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  • Writer's pictureCarolee Coleman, LCPC

Worn Thin? How to Cope When Its All Too Much

Is it just me, or does it seem like the stressors of life seem amplified right now? We, as a collective, are going through very interesting times with the pandemic, politics, the work culture changing rapidly, to name a few things. It often feels like uncharted territory. People are not only trying to maintain regular life (which can be hard enough) but also navigate terrain that is totally unfamiliar, and it just doesn’t seem to end! Many people I talk to are experiencing overwhelm and more stress than normal right now. Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, PhD recently did a podcast with Brené Brown discussing “Pandemic Flux Syndrome”. I feel as though we have all been tired of talking about the pandemic FOR A LONG TIME, however, I found this perspective validating to my experiences and those around me. Amy says,

“Many of us psychologically struggling right now, experiencing 'pandemic flux syndrome' -- a chaotic mix of feelings like fear AND hope, along with blunted emotions or spikes in anxiety and depression, brought on by the unprecedented liminal stage in which we're currently living.

If you’re experiencing increased sadness or anxiety along with an urge to dramatically change something about your life — some of the markers of pandemic flux syndrome — be assured you’re not alone. Many people are feeling such tensions. Although human beings are more resilient than we generally appreciate, it will take time for many of us to stably recover, to reflect and recalibrate.”

With that in mind, Let’s look at some ways that you can cope during times of overwhelm.

1. Set Boundaries- this may mean saying no. Oh, good old boundary setting. Doesn’t it seem like some people are natural at this? They know what is good for them without hesitation. Someone asks them, “Hey, can you manage the concession stand Friday night?” and they say as naturally as taking a sip of water, “I’m sorry, that wont work for me.” No explanation, no anxiety, just matter-of-fact. Sigh. Who ARE these people?? If you have trouble saying no and setting boundaries, you MIGHT be a people pleaser. Setting boundaries is so important for well-being. Boundaries aren’t just about saying no to things that you don’t want to do and/or have time/energy to do, they are also about communicating needs, and not allowing people to treat you poorly, or invade your space (this can include body space, emotional space, home space, office space, etc.) This is a topic that books are written about, so this little blurb is certainly not all-inclusive.

Let’s focus on the saying “no” part. Sometimes just having the wording for a no can be very helpful, so here are a couple of options. “I’m sorry, that isn’t going to work for me.”, “I already have plans” (Your plans might be taking the evening to take care of yourself by watching Netflix and painting your toenails, and THAT IS VALID and not anybody’s business. Notice the options are direct, and don’t require explanation. This can feel very uncomfortable if you are used to overexplaining. If you feel put on the spot and get anxious, you can always buy yourself some time to check in with yourself to see what is best for you by saying something like, “I’m going to need some time to think about that”, or “I will check my schedule and get back to you”.

2. Ask for help- There is part of me that hesitates to include this, because I am very aware that a support system is not something everyone has to access. For those of you that don’t have a strong support system, I know this can feel lonely. Here is an article with some ideas to strengthen your support system.

If you are in a position where you have some people to reach out to, now is the time to do it. Asking for help can come in many forms. A couple include-asking for a listening ear and asking for acts of service. If you are needing someone to talk to, but struggle with the feedback you receive, it can be very helpful to let the person know that you need to vent and aren’t looking for advice. Also, respect their space by asking them first if they have the time and energy for a vent session. This way you aren’t dumping on someone who just doesn’t have the space to listen which can be a frustrating experience for both of you.

Here are a few other ideas to consider when asking for help in the form of acts of service: ask your spouse/partner to help pick up some specific chores/responsibilities. Collaborate with a parent that has a child with the same activities as your child. Can you talk about taking turns carpooling to practices? Do you have a trusted person that would give you a 1–2-hour break from the kids to do whatever? Would a neighbor kid mow your lawn at a reasonable price? I encourage you to consider the things that feel like a weight in your life right now and brainstorm ideas for relief.

3. Take time for you- Are you tired of hearing this? I get it. Part of why you may be feeling overwhelmed is because you feel there is no time to take for yourself. It’s easier said than done. This one may require taking step #2 first. Getting, even a little space, can help. Go for a walk, listen to a podcast in your car, have coffee with a trusted friend, journal, paint, do whatever YOU want. Do you need joy? Calm? Release? Plan your activities around your needs. Practicing mindfulness is another great way to take time for yourself. In my previous blog, I discuss what mindfulness is and offer some resources to deepen your understanding/practice.

If you find you are struggling with any of these, finding a trusted counselor/therapist can be very helpful too. Far gone are the days when people believed that mental health maintenance is only for “certain kinds” of people. Therapy offers a wide range of options and can be helpful to most people. Thank goodness.

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