Holding It Together When Life Becomes Overwhelming

When life becomes too overwhelming, it’s easy to feel like you’re coming apart at the seams. We’ve all been dealt curve balls — whether that be suffering from an extreme illness or injury, heartbreak, abuse, intense grief, or catastrophe. And when we go through personal crises such as these, it’s common to experience symptoms of trauma that include anxiety, anger, depression and grief.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, mood disorders affect nearly 21 million adults in the US, and major depressive disorder is the number one cause of disability in Americans aged 15-44. These numbers are staggering, but are likely underestimated as they reflect only cases that have been diagnosed and reported. In addition, these numbers don’t include other common issues such as anxiety and panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or chronic mild depression.

When you’re suffering from psychological trauma or extreme stress, you may have trouble “holding it all together” and as a result may “come unglued.” This can manifest as social withdrawal, angry outbursts, anxiety or panic attacks, depression, drug or alcohol abuse and/or disordered eating. Physically, we have trouble sleeping, experience muscular aches and pains, headaches and fatigue.

When this happens, you may feel “stuck;” like your emotions are quicksand and you’re caught in a quagmire and can’t find a way out. So how do you dig yourself out when the quicksand of your emotions may be pulling you further and further down? It’s not an easy process, but here are five ways you can begin:

1. Look at your situation and how you got there. Then breathe.

As with quicksand, be still. Realize that getting out will take courage and mindful determination; that destructive coping behaviors will cause you to sink further. Now BREATHE. When we find ourselves in a stressful or desperate situation, our breath becomes shallow and rapid. One way to counter this is to try to slow your breathing pattern. Count the length of your inhale and exhale: “One, Two, Three,” “One, Two, Three, Four…” It is not so much about getting more air in, but about slowing your rate of breathing in and out and allowing the belly to rise and fall naturally.

2. Silence your negative inner voice.

Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, refers to it as a “talkative roommate.” I once heard it called the “Yama-Yama Man.” Whatever you choose to call it, we’re referring to the ceaseless chatter going on in your mind — everything from “how do I look?” to “I can never be good enough”, to “why is my life such a mess?” Notice how that voice is never quiet? No one wants a roommate like that. Evict him/her, especially when he/she is talking trash about you.

3. View your situation as an outsider.

Now that you’ve found a few quiet moments without your noisy brain chatter, be aware that you’ve found yourself in a situation. It maybe a terrible one at that, but try to view it as though you’re watching an episode on TV. The episode isn’t you; you’re outside of the TV simply watching. You have the remote control. You have the power to switch stations to a happier alternative.

4. Embrace your decision to change your attitude and move forward.

Once you’ve made the decision to change the channels of your attitudes, life and well-being, try to imagine what channel, movie or situation would bring you utmost joy, lifting of spirit, or delight. What does that feel like inside your body/mind? Do you feel lighter? Uplifted? Robust? Loved and loving? Hold on to these feelings. Store them in your mind and body. Use these feelings of delight like mouthwash for your brain. Bring them in, swish them around in all the dark folds and recesses, and spit out the old, stale, unwelcome thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

5. Savor your positive feelings.

Hold on to these feelings you’ve just experienced. Practice coming back to them as often as possible. Nurture them. With time and attention, they will grow.

These steps are not meant to over-simplify a complex situation. They’re intended to offer simple tools that are easily accessible and can be utilized at any time. Happiness and well-being are your birthright. Take ownership.

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”

~Maori Proverb

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