What happens when we feel overwhelmed by the challenges of life?

15 May 2018

 What happens when we feel overwhelmed by the challenges of life, with too much to do and too little time to do it?

Often we focus only on what we tell ourselves we have to do and we let go of the activities that we used to engage in just because they were fun, relaxing, creative or social.  This might seem like a good idea initially as we tell ourselves that we can’t afford the time for anything non-productive and just have to get through this challenging period and achieve our objectives.

However, these neglected activities are the very ones that fuel, energise and engage us.  As we struggle on, attempting to satisfy all the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ that we generate for ourselves, we can become increasingly stressed, and even depressed, as we find ourselves unable to see a way out of the situation any time soon.  We may start to be self-critical rather than supportive and perceive ourselves to be failing in some way.

When our mood takes a tumble, it can become even harder to concentrate and work efficiently.  Our thinking can become more black and white, rigid and less creative.  Our efficiency reduces and decision making can become more difficult.  We can find ourselves getting stuck in our thinking and taking too long over things that used to seem easy.  Sleep might be affected and the colour can drain out of our lives, such that the things that we used to enjoy no longer give us the same feelings of enjoyment.

So, unwittingly we maintain this unhealthy state by continuing to neglect the nourishing activities which usually help us to feel better.  Try compiling a list of your normal daily activities on a weekday and on a weekend.  Include everything you do, such as showering, eating, checking your technology (especially this!) and then, when you have a really clear picture of just what you get up to on a typical day, look at each activity and ask yourself if it gives you a sense of achievement or if it is pleasurable.  Does it help you to feel calm, energised and leave you feeling better or does it lower your mood, increase your stress and deplete your energy?

Stand back and be objective but also compassionate.  If you were subjecting someone else to this schedule, would you expect to get the best out of them, or would you expect their efficiency and cheerfulness to decrease?

If you conclude that you haven’t got the balance right, think about what you could do differently. Try to be kind, encouraging and a good friend to yourself.  Do something that’s fun and creative - even if initially you struggle to motivate yourself or don’t enjoy it as much as you used to.  Keep on doing it and the enjoyment will return.  It’s likely to improve your ability to think differently about the challenges you encounter.  Try to exercise regularly, preferably outside as the natural environment and natural daylight is good for us.  Avoid the use of alcohol in order to relax at the end of the day.  It really doesn’t help and can make matters a whole lot worse.  Fuel your body and stabilise your blood sugar by eating healthy food regularly (and that includes breakfast).  Try to get into a healthy sleeping routine where you mostly go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time and give yourself a wind-down period at the end of the day when you don’t check your emails, social media, etc.  Also, don’t let it be the first thing you do on waking either.  Just give yourself a break - you’re only human and you know it makes sense!


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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