing or drawing or reading.
You see, there is a difference between avoidance behavior or distracting yourself from your issues that continue to build up anxiety inside, and feeling the rest that comes from knowing you are honestly dealing with these issues and now it’s okay to let go.
Through the practice of living with constant fear and anxiety, many of us have conditioned and strengthened our brain’s fear response. I don’t say this as a means of blame but actually as a means of hope because we can re-train our brain. Research has found that our brains can undergo neuroplasticity, which is the ability to strengthen certain neural connections and physically change the wiring of our brains. And when you’re in a constant state of overwhelm, it can be easy for your mind to fall into defeat not just mentally but biologically.
This is why it’s important to practice gratitude, to engage in the things that bring us passion and joy, and to practice the mindfulness of being present. Make time to strengthen your mind with these experiences as well. Make space for rest and for joy.
1. Identify and let go of what parts you can’t control.
2. Make a priority list of what areas to begin addressing.
3. Implement one step each day toward getting unstuck in any of these areas.
Most of all, God has a plan for you.
As I always say, the things that come as a surprise to you are not a surprise to God. Not only has He already seen these days pass but He is fully prepared to carry you through. Romans 8:11 says that the same power that rose Christ from the grave lives in you. This means that you have a death defeating spirit reigning within you that is able to accomplish more than you may feel or imagine right now. When He is our strength we always have a reason to hold on because His strength never fades. In this we can have life and peace more abundantly, even when the worst comes because He who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Amen? Amen!
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