15 Questions To Ask When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

I ran to my room, flopped down on the bed and screamed into my pillow. I don’t even remember what triggered it, but in that moment, I knew I was overwhelmed to my breaking point and almost past the point of no return. I needed a major intervention or I was going to fall face first into a massive depressive episode.

The last few years has been incredibly stressful for all of us. The pandemic-prompted closures of schools, jobs lost, isolation, and other stressors have been far more traumatic and intense than most people anticipated and I’m guessing most of us have discovered that on usual coping mechanisms have been inadequate.

The increasingly volatile political climate constantly threatens to alienate us from one another.

And I know I’m not the only one who feels the tension of it all daily.

15 questions I ask myself when I’m overwhelmed:

1. When was the last time I took a deep breath? When I’m overwhelmed I tend to hold my breath and a few deep breaths help me to release any tension I’m holding.

2. Do I need to move my body? I tend to lose track of time and find that I’ve been sitting in the same position for awhile. If I change positions, stand up, or stretch for a bit, it’s another quick moment of tension relief.

3. What can I control? Being overwhelmed is usually a sign that I’m trying to control things that aren’t mine to control. Identifying and focusing on what I can control encourages me to let go of what I cannot control.

4. What is urgent v. what is important? I learned the concept of urgent/important in my early 20s and it has never failed me. Some things feel urgent and seem to demand my attention, while other things that are truly important get neglected. By identifying what is important and what is urgent helps me to identify what I am willing to give energy and attention to now and what can be taken care of later. It helps me remember that what feels most urgent usually isn’t. 

5. When was the last time I had a glass of water? Probably not recently. Water always helps me refocus and my body always tolerates stress better when I’m well hydrated. 

6. Should I just go scream into a pillow? Sometimes I just need to let out a primal scream, but don’t want to scare the neighbors. 

7. Is it time for a body scan? This is a tool I use often to identify where I’m carrying tension. I follow it up with some progressive relaxation and stretching. Many meditation apps have both guided body scans and progressive relaxation; I find it helpful to do guided sessions instead of self-directed. 

8. Would a long, hot shower be helpful? A good shower is like a magic trick. The constant stream of water is a miracle worker – it leaves you feeling fresh and clean and tells your body that you need to slow down and be present to the task at hand.

9. Have I made a list or done a brain dump? I always feel some of the heaviness of being overwhelmed lift when I put things down on paper. Sometimes it’s a list of things to do, sometimes it’s just writing down everything that pops into my head. Either way, the paper is sharing some of the burden, so I’m not having to keep all the thoughts cycling through my mind. If I need to remember that one random thing, I can just glance over everything I wrote down.

10. Who can I share this with? Alternatively, sometimes I need a human to share the burden. Even just saying “I’m feeling really overwhelmed today” makes me feel less like I’m trying to handle everything on my own. More often than not, all I need is to vent, but sometimes that person is helpful in brainstorming or delegating to help me feel less overwhelmed.

11. What can I create? Sometimes it’s just a coloring book. Other times I work on a knitting project. Or take my camera out and see what catches my eye. Taking time to create frees my brain from the overwhelm and helps ground me and make me feel like I accomplished something.

12. If I’m not up for creating anything myself, where can I let my mind wander? Finding a spot to stare at the sky, the trees, or the water has the same relaxing and restoring effect.

13. What can I reschedule? Do I need some margin, some white space in my week? Am I trying to do too much? Often when I’m overwhelmed, it’s because I overestimated my capacity and am asking myself to give more than I can.

14. Which movies/TV or books are comforting? I find getting lost in someone else’s story to help relieve the stress of my own for just a bit.

15. When was the last time I had shallow fun? When I’m overwhelmed, I get focused on all the serious adult stuff that has to be done. But part of being an adult is having fun, too! What silly, fun, easy thing can I do to lighten the mental load? During a very stressful few months, I used to play UNO every night before bed. Just for 10-15 minutes. A guaranteed way to end the day on a high note.

BONUS: If you haven’t yet, download the free copy of 4 Mantras For When I’m Overwhelmed. It’s guaranteed encouragement for when you’re overwhelmed. Print as many copies as you’d like: wallpaper your house with it!

What will you try first? What would you add to this list?

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