What To Do When You Are Overwhelmed

An imaged of Melissa looking overwhelmed, sitting with her laptop.

Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by living in this world, getting out of bed and taking a shower, getting anything done. I look around my apartment and it’s a mess. I haven’t taken my dog for his morning walk and I haven’t been to the dentist in over a year. I have appointments to make, research to do, laundry to fold – the usual suspects. But I also have coffee to drink and a blog to write, so, for now, I am going to start there.

This is what I am learning about being overwhelmed: you have to start somewhere and, usually, it’s right where you are.

My parents are getting ready to retire. My dad has spent more than thirty years working for General Motors and my mom, among other jobs, has spent more than thirty years doing the hardest job of all, being a wife and a mother. And, if all of that hard work was not enough to spur on retirement, the birth of their first granddaughter was.

My parents have also spent more than thirty years collecting memories, so last year I traveled to Michigan to help my parents clean out the memories in preparation to sell their home, my childhood home. I went room by room, sifting through drawers and pictures and knickknacks, tossing some things into garbage bags and carefully boxing up others. It took a month.

I was talking to my mom about it, about needing my help and how she felt about retirement. The word that kept coming up over and over was “overwhelmed.” My mom was overwhelmed, and rightfully so. Retirement is something everyone prepares for, but you can never really be fully prepared for the emotional side of retirement. For many retirement means leaving jobs and homes and starting new adventures in new places and learning a completely new pace of life. And that was where my mom found herself, at the precipice of a new life that involved a lot of action and decision, and feeling.

We, my family, are not good at making decisions and allowing ourselves to feel. The indecision and the propensity to lock-up feelings and throwaway the key, I think, must be coded into our DNA. But we are learning – I am learning.

I am learning decisions are often not as serious as we make them out to be, unless you’re a brain surgeon or the President of the United States – then please take your decisions seriously. But I am neither of those things. I am, however, the ambassador of my own life. I can make my own decisions. I can learn from my decisions, good or bad, and move forward. If I am overwhelmed with decisions, or in my case, indecision, I can rest in knowing this: the fear of an outcome is directly related to my perceived ability to handle said outcome…and I am stronger than I often perceive.

I am also learning that feelings are ok. They are normal and natural and necessary, even the feeling of being overwhelmed. Feelings are indicators, pointing us to the light within ourselves. Just like being overwhelmed is actually pointing us to a new, better way of living.

An imaged of Melissa looking overwhelmed, sitting with her laptop. The overlain text reads, "What to Do When You Are OverWhelmed."

Photo Credit: Debra Snell Photography

Being overwhelmed is an indicator that we do not believe we are enough, therefore whatever we accomplish will not be enough. But this is when we have to ask ourselves, “enough for whom?”

Are we overwhelmed because we believe someone else expects us to be more than we are? Are we overwhelmed because we expect ourselves to be more?

The reality is, if you are trying to live up to expectations, you will always fall short. But, if you are trying to just be you – day-in and day-out – you will succeed every time. This isn’t to say self-improvement is not important. What I am saying is self-love is the catalyst for self-improvement. Too many people, in an attempt to be a better version of themselves, are trying to become a better version of someone else. If you want to be a better you, start by simply being you.

When I was helping my parents prepare their house to be sold, I was trying to avoid getting overwhelmed myself. So the first morning, I woke up in my childhood bedroom and I started there. I started where I was, with my own junk, in my own room.

It’s the same way in life. When you are overwhelmed, wake-up and start with you. Take care of yourself first and then take care of others, like the oxygen mask instructions on an airplane. Give yourself time to breath – everything will still be there.

Which leads me to this: when you feel overwhelmed, remember everything will still be there. You are a being with finite energy and time. You can only do so much in any given day and you are probably not giving yourself enough credit for all of the things you are already doing. So, if “life happens,” “shit hits the fan,” or you’re simply “not feeling it,” – well, everything will still be there. You can tackle the next thing tomorrow. You’ve accomplished enough for today.

You do not have to prove yourself. You are enough. Whatever you accomplish today is enough for today, enough for you and no one else.

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