Simple (and mostly free) Strategies for When You Feel Overwhelmed

Peaceful woman with pink roses

Simple (and mostly free) Strategies for When You Feel Overwhelmed

A Welcome to the Castle Graphic for Aging Princess fibromyalgia blog

Is your to-do list much longer than the I’ll be able to get it done list? When this happens, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

It doesn’t help that, for those of us with fibromyalgia, it sometimes takes a week to accomplish what a healthy person can do in a day.

Recently, I was recently visiting with a friend who also suffers with fibro. She had been through a series of trials, including the death of a child, her spouse’s serious illness, and worries over finances and medical bills. She had reached a point where she couldn’t even think about taking care of herself, and as a result, her fibro was getting much worse.

Life has a way of sneaking up on you sometimes. And, with my friend, it had not only snuck up on her, it had tackled her. Since there is no way I could or would even want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes, I could only listen and encourage her the best way I knew how.

Stressed woman

Because there was very little she could actually do to change her circumstances, I suggested that she focus on changing just one little thing at a time, starting with a focus on taking better care of herself.

Anything more than that was going to be too much.

As we talked, I couldn’t help but think about some of the trials our family has gone through in the past few years. I lost a brother to kidney disease, a brother-in-law to a heart attack, my husband’s aunt in a housefire, and a cousin in a construction-site accident. We went through a major life upheaval in the form of a move after 30 years of being in the same home. I started a new business, working from home. And, of course, there is the ever-present challenge of dealing with the fibromyalgia.

Aging Princess Thinks

It’s no wonder that I sometimes feel a little stressed, too.

Which started me thinking…

So, what’s a person to do when they are so overwhelmed with life that it’s impossible to wrap their mind around deciding what to do next? Especially if their budget is tight?

It turns out there are a lot of simple (and free) things that we can do to help handle the feelings that come with being stressed and overwhelmed.

I use a lot of these myself on a daily basis and encourage you to either bookmark this page to refer to it the next time you need some options to get through a rough spot.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite stress-busting strategies:

Take care of your physical health.

Just like the speech you hear on every airline flight. If the oxygen mask drops, i.e. life is getting messy, put your own mask on first, then see to those around you. If you don’t take care of your own health first, you won’t be able to take care of your loved ones for very long.

Try working on your diet. You wouldn’t go to the gas station and pour sugar-water in the tank of your car. Your body needs premium fuel, just like a fine-tuned sports car. Give it the best ingredients and nutrients that you can afford. (And eating right doesn’t have to be expensive.)

I don’t know about you, but often, when I’m stressed, the first thing I want to reach for is a sweet and/or salty snack. Try replacing one processed food with a piece of fruit or an extra vegetable. In other words, skip that cookie and have a banana instead.

Drink an 8 oz. glass of cold water about 20 minutes before each meal. It will help you feel full sooner which should help you eat fewer calories. And, since you need about 64 ounces of water each day, this will help you get almost half of your requirement.

A glass of water

When I’m feeling stressed, a lot of the time I feel it in my muscles and joints. Stretching is one of the ways I interrupt that ache that wants to take over my thoughts. Even when the last thing I want to do is move, I’ve found that a brief 5-minute stretching session will push back the pain and let me continue with whatever I need to be doing.

Woman walking

Take a short walk. Walk as far as you can in five minutes. Stop and catch your breath, maybe stretch a little, then walk back. If you can, do it again. Sometimes just the movement of your body will release endorphins (the feel-good hormones) to help you process the stress and pain hormones.

Put on some upbeat music. Move as much as you can to the beat. I like to do this when I have a household task that seems like too much to attempt. It works especially well for light housekeeping chores like unloading the dishwasher or folding clothes.

Practice some deep breathing exercises. Try taking the deepest breath you can manage. I mean really fill your lungs! Hold it a few seconds while you imaging the life-giving oxygen leaving your lungs to nourish every cell in your body. Let the breath out slowly through your nose. Image the stress and overwhelming feelings being pushed out. Pause and repeat. Try doing this for a few minutes and note how you feel afterward.

Take care of your spiritual health.

Our world is filled with noise, distractions, pressures and all-around chaos constantly vying for our attention and energy. It’s important to take a few moments every day to take a break for yourself.

Turn off all the electronics and just sit in silence. Pray, meditate, or just clear your thoughts.

If you’re a Christian, here are a few verses to dwell on:

Woman sitting quietly

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (The verses around this one are especially good, too!)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:25-34

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-9

(all verses are from the ESV translation)

Another great activity that helps keep me focused on what’s important in my life is to practice an attitude of gratitude. When I’m feeling low, I like to write down at least 10 things I am grateful for right at that moment.

Usually the list will include my family, my faith, the fact that I live in a wonderful time and place and that I have plenty of food, clean water and clothing. That’s more than a large part of the world has. Just the act of being thankful lifts my mood and helps me remember that I have a very good life over all.

Take care of your emotional health.

This one really goes hand in hand with taking care of your spiritual health.

One of the hardest parts of having fibromyalgia for me has been to accept where I am in life’s journey. I don’t want to give up on what I dreamt my live was going to be. But, I have found that instead of fighting so hard against what might have been, the more I can accept my life for what it is now, the better off I am.

I have learned to control what I can, but then let the rest go. It hasn’t been easy, but the fighting against what couldn’t be changed was wearing me out.

Woman sleeping

Now, I just remind myself that I require more breaks and that I must schedule fewer activities for each day.

I’m not resting, I’m rejuvenating!

Just like a computer needs to be rebooted from time to time in order to run efficiently, so I too must reboot. Sometimes, several times a day! It doesn’t do any good to push beyond my limits.

Because my productive time and energy is so limited, it really helps to keep a prioritized list handy.

Spend a few minutes each day thinking about what you really have to get done. Then put them in order from the most important, non-negotiable things to the least important, would be nice to do, things.  

Focus on them one by one and do as many as you can. The rest can wait until another time.

Right along with this list is the absolute necessity to learn to say “No”. You don’t have to ugly about it, but you do need to be firm in your commitment to not over-commit.

It’s hard sometimes to opt out of doing things you really want to do, but in the long run, you’ll enjoy and appreciate the things you choose to do even more.

Spend a little time looking for what drains you emotionally. For example, although I don’t encourage a total disconnect, sometimes it’s helpful to skip the news for a day or two. After a while, it just makes me tired to listen to all the discord that fills the 24-hour news cycle.

Honestly, I often wish we could just go back to the days of Walter Cronkite and the short evening news broadcast. There’s something to be said for being able to step away from the steady stream of negativity.

Thoughtful woman

Also, if you have someone in your life that is draining your energy, maybe it’s time to put a little distance between you and them. It doesn’t have to last forever, but it’s okay to stay away from them until you are feeling a little less stress.

That goes for a bad work environment or any other situation that is pulling you down. If you were sick with cancer, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek the very best treatment and environment for yourself. So, why not treat your fibro just as seriously?

Every few weeks or so, it’s a good idea to spend some time goal-setting. This takes a little longer than making your everyday list, but it’s just as important and it will affect your daily life by helping you focus on what’s really important and what is a good use of your time and energy.

Scrabble tiles about balancing life

Really think about what you want from life. Is it just to have a peaceful and pleasant home? Maybe you want to save for a vacation. Or, would you like to be able to lose 10 pounds? There are millions of important goals that we can set, and they will be different for each one of us.

But, by setting a goal (or two or three) you will be giving yourself some motivation to work toward achieving it. And don’t be afraid to dream big here! It might take us a little longer to achieve a goal because of the fibro, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t get there eventually!

If your goal seems totally unattainable, then break it down into smaller chunks. Like the old saying goes: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time”.

A lot of smaller tasks can lead up to completing something big when given enough time.

Then, once you’ve defined your big goals, look at your life and really weigh if everything you are doing now is truly necessary. Are there any minor things that you can let go?

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about minimalism and cutting back. Do we really need all of the things we surround ourselves with? Or are those things and activities just distracting us from what really matters?

Change your environment.

It follows that as you begin to prioritize what you really want and what is worth your precious time and energy, you will recognize things you need to change. Be honest and realistic, then decide on one small thing you can do to live a better life. When you have taken care of that, move on to the next thing.

For example, it is virtually impossible for me to clean my entire house in one day. And, if I could, I would be thrown into a flare that would probably last so long that, by the time I came out of it, the house would be dirtier than when I started cleaning it!

But, I can clean out one drawer. Or, I can do one load of laundry a day. Or, I can pull out three items from the closet that I don’t wear anymore. You get the idea…

towels with a rose on top

All the little tasks will add up to a cleaner and more productive life. It just might take awhile to get to all of them.

And, here’s the one tip I’ll share that might actually cost some money. If you can’t keep up with your household duties, it’s okay to get some help. Maybe you have a trustworthy young person in your neighborhood that needs a little extra spending money. Have them sweep and mop for you occasionally.

Heck, you might be able to negotiate with them to help you clean your house in exchange for homework tutoring, a batch of freshly baked cookies, or something else. Be creative.

Don’t overlook your family when asking for help. Many times they don’t know what to do to help you as you struggle with the fibro. Maybe one of them would be willing to drop in and dust your house while you talk. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and you might find that they would love to help you out.

Take care of your social health.

Stay connected to other people. It’s very easy to become isolated with fibromyalgia. Because your situation changes from day to day and even minute to minute, it can be difficult to plan ahead for social events.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the phone and call someone. Cultivate a few friendships with people who will listen, and I mean really listen when you are feeling overwhelmed. What a lot of us forget is: almost everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. It helps to share your burden with someone else, even if it is for a few minutes.

If you’re not comfortable being so open with your friend, just the act of talking with someone else will often lift your spirits.

Try to connect with those upbeat personalities that will encourage you, though. Visiting with someone who is too self-absorbed to listen to you will only drain you further. Instead, reach out to someone who genuinely cares for you and wants you to feel better.

Woman Smiling

And last but certainly not least…SMILE! It takes less muscles than a frown. It will elevate your mood, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and make you more attractive all at the same time! What more could you ask for?

While you’re at it, give someone else a smile, hug or compliment. They might be feeling a little overwhelmed, too!

And, when all else seems completely out of your reach to accomplish, pet your dog, cat, or other pet, even if it’s your neighbor’s. That always helps!

I hope you’ve found something in this list that will help you today. Just as I suggested to my friend, doing even one thing to help yourself will bring benefits. Then as you begin to feel more in control again, you can think about what you can do next.

Baby steps can turn into big steps and before you know it, you will be climbing a whole flight of stairs!

Just make sure that you don’t run out of gas along the way. Nothing runs well on an empty tank. Fill that tank up by taking care of yourself first! You’re precious and worthy!

Be proactive instead of reactive!

How about you? Do you have any simple (and free) strategies you turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Did any of these ideas spark something for you?

Please share in the comments below. Together we can help each other uncover our best selves!

Until we meet again, here’s a virtual hug for you!

Signature for Cathy on Aging Princess Fibromyalgia Blog

Oh…one more thing…here are a few sites I’ve found helpful as I’ve worked on this article, in case you would like to read further.

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