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Overwhelmed by Stress and Anxiety? How to Deal with It

Life can be overwhelming, and this can create anxiety. Here, a few simple ways to reduce anxiety and stress.

Anxiety can feel as though an incredibly loud and boisterous parade is charging right through your very being: blasting bands, flashy floats, animals, and announcers ad nauseam. This chaos within can cause headaches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, aches and pains, and other noxious anxiety symptoms. Further, our thoughts become anxious and race with worry and obsessions. Often, panic sets in. As if this weren’t bad enough, we have to live in the midst of this parade. We have to deal with parade garbage (think about it—debris, litter, road apples) while simultaneously dealing with everything else around us. With pandemonium on the inside, how do we deal with all of the stuff on the outside?

Anxiety and Stress Are Connected and Overwhelming

To be sure, life can be downright crushing. It’s often full of stress. When you have to destroy a rainforest in order to write your to-do list, you know you’re dealing with too much. Or maybe the number of items is small but they’re daunting in nature. The actual number of tasks is relatively inconsequential; what matters is how they impact your well-being. As the more than forty million people living with anxiety disorders can likely attest, overwhelming stress is often closely connected with overwhelming anxiety.

Life can be overwhelming, and this can create anxiety. Here, a few simple ways to reduce anxiety and stress.When it comes to stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to sort out cause and effect. Is your overwhelming stress causing your anxiety? Or perhaps is your overwhelming anxiety causing your life to feel intensely stressful?

Working with a therapist to sort things out can be very beneficial. However, you don’t have to know with certainty whether you’re anxious because of stress or whether stress is worse because you’re anxious. Personally, when I’m overwhelmed and the anxiety-and-stress parade is marching around painfully inside of me and interfering with my outer world, I really don’t care which is causing the other. I just know that anxiety and stress are there and connected; I’m overwhelmed and I want the parade to stop.

Ways to Deal with the Overwhelm Caused by Stress and Anxiety

Because anxiety and stress are often Co-Grand Marshals in this obnoxious internal parade, they can be reduced together. Each of the following techniques has been proven to reduce both stress and anxiety:

Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking

Anxiety can loom so large that we begin to think in extremes: You might think, “I’ll never get this done,” “I can’t do anything right,” “If I don’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure,” “I’m a horrible partner/parent/employee/boss/person,” “I made a mistake and now people hate me,” and on and on. Of course we feel high anxiety about the outcomes of these things we’re telling ourselves.

Recognizing how we’re thinking is a helpful step in reducing anxiety. Over the next few days, simply notice your thoughts. What are you telling yourself? Once you become aware of all-or-nothing thinking, you can change how you think and what you say to yourself. “I missed a deadline” changes from “I’m horrible and I’m going to be fired,” to “I made a mistake, but I do many good things, too. Overall, I’m valuable and am not likely to lose my job over this single incident.”

Break (Or, Rather, Don’t)

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.

The trick? Break! Take breaks, and break up tasks into bits and pieces.

To avoid hypocrisy, I will admit upfront that I find it extremely difficult to take breaks. After all, when life is overwhelming with all of its demands and anxiety is flaring as a result, it just doesn’t seem logical or even possible to walk away from stress for a while. However, it is vital. Even a short break can help your mind refresh and reset, and often when you return to your task you do so with a clearer head. Stand and stretch, get some fresh air if possible, massage your temples, breathe deeply. Snacking on something nutritious and energy-sustaining can give your brain and body a needed boost. For me, it seems that I don’t have time for a break, but in reality, when my anxiety decreases, I feel less overwhelmed, and I’m actually more productive when I take short breaks here and there throughout the day.

Further, anxiety often surges when tasks loom large in front of us. Life can be incredibly overwhelming when everything seems like one big mess, but it’s easier to manage when we break things into manageable bits. Take my desk. It often looks like an office products store exploded on top of it. When I stare at it, I’m overwhelmed and I’m hit by a wave of anxiety that makes me feel like I’m drowning. When I stare at the entire mess, I feel daunted and can hardly begin to fix it. I’ve learned to break the task into bits. I’ll clear one area then take a break. I might choose to put the rest aside and move onto something else, or I might come back and tackle another section. Either way, I’ve taken control, I can do something about the mess, and I feel my stress and anxiety ease.

To-Do List? How about a To-Done List!

Of course listing the tasks that lie ahead of you is a way of organizing yourself, feeling in charge, and reducing stress and anxiety. Yet it can be overwhelming to look at a huge list that never seems to shrink even when we break it into bits. When we only focus on what we have to do rather than taking stock of all that we have already done, we feel stressed, and anxiety often skyrockets. To keep this in check, consider creating a list of things you’ve already accomplished, a to-done list, if you will. It’s very satisfying at the end of a long and stressful day to think about all that you’ve done and to write it down. Then, when your anxiety tells you that you’re not in control, you can see for yourself that you are indeed in control and are accomplishing things.

Whether you’re overwhelmed by anxiety or your anxiety is making you feel overwhelmed, it’s stressful. The good news is that it truly is possible to take steps each and every day to rid yourself of anxiety.

What works for you when you’re overwhelmed by anxiety?

Connect with Tanya on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, her books, and her website.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

44 thoughts on “Overwhelmed by Stress and Anxiety? How to Deal with It”

  1. I’m 69, married male trapedvin extrem stress, anxiety and depression due Behavioural problems with us by our married son and their families. I and my sick wife live with our elder married son, his wife and 3 grand kid. Tried all kinds of Anti depressants, CBT therapies and ECT too but nothing held, it became treatment resistant. Now i remain extremly stressed and over whelmed 24/7, sleepless, completely isolated, cutoff, fearful, sad, worried, hopeless, supportless needs some solid advice to help control this miserable sicknesses

    1. Hi Momo7,
      I’m sorry that you are going through all of this. Something very helpful for others with similar feelings and experiences is also something that isn’t easy to do: finding support. Given all you’ve already tried, finding a support group or even general community programs that offer classes or activities similar to your interests can help a great deal. Interacting with others, pursuing something you like, and getting out of the house can be very healing. It’s easier said than done, of course. Do you have a NAMI or DBSA office in your community? (You can google NAMI and DBSA to find their websites and use their search feature to find a resource center near you). These organizations have classes and support groups. This could be a great start. You can also search MeetUp.com to find support or interest groups in your area. Many people find that once they begin to reach out in this way, they gradually experience improvement.

  2. Hi, I’m a teenager and have skipped two grades in science and math, while at the same time taking college courses (mind you I am 15). I feel really pressured to do great on all these classes yet I’m stressed to the extent that I can barely breathe. I first got anxiety attacks when I was 8 and managed to control them, but now their out of control and it’s affecting the way my test results are. I can’t live my life in constant stress and anxiety it’s starting to really affect me and how I feel in my everyday life. Please help me

    1. Hi Stephany,
      Adults tend to get very excited when a kid/teen is so smart. Many times they’re well-meaning and want the best for you. Many times, people forget that there is more to you than high intelligence. You are still 15 (and were 8, etc.) in every way. Have you had a chance to talk to a parent, teacher, or another adult close to you to share what the pressure is doing to you? It might be a difficult conversation to have at first, but it could go a long way in reducing your stress and anxiety. A big source of stress and anxiety for students in situations like yours involves disappointing parents and teachers. Once they begin to talk, though, they’re often pleasantly surprised at how willing the adults are to problem-solve and just talk about how to make things better. Plan your conversation ahead of time. Not word-for-word, of course, but have a general topic outline. It will help you stay on track if things get emotional, and it will help ensure that you say everything you want to say. It’s also helpful to “schedule” a time to talk. Pick a time when everyone is less busy and isn’t overtired, hungry, etc. This approach is typically a great start. In many cases it works very well. Sometimes it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give up and accept anxiety and stress. It just means that you try something else. This is just something to consider as you work on making things better.

  3. Hi im very anxious having lost both parents in last
    2 1/2 years and a relationship end…severe panic attacks and anxiety in relationships Currently very stressed due to work ..more responsibility as I’m only full time person..sense of doom and being out of control tummy aches headaches.

    1. Hi Bernadette,
      I’m sorry to read of the loss of your parents. And whether or not we want a relationship to end, it’s always difficult at first. It makes sense that you are feeling such physical and emotional symptoms of stress given the losses and stress at work. Stress and anxiety can be very hard on people. Have you seen your doctor for a physical check-up to make sure your body is functioning healthily? That is often an important first step. Then, he or she can recommend you to a therapist who helps people handle stress and anxiety or he/she might have other things to recommend. Doing this is a way of practicing self-care and handling/reducing stress and anxiety. Things won’t always have to be this way.

  4. Hi im finding life really hard my mum passed 1 year ago my dad moved in with us he is 81 set in his ways my husband and i struggle with no privacy we have a 3 year old together and i also havec2 teens 17 and 15 we fight all the time over . My aniexty gives me chest pains achy legs headaches please help me

    1. Hi Kellie,
      Your situation would definitely be stressful and anxiety-provoking. The symptoms you describe do fit anxiety and stress. It’s always a good idea, though, to check out physical symptoms with a doctor just to make sure that there aren’t underlying health problems. You doctor, too, can give you recommendations for stress management and will likely know community resources such as support groups, therapists, parenting organizations, and caregiver support groups (you are considered a caregiver to your father). Local resources can make a very positive difference and provide the right kind of help and support.

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