Everything Is Not Fine: What to do when life feels overwhelming
Odds are your life has changed. The expectations you had for the spring and summer months were drastically different from the reality. Now fall and winter look like they will be more of the same. You’re less social and less connected to family, friends, coworkers and your community. You spend a lot more time at home. You may even feel stuck there. And the ways you used to pass the time, by scrolling through social media or catching up on the news, only seem to bring on more stress.
If you’re not feeling like yourself, experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or even depression, you are not alone. More than half of Americans report additional stress in their daily lives due to COVID-19. More than a third have reported the pandemic having a serious impact on their mental health.
It is important for you to know that in these circumstances, it’s normal to feel anxious. Anxiety is a natural reaction to facing the unfamiliar. You’ve cycled through all the typical anxious feelings throughout your life. The first day of school jitters, the butterflies in your stomach as you start a new job or getting tongue-tied when you’re introduced to someone new are all normal feelings. You don’t beat yourself up for what you feel in those moments. And there’s no need to be hard on yourself for how you feel now.
The pandemic came on quickly but its impact has stretched out slowly, affecting all the areas of our lives. Whether you’ve dealt with diagnosed anxiety issues in the past or it all feels new to you, whatever anxiety you’re experiencing now is normal.
If it feels like it’s taking on an outsized role in your life, it’s important to give yourself a little extra support. You aren’t weak. You’re not failing to cope. You are a human, living through extraordinary circumstances and reacting accordingly. It’s OK to take a deep breath and accept that things feel different right now.
Here are some healthy ways to support yourself as you manage the added stress in your life:
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Remember it’s OK to be honest. You don’t have to tell everyone you’re doing fine.
- Take care of your body. No, you don’t have to start a strict new diet or exercise regimen. Just focus on nurturing your body just as it is right now. Movement is a quick fix when our minds feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. You could try morning stretches, take a nice neighborhood walk or play catch with your kids. Adding more fruits, vegetables and healthy foods to your diet can have a positive effect on your mindset, too.
- Take breaks. Make time to unwind. Remind yourself that your feelings are normal. Take deep breaths or drink a glass of water to refocus yourself. Try to do the activities you enjoy.
- Balance your exposure to the news. Staying informed can feel reassuring, but try to notice when the news begins to dampen your mood. Give yourself permission to step away and preserve your mental energy.
- Reach out when you need to. You’ve been there for your friends and loved ones when they’ve needed a little extra care. It’s OK for you to reach out for help, too.
Try to notice how the way you’re feeling affects your daily life. If you’re experiencing distress that affects your day-to-day activities for several days or weeks, getting your doctor involved may help. Signs of distress include:
- Changes in appetite and energy levels
- Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Physical reactions to stress, like headaches, body pain, stomach problems or skin rashes
- A worsening of existing chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
It can feel scary to admit when you’re not feeling your best. Sharing how you’re feeling is a powerful tool in managing stress and worry. Another way to do that is by calling 800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746 to take advantage of the resources provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration*. Those resources can help all of us through this uniquely stressful time.
Anxiety is a normal response to all that is going on in the world right now. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until life returns to a more familiar routine before you can feel better. Taking care of yourself can begin now, even when everything is not fine. Your healthy body and your healthy mind are worth the effort.
*The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful.