Things to do RIGHT NOW if you are feeling overwhelmed

Uncertainty can be overwhelming, and in moments of acute anxiety wise adages, such as “The only thing we know for certain is that everything will change” don’t offer immediate help. Here are a few useful tips to help you overcome overwhelm.  Panic and anxiety are the thieves of choice and creative problem solving, and  it’s important we learn how to deal with them.

  • First stop your mind from ruminating on potentially catastrophic outcomes in the future by staying in the present moment.

The best way to do this is to anchor yourself in your breath and in your body. Stand up, plant your feet wide and firmly on the ground, soften and drop your shoulders, close your eyes and take five deep, slow, considered breaths in and out.

  • Lean in and unpack carefully and consciously what it is that is making you the most fearful.

The best way to do this is to journal (either writing, or if you don’t enjoy writing then record notes into an electronic device) about how you are feeling, what you fear most and why. Saying your greatest fears out loud doesn’t make them come true, in fact acknowledging them robs them of their power.

  • Watch your use of language.

Language is powerful, remain matter-of-fact when describing the challenges either to yourself or anyone else. There is no room for drama here – the way you talk about and frame things can influence the outcome. Be very disciplined with yourself about the words you choose – don’t feed the drama.

  • Develop a plan of action.

Draw up a routine for the week that includes self-care (breathwork, journaling, meditation, exercise, nutrition, sleep and connection time with loved ones) as well work time divided into one or two hour chunks (dependent on your ability to focus) for planning and research, task lists and allocation with time lines, your current and most pressing mission statement,  mind maps etc.

  • Draw up a list of people who could assist.

Reaching out is hard, but essential. Make a list of who and what you may need in terms of mentorship, guidance, coaching, therapy or any other kind of assistance (professional or otherwise) that you may need. We all need a network – plan yours.

  • First things first.

Evaluate what the most important things are to do first and set the rest aside for now. As my mother used to say to me “When faced with eating an elephant, the only way to do it is one mouthful at a time.”

Written by Gabi Lowe

Myth No 9: We only need resilience during times of trauma.

This is altogether not true. In fact, it is often the smaller day-to-day adversities that cause stress to build and that we need ongoing resilience for. Whilst many of us can pinpoint great trauma or adversities we have experienced for which we have needed resilience, for others simply getting through each day requires enormous amounts of Authentic Resilience.

There is no hierarchy of suffering. As Dr Edith Eger, internationally acclaimed psychologist, author of The Choice and Holocaust survivor explains “ If we discount our pain, or punish ourselves for feeling lost or isolated or scared about the challenges in our lives, however insignificant these challenges may seem to someone else, then we’re still choosing to be victims. We’re not seeing our choices. We’re judging ourselves.” No one person’s suffering is any less significant than another’s. In a challenging, constantly changing and most undoubtedly uncertain world we require resilience every day just to face ordinary life.

Myth No 8: Building resilience is a one-off event.

There appears to be a belief that says ‘once resilient, always resilient’. In fact, the opposite is true. Authentic Resilience is something that you have to keep on working on – it is a daily practice. On some days and in certain situations our levels of resilience will feel higher than others. At other times they will be lower – but this doesn’t mean that your resilience has disappeared – it simply means that your circumstances, your health, your self- care practices and many other aspects of your life are asking you to notice what part of yourself or your life needs addressing. If your levels of resilience waiver and you have a patch of time where you feel more vulnerable than others it usually points to a needs within you or in your immediate environment that you are not paying attention to or taking care of.

Myth No. 7: Resilience is simple to acquire and it is built one way.

Authentic Resilience is complex and multi-dimensional and there are many facets to it. The very fact that Authentic Resilience is made up of so many factors and dimensions is what makes resilience elusive and hard to pin down. Authentic Resilience isn’t something that you can learn overnight. Some of the many factors that go into creating a life that is Authentically Resilient include the ability to face our situation with realistic optimism, holding perspective, being able to forge connections with others and having meaning and purpose in your life – and plenty more, all of which are built into our model, The Ten R’s of Authentic Resilience. Some aspects come naturally to us whilst others won’t – but often it is the things we steer away from that require more attention.  Authentic Resilience requires intentional effort in many areas of your life which should reward you with a lifetime of thriving.

Myth No. 6: Resilient people are just born that way – you’ve either got it or you haven’t.

Contrary to what many people think, resilience isn’t a superpower that we are born with. It is true that as a species, we are undoubtedly resilient, otherwise we would not have survived, but resilience isn’t a character strength that you either have or don’t have. We are all born with a level of resilience which can become greater. Authentic Resilience is a competency that is learned, acquired, developed and refined through the journey of life – even more so when there is a conscious decision to grow our resiliency.

Whilst some people seem more resilient than others in the face of adversity, the truth is that they haven’t been born with a ‘special something’ that others don’t possess. This is great news – as it means that everyone has the capacity to grow greater levels of Authentic Resilience! Authentically Resilient people have faced challenges in their lives the same as others have, but have grown from their experiences. They’ve figured out what has worked for them – as well as what hasn’t. Resilience isn’t something that is reserved for a few special people – it can be learned, practiced and improved by us all.

Myth No 5: Resilient people can go it alone – they are independent and don’t need others.

As human beings we are wired for connection – we are not intended to go it alone. To try and do the journey of life by yourself – especially during the really hard times – simply means that you are disconnected and that is neither healthy, sustainable or Authentically Resilient. As human beings we are stronger together than alone – interdependence is what we need to survive real tragedy and trauma. It is important to have an understanding that interdependence brings with it exponential strength and resilience.

Note that we are NOT talking about unhealthy co-dependence but rather healthy inter-dependence that requires a balance of self and others, a recognition that all parties are working to be present and meet each other’s needs in appropriate and meaningful ways so that we feel valued, seen and understood. Being mindful of nurturing and cultivating relationships will help you through even the darkest of times.

Myth No 4: “Resilience is just about putting your head down and getting on with it.”

At times this may well be true – there are moments when there is no choice but to keep on keeping on, no matter how you feel – but; to rely on willpower and grit alone for a protracted period of time is not an Authentically Resilient solution.  You will collapse at some stage. Walking through the desert on your knees is not the answer. The most resilient of people are just that because they stop to refresh and restore themselves along the way. They know how to refuel and fill up, they know how to renew and restore even when they don’t feel like it. Authentically Resilient people understand the importance of looking after themselves even when they don’t think they should be a priority . Just keeping on keeping on will work … for a while … but you are human and all humans have physical and emotional needs. The better way, the Authentically Resilient way, is to ensure you are taking care of those needs; especially during times of trauma.

Myth No. 3: Resilient people ‘don’t do emotions’

Whilst resilient people may appear not to dwell on their emotions, Authentically Resilient people are able to fully engage with a wide range of emotions – both their own and those of others- including the tougher more challenging emotions. Many writers (even writers on resilience) talk about ‘positive and negative emotions’ – but to label them this way is to judge them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ which may lead us to steer away from the ‘bad ones’ or believe we should be avoiding them. This is not so. Emotions are simply emotions – varied, complex and paradoxical, yes, and sometimes tough, but they are not good or bad. When we try and avoid the emotions that we find more challenging (e.g., anger, fear, shame) we actually decrease our resilience. By having the courage to face them – to be able to sit with them – we learn that they don’t have the power to destroy us.

When faced with a difficult situation,  many emotions will arise in us. Some we can identify, others can be harder to pinpoint. They may be familiar, or unfamiliar. Some may feel overwhelming or downright terrifying. And that is when it can be tempting to simply shut them down, or hide them away for fear that they may undo us.

But shutting down our emotions is simply not sustainable. They need processing. If we try avoid our emotions we can be sure they will  trip us up later. Supressing them can cause damage, or they’ll come out sideways impacting our health and wellbeing as well as our ability to interact with others authentically.

Authentically Resilient people ‘do emotions’ -they engage with them, learn to bear them and are able to emotionally regulate. What we can be sure of is that if we don’t do emotions, they are going to do us!

Myth No 2: Resilience is all about being tough and strong.

It is often assumed that resilience is all about being tough, being strong, being assertive and hardy, not taking no for an answer, pushing through regardless of how your feel in a way that is bordering on being forceful or persistent in the extreme … sort of like going into battle with a suit of impenetrable armour to protect you from the world. The truth is that this kind of attitude may appear to serve you for a while BUT Authentic Resilience is in fact borne from deep within – it is a capacity you develop, nurture and build during challenging times deep inside of you. Paradoxically, the most Authentically Resilient people are the ones who have the courage to be vulnerable, to fail and to forgive – all characteristics that can be traditionally thought of as ‘weaknesses’.

When we look to nature we see that the most resilient trees and plants are the ones that are in fact more pliable and flexible and, whilst they don’t look the strongest, they are capable of withstanding severe weather conditions. Think of images you have seen of palm trees being lashed by hurricanes- they are able to bend without breaking. With its pliable trunk and deep root system, palms are able to weather unpredictable storms and severe winds. Yet the same storm might send limbs of a taller and stronger tree – such as the mighty oak- crashing, or even uproot the entire tree causing devastation.

When we resist rigidity (the more defensive position) to embrace flexibility and uncertainty , and allow our hearts to soften to allow our vulnerability, that is when we begin to grow more Authentic Resilience and are able to bear the toughest of life’s circumstances.

Debunking the Myths of Resilience

Myth No 1: Resilience is about ‘bouncing back’.

Google “resilience” and the term “bouncing back” will crop up again and again. But the truth is that for anyone who has experienced severe trauma, loss or adversity there simply is no bouncing. When you are faced with tragedy, with severe calamity you do not bounce; and nor would you want to, because “bouncing” back from anything truly heart breaking is a farcical notion. Working through trauma takes intentional  time and dedicated attention – it requires deep processing, ideally with the help of a qualified professional, to ensure that the trauma is processed fully in both a safe and held space so that the person who is working through their trauma isn’t retraumatised and emotionally flooded. To “bounce” after trauma would mean that absolutely none of this processing has in fact taken place and therefore you can be guaranteed it will overwhelm you at some stage in the future.

So that’s the ‘bouncing’ .. what about the ‘back’ part? Well here’s the other thing… again; you never go back. You can’t un-see what you’ve seen; and you certainly can’t un-experience what you’ve experienced. Every experience we have shapes, moulds and forms us into who we are right now; or who we will become. You can’t go back … but you can integrate, assimilate and try to make sense of your pain and suffering so as to give it meaning and grow forward.