Coping With Feelings of Overwhelm and Anxiety

No doubt these days I’m not the only one that feels overwhelmed and like my anxiety is creeping up on me. The three things that I find helpful lately in dealing with overwhelm and anxiety are using my senses, breaking things into smaller pieces and the concept of non-attachment. I’ll explain below how I’ve noticed each of these to be useful tools in coping with and helping me move through what I’ve been feeling. Notice I said, “move through,” rather than distracting myself from my feelings.

“You will always grow through – what you go through.”

— Tyrese Gibson

  1. Use your five senses: This is a very grounding thing to do to get back into your body and out of your head, especially if you are ruminating on something or just don’t feel like moving. So, on a cool, cloudy day recently, I took a walk in the woods. I immediately noticed the sights, smells, sounds and feels of the dense forest. I noticed the beautiful fall colors, the smell of decaying leaves and the sounds of the the leaves rustling in the wind and crunching beneath my feet. I almost walked by one of the biggest leaves I have ever seen, but instead chose to back track, pick it up and really look at it. It was so beautiful and so were the colors that surrounded me! So, if you find yourself lost in a negative thought pattern, try using your five senses: What do you see, taste, smell, feel and hear?
  2. Break things into smaller pieces: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even with small tasks, but it may be helpful just to get started (sometimes that’s the hardest part) and have minimal expectations. By this I mean don’t try to do it all at once. Perhaps you can break up an overwhelming task into smaller parts over the course of several days or even longer, depending on the nature of the task. I like a clean home, but don’t find any joy in cleaning. I’d really rather be outside hiking, playing pickleball and digging in the garden! I have a small house and it doesn’t take that long to clean, but the thought of it still overwhelms me. This week, I decided to set the bar low and clean a room or two at a time and then move onto something else I really enjoy. It worked! I didn’t dread cleaning as much, or put it off, because I felt cleaning a little at a time was much more manageable. I’ve done this with other tasks, as well, and sometimes, once I get started, I actually get super focused and keep going until I complete the task!
  3. Non-attachment: I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism lately and a major tenet is the concept of non-attachment and that attachment is the source of suffering. In the podcast, SECULAR BUDDHISM With Noah Rasheta, during the episode, “Understanding Non-Attachment,” he says,

“This can apply to relationships, friends, experiences. Even our moment to moment experience of living, if we’re attached to it, can be the source of a lot of suffering for ourselves and others. By excepting the true nature of things as being impermanent we ease our fears and we open our hearts. Then this understanding of impermanence will not only benefit ourselves but will benefit others as well. So don’t think of non-attachment as a form of indifference or a form of self-denial. Think of non-attachment as a way of not allowing things in your life to own you. Giving up the attachment to the permanence of things is the key understanding here.

Because we understand that all things are constantly changing, that all things are impermanent, and because all things are constantly changing, when you hold onto something, and attach to it, it’s detrimental because that thing changes. It evolves and changes over time. Like that quote “Everything breaks.” Attachment is our unwillingness to face that reality and you can apply that thinking to almost anything.” (https://secularbuddhism.com/#copy_link)

I find that I get attached to plans and routines, and to relationships. I was certainly disappointed that our cross country travel plans got derailed this Spring, but I try not to hold on too tightly to what could have been (attachment) and remain open to traveling someday soon. To think about the great plans we had and what we are missing out on just leads to sadness (suffering) and isn’t very productive.

Navigating relationships can be challenging. They are not meant to be forced or one-sided. I’ve come to understand that I just have to move on from certain relationships or redefine them, rather than hold onto what I want them to be (attachment). This only leads to feelings of rejection (suffering). All relationships aren’t destined to be a good fit. I’d much rather channel my energy into relationships that are!

If you find yourself spinning out of control, try to take some deep breaths and really investigate what’s going on. What can you do in this moment to provide comfort to yourself? How would you treat a good friend? Perhaps you can try one of my suggestions to feel more grounded, less overwhelmed and more satisfied in your relationships!

Thanks for reading and be well!

Jeanne xox