9 Ways To Shift Your Mindset When You're Stressed & Overwhelmed
Your capacity to hold all the things in your life that cause your body or your mind any kind of stress can be thought of as a bucket. It holds all of your responsibilities, the myriad stresses and burdens you face. It holds the commitments you take on—the big ones and the small ones, the temporary and the long-term, those you've chosen and those life has handed to you. Eventually, if you continue to load things into your bucket—whether by choice, necessity, or simply because you've spent more time on the planet—your bucket will overflow. When it does, you experience overwhelm.
Creating and maintaining extra room in your bucket is what prevents overwhelm over the long haul. That's why it's imperative to pay attention to, and deliberately curate, the contents of your bucket. If your bucket is filled with things that aren't important to you, you don't have room for the things that are truly important. You want to devote time to your own long-term goals, even if taking time to work on them puts stress on your schedule.
To deal with your stress and overwhelm, to rewrite your life in a way that works for you, you're going to need to harness that power. Here are nine fundamental guiding principles for keeping your mind on your side.
Know that you can't fail at self-care.
There will always be times when you get off track—times you accidentally oversleep and don't get to the gym, times you forget to plan for dinner and end up going out, or times you lose it and eat a bowl of ice cream even though you know it will make you sick. There will always be unexpected losses and disappointments, and there will always be situations you don't handle as well as you'd like. Overcoming overwhelm is a process of learning what is most important so you can make choices and tweak them over time to ensure they're lining up with your values and goals. You can't do it all, but as long as you are making empowered decisions, you can't help but go in the right direction. If you get off track, you recalibrate. It's as simple as that. Self-care is a process, not a goal. You absolutely cannot fail.
Remember your power and agency.
Part of feeling overwhelmed can be feeling like you are at the mercy of all the things that are happening in your life. Things may be challenging. Life may be hard. You may have circumstances that are difficult. But there are always things you can do to lighten your load. You have power over your own choices. You can say no to things without the world ending or people being disappointed with you. Acknowledging this truth and acting on it will give you a sense of agency in your own life, which in and of itself decreases your experience of stress and overwhelm.
Believe in yourself.
If you can put your skepticism aside and fully believe that you can say no and people will still love and appreciate you, that you have it in you to create a life of better health and greater ease, that you can get out from under your overwhelm—you'll have more strength and a stronger foundation to make change.
And if you don't believe that yet? Fake it until you make it. Based on over 20 years of medical practice, I can tell you that my patients who believe that they can make changes are more likely to accomplish what they set out to accomplish—even if it means falling off the horse and getting back on again.
If you try to do too much at once, especially if you're already overwhelmed, you're likely to fall short. You can't solve overwhelm by adding more and more to your plate without unraveling some of your stress first. Choose the things that will take the least amount of effort with the most amount of benefit. Set your sights on those things, even if they're small things, and over time those small things will add up. Every single step you take in the direction you want to go gets you that much closer to being there. And if you take on too much, step back, fortify, regroup, and dig back in.
Sure, it's good to be positive, but for many of us, if we think positively and our desired outcome doesn't occur, we can feel sad, down, disappointed, and even hopeless. So in addition to believing in yourself, check your expectations, as setting an unrealistic bar is a sure way to feel like you're failing (even though you're not!). Life can be hard and unfair. Bad and difficult things happen—even to good people, even if we use all of the recommended "techniques" for manifesting our dreams and desires.
Be kind to yourself.
The only thing worse than not taking care of yourself is giving yourself a hard time about not taking care of yourself. Piling on guilt and self-judgment doesn't help you make better choices. It doesn't motivate you. It doesn't do anything except make you feel bad. If you hear a voice in your head that repeatedly puts you down, tell it to step aside. Replace the unkind thought with a kind thought. If you think, I have no willpower, change that to It's OK to want to eat when I'm stressed, and I am learning new tactics to deal with that. If you think, My thighs are too big, change that to I'm strong and healthy.
Author your life.
Your subconscious wants your external experience to line up with your internal experience. A negative tape in your subconscious can significantly affect your external experience. You can decide that the story your subconscious is holding on to is not the story you want to live. You can decide that while your subconscious is only trying to keep you safely on familiar ground, familiar ground is no longer where you want to be. It's time to put your conscious mind in the lead and head out for new territory.
Be flexible and willing to let go.
In order to make positive change, we need to be willing to let go of parts of our lives and ourselves that don't serve us. Sometimes these things give us comfort even though they aren't the best choices. If we are to truly create a life in which we don't feel overwhelmed, and we are surrounded by things and people that support us to be our best selves, we have to stand up to our patterns and tendencies with an open mind and an open heart.
Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Forge your own way. Be the person you want to be, not who you are told to be by anyone else. Know 100 percent that who you are in your core is good and worthy and that you don't need to fall prey to a culture that tells you there is a certain way you should act or be. If you see other people who seem like they have everything together, know that this is just an illusion. Everyone struggles with their own demons. No one's life is what it looks like on Facebook or Instagram. Decide what's important to you, how you want to feel, what you want to accomplish, and how you want your life to look, and start working toward that with the choices you make. Every step you take in the direction of where you want to go will get you that much closer to being where you want to be.
Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.