4 Little Things You Can Do When You’re Feeling Completely Overwhelmed And Sad

girl laying on a rock
Rowan Chestnut

If you sometimes feel a little overwhelmed, this list may help you out. I think that sometimes I can be a little obsessive. For instance, I spread myself too thin. I’ll stack too many projects at once and feel like the world is caving in. Sometimes it’s my environment. If my apartment or workspace isn’t exactly how I want it to be, I’ll internally fly into a fit of rage. Anyone that knows me can see it all over my face when this happens. My old boss used to make fun of me because if anything in my office was moved even an inch, I could tell. That’s hardly the tip of the iceberg, but it’s just an example of how minuscule details can seem catastrophic to me. So when I find myself to be completely overwhelmed in situations, these are some things that I do to pull myself back toward the light. I hope they help you as well.

1. Create something.

If I would get overwhelmed or upset as a kid, I wrote things down. To this day it still helps me. I need lists and reminders like I need to breathe. I used to write stories or just a small account of my day. I also found that it came easily for me and that I was good at it. What was once something I did on a private Xanga in my free time is now my career. You can create anything, and it doesn’t have to be award winning to make you feel better. Maybe you’ll discover you’re an excellent painter or a hell of a baker. Perhaps you’ll just feel a little less self-destructive and heavy afterward. I find that if you put your negative thoughts into something palpable, it helps you leave them there.

2. Go outside.

I love hiking. There’s a tree in Los Angeles called the Wisdom Tree. It’s at the top of a 3-mile hike with a grueling incline. I have to fight through at least one asthma attack every time I make my way up because I’m not the most athletic human, but man, that view is worth it. If you catch this hike around noon on a weekday, you’re less likely to be surrounded by Instagrammers and tourists fighting over selfie spots. There’s a little edge behind the tree where a giant American flag sits. I like to sit there sometimes and look out over the vast city and just breathe. The silence of Mother Nature is healing because it reminds you that nothing matters. There’s no better way to bring yourself back into the moment of right now than by breathing in some good ol’ smog and sitting on top of a hill while you’re sweating bullets.

3. Help someone.

I got dumped for the first time when I was fourteen. Naturally, I cried and cried and cried, then cried some more. A hurricane hit Texas around that time. Hundreds of people in Galveston were left without water, food, and other necessities. I went to church every Saturday with a friend from school, and her parents invited me to volunteer that weekend. I didn’t want to go but what else was I going to do, sit around and cry some more? We spent hours outside handing out Tide to people who had lost everything. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces. It sounds so overdramatic, but if you could have just seen how grateful these people were for Tide, it would’ve made you cry. It wasn’t what they had lost that got me. It was that they still were thankful to the universe in that very moment, even though they had nothing. What had I lost? Some pimply fourteen-year-old redheaded boy with a complex. I was lucky that was all I had lost. I left that place feeling grateful. That was my first brush with volunteer work, and I fell in love with it. You don’t have to volunteer. You can hold the door open for someone. Give that homeless guy a dollar if you have one. Help your mom with the dishes or call her back. I feel that the universe works on a balancing system. If you selflessly give your time, you’ll eventually get something back in return – hopefully, some peace. I’m not saying you’ll have this insane cosmic experience as I did, but it beats staying in bed and overthinking things that are out of your control.

4. Choose your thoughts carefully.

I realize this is a tall order. Some people call it meditating. Other people call it praying. I’ve seen people call it Yoga. It’s all kinds of things – the art of not thinking. Your mind is always working, wandering, and making its way towards something new. Sometimes our minds work so hard that they can seem to work against us. It is so important to try and shut your brain off from time to time. When you’re in a fast-paced country like the United States, this can be hard. We are hardwired for the go-go-go lifestyle, but I urge you to try. When you meditate or practice yoga, you’re told to focus on your breathing every time a thought enters your head. Before I did it, I did research to find out what it feels like, so I would know that I did it right. I guess that there is no correct answer. When I mediated, I can honestly say that I felt calm and high. It’s the same feeling you get when you are super focused on something, and everything else seems to disappear, like when you’re putting together a piece of furniture and it takes 40 minutes, but you didn’t realize because you were just staring and connecting pieces on autopilot. Maybe it can even be as simple as refusing to think about something negative. When I was younger, I gave myself a “bad thought allowance,” and it has worked wonders for me. If something is upsetting me, I give myself a precise estimate of how much time is needed to be upset about it and then I’m not allowed to provide it with any more energy after my allowance has been used up. Examples may vary. In my late teens, I was coming down the stairs at a friend’s house when I heard one of her sister’s friends comment under their breath about how large my nose was. I took twenty minutes to be upset about that. However, when I broke up with my first love at 20, I had to give myself two years to be sad/mad/confused about it. This method has helped me a lot because it has helped me exercise the right to feel negative emotions without giving them all of the power.

So there you have it. Those are some things that I learned early on in life that still seem to work in my twenties. I would like to end this by saying that I am not a licensed professional and in no way am I proposing that this information can help someone who suffers from insufferable mental health issues. It’s worth the medical bill if you think that you might hurt yourself or someone else. And luckily there are loads of options for people in need of professional help. I just want to you to know that you deserve peace and the opportunity to relax your mind in times of peril. TC mark

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