Handling overwhelm and anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Here’s my story how the enemy of overwhelm has at times taken hold of my life, and sometimes paralyzes me to take action. But despite the struggle I’ve found 5 simple ways to help me cope, in hopes it will help others too.
*photos in this post have been pulled from my Instagram account, and are an accurate description of real life!
o·ver·whelm verb ‘defeat completely’.
An interesting definition by my friend Google. Interesting but surprisingly spot on if you feel overwhelm has crept into your life with no reprieve in sight.
The enemy of overwhelm has had a powerful grip on my life the past four years. It creeps up during the most stressful time, and hides right around the corner when life feels ‘normal’. It never seems to completely go away, and often is rooted by my own doing (I fully admit I am a workaholic and use achievement as my drug of choice). The vicious cycle makes me feel like I’m stuck in a washing machine – being turned upside down for days then a rinse cycle of rest only for a brief moment, before spinning out of control.
It sounds dramatic, but if you’re in the thick of it, it feels that way too.
I’ve never suffered from mental disorders – not even postpartum depression after having two children. So ‘mental health’ was never big on my vocabulary list. Life was pretty typical (if you can count being a military spouse as typical), until about a year after having our first baby. In the blink of an eye, things went from pretty mundane, to busy, to stressful, to crippling anxiety. It feels like it happened overnight, although looking back at all that has happened in the last four years, I realize that’s not true. It’s been a build-up of events that lead to the moment I am writing this post.
The Enemy of Overwhelm
I’ve been up since 5:15am. It’s 8:30am now, and I’m still in my pajamas, chewing at the side of my cheek and feeling a little jittery from nerves, not caffeine.
Our family is moving soon. Across the country. My husband’s job in the Marine Corps is taking us from San Diego to Northern Virginia. We are in the process of selling our home here, buying a new home in Virginia (one we’ve actually never seen in person), researching preschools and getting on waitlists, arranging movers and deciding what to do with our vehicles (ship them? drive them? sell them?) and trying to decide what the best course of action is for the trip (do we all drive together? do I fly with the kids and my husband meets us there? do I stay with my parents awhile until the house ready/painted/cleaned?). So.many.logistics….So.many.decisions….
I understand these are first world problems. And I don’t discount the fact we are immensely blessed to be able to live in a nice home, have a car that will get us across the country, not have to worry about my kids’ health or safety. This I realize fully and I am grateful. But unfortunately, having a blessed life is not the magic eraser for overwhelm.
My overwhelm with life has undoubtably lead to big-time bouts of anxiety. I am not a mental health professional, but have been able to identify my feelings as ones of anxiety for some time now. Actually, since last year…
395 days my husband was away. Training across the country then a deployment overseas while I was living in California with no family or close friends, raising our one and three year old…and running a full-time business. I had just six days to prepare for him leaving. It was so abrupt – like a punch in the gut.
I wish I could say most days were fine, but most days where anything but.
My three year old was learning boundaries, emotional regulation, and just being a three year old! Meltdowns, tantrums, defiance…(if you know age three, you know what I’m talking about).
My one year old was going through a ‘phase’ of desperate clinging, screaming crying, and easily set off just by me walking around the corner.
Meanwhile, I was handling every facet of my business – customer service, content creation, photography, creating paid products, email copy, tech issues, answering emails/direct messages, and the list goes on.
There was nothing about life in that moment that felt calm. There was nothing about life in that moment I felt was worth looking forward to (as bad as that sounds, it’s how I felt). Early mornings working, days of difficult parenting, and late nights catching up on work. My cup was below empty.
The kids’ constant crying, fighting, and neediness made my feel like a zombie. I felt rage at times.
Yes, RAGE. Do you even know how hard it is to admit that now? How much I hate myself for feeling a totally foreign feeling directed at my life and situation? A life I was so grateful for? This new emotion didn’t make sense to me – it still doesn’t.
But when it happens, it’s almost an out-of-body experience. I’d be lying if I said I was calm. I tried, but often I had to resort to putting my children in their rooms so I could breathe…regroup…
Many mornings I would wake up and pray – for a calm approach and to be the mom I wanted to be. The intention was there – but oh so hard to keep during the grueling, exhausted times. Then I’d beat myself up for losing it even before 7:30am. Mom guilt is a real b*tch.
There were days when I would bring my laptop outside to work while the kids played in the front yard. Only to be interrupted every minute by cries and breaking up fights. My nerves were shot from constantly fretting about them falling on the concrete sidewalk or running into the street.
But one moment I remember so vividly – while ‘enjoying’ the outdoors, I suddenly I had to go to the bathroom. Bad. I tried to get my three year old inside, but he resisted big time. I couldn’t leave him outside alone in fear he would disobey me (again) and run into the street. The baby was already crying in one arm, while I wrangled my kicking and screaming three year old in the other. The dog escaped and while I tried to run after her with both kids in my arms, I peed my pants.
I put both crying kids down and started to sob myself. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I shouldn’t feel like life is a big scary rat race where I’m clawing just to survive. Add countless doctor’s appointments for delayed speech/hearing tests and allergy testing. Everything just felt….heavy.
That year was a blur, much of which I barely remember. It makes me sad to think that I can’t recollect much of the sweet parts. I guess that’s just how deployments go (or so I’ve been told by many of my military momma friends).
Days of survival finally lead to the end of my husband’s deployment. It was the end in sight. We made it!
After my husband returned home after what seemed like forever, I thought the overwhelm and anxious feelings of ‘fight or flight’ would reside. But they didn’t. In fact, they only got worse.
When we learned about this unexpected move, I thought it would be fine. There’s two of us now to parent and make decisions. We’ve been through military moves before. God has a plan for us.
But despite all those truths, I am finding myself paralyzed with anxiety and making lists upon lists to tackle the overwhelm one item at a time, but it just keeps getting worse.
I wish I had the answers. I wish I could write a post that said “Anxious? Overwhelmed? Do X,Y, and Z and it all goes away”
But I don’t have those answers.
I wish I could say, “Snapping at your kids too much because you feel on edge? Here’s the magic answer!”
But I can’t.
And probably the most frustrating thing about it all, is most of the overwhelm on my plate is by my own doing.
Wanting to do more, create more, improve more. Wanting to scale my business because I’m so passionate about it and so unbelievably grateful to have made my little dream a reality, but knowing it’s a tough balance between work and family and self care.
I do not have the answers my friends. I wish so badly that I did.
So why am I sharing this? To tell you that you aren’t alone. To rid you of the guild you feel for feeling overwhelmed when your life is actually pretty darn great. The say “it’s ok to give thanks even when you feel resentful sometimes”.
All I know is that we aren’t meant to live life this way. Our days aren’t meant to scwabble away. They are a gift.
I am learning how to recognize the gift in every single moment, and how to make it all count. Even if the moments are kinda nuts.
So in my attempt to do so, I’ve been taking action to reduce the overwhelm, keep my anxiety at bay, and be more present in this precious gift of life. These things have helped me to refocus, recharge, and get off the mind circus, even for a brief moment.
5 Steps to Handling Overwhelm and Anxiety
#1: Breath work
When I find myself frazzled before 8am and running around the house like a mad-woman, it isn’t until I’m in the car, kids strapped in their carseats, that I even realize I’m shaky and on edge. Shallow breathing is a common symptom of anxiety and one that I reverse simply by counting my breaths. Inhaling through my nose for 3 counts, then exhaling for 3 counts. Slowing down my breathing pattern helps me calm down and get grounded again. I’ll do this breath work 5-10 times through until I feel like I’m breathing normal again and a little more relaxed
#2: Nature walks/Environmental Change
It isn’t always doable – to leave your home/work and take a walk, but MAN does it help. When I’m feeling those familiar anxieties start to swell, a walk outside always helps. Usually I throw on a playlist that makes me feel happy or inspired and just….walk. Focusing on the lyrics of the song or the scenery calms my brain and allows the 1,485,93 thoughts to quiet so I don’t feel like I’m drowning in them.
If you spend your days in the same place, working/parenting/fretting, it might be time to switch it up. Rearrange the office, take the kids somewhere new, or just get away from home! Often times when I feel plagued with procrastination due to overwhelm, I know that’s when I need to leave my house (where I typically work) and go to the cutest coffee shop in town, put on a happy playlist, grab my favorite matcha latte, and blast my work-funk out of the water. Just a change of environment can kick-start progress in a big way.
#3: Technology Break
There’s something very freeing about turning the phone OFF and forgetting you even own one. However, life as an online business owner makes that really hard for me to do! But I’ve noticed having my phone near me tricks my brain into thinking I’m ‘available’. And somethings always being available for others (taking calls, answering texts, responding to messages or replying to emails) can carry a real weight on your shoulders you may not ever realize. Taking the pressure off to just ‘be’ without the technology distraction can help give a small sense of piece, even just for an hour or two
#4: Focus on the present
I heard this in a podcast once: Pretend you have a yard stick and marked the half-way part with a sharpie – everything to the left half is stuff that’s happened in the past, and the right half is everything to happen in the future. So many of the thoughts we have in our brains are swirling around either the left or the right of our yardstick. What happens if we just focused on that one black sharpie mark in the center – the now.
This thinking has really started to transform my life. Less type-a crazy ‘what if’ planning escapades and less replaying stories or situations from the past. Just now. It’s helped me be more calm AND more present with my kids.
#5: Gratitude and Prayer
Probably #1 in my book but I saved the best for last. I often remind myself to ‘lift it and leave it’, because the anxiety is not always a beast I can control. It feels behind me, it feels never-ending, it feels evil. When I devote time to my faith and make myself sit in silence with my maker, the Tasmanian devil in my brain starts to transform into soft waves in the ocean. It’s like a gentle nudge from up above saying, “Hey, relax. I got you”. Another way I pray or meditate is listing to songs (for me, these are worship songs) that remind me what’s TRULY important in life. What truly matters and what does not. The calm in the storm is there, if you allow it. If you can replace the overwhelm with gratitude in the moments of defeat, it’s a true game changer.
No One Size Fits All Approach
Overcoming overwhelm and anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all approach, nor is it something I believe will ever completely go away in my own life (I’d like to believe it can, but in this season, I think it’s just something that ebbs and flows). But taking action to make it better….easier on myself means I will not play victim to it or let it consume my joy.
The enemy of overwhelm will not win.
I hope my story and my small tips help you in some way. Remember, you aren’t alone. If seeking medical help or therapy is something you need, it’s a BRAVE step and WONDERFUL step in the right direction!
Take care of yourselves and your mental health. XO