Feeling Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the feeling of overwhelm. I experience it often and I’ve noticed that when I have a lot of items on my agenda or in my routine, it helps to take a more critical look and do away with anything that’s just not that important. It could be applying a full face of makeup in the morning or cutting down on hobbies or not going for a promotion at work. It’s really easy to inflate the importance of certain rituals, activities, or milestones until they start to negatively affect your peace of mind and your mental health. I’ve had to get pretty strict with myself because I know I get overwhelmed very easily and hate the feeling of being depleted either physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is a big reason I don’t have more of a social life. But on the flip side, a social life might also lift my spirits, giving me more energy. I’m just terrified of new expectations, new responsibilities, new (potentially awkward) social situations to navigate. It all feels so exhausting. Yet I think about people who have more responsibilities than I do, like someone who not only goes to work and school, but also has a spouse, children, and a large house to attend to. It’s easy for me to feel lazy and unmotivated when I compare myself to these people, but I know from an intellectual standpoint that everybody has different thresholds and tolerances for stressors, often in accordance with their personal mental health history.

Longing to Be Heard

Does anybody else have the hardest time opening up to others? I long so much to be heard. Yet I feel guilty burdening others with my problems, even when they want me to open up. One coworker divulged to me that even though we had known each other for several months and even though she had told me much about her own life (including the fact that she had been forced by her parents to get an abortion while in college and that as a middle-aged woman she had experienced an attempted rape), that she knew little to nothing about me. I have noticed that people often feel very comfortable telling me sensitive details about their own lives and coming to me for counsel. Yet I don’t feel comfortable reciprocating. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test a few times and always get INFJ as my result. From my research, this personality type is known as “the counselor/advocate” because we are often reticent to share anything about ourselves with others other than a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. We are the “extraverted introverts”. I have always been more of a nurturer (although I have no desire to have children) and abhor the thought of being a burden to anybody. As a result, I end up in a pit of self-loathing, knowing I can’t blame others for not hearing me if I never give them the chance. Thus, the blame lies solely with me.

Don’t Dilute Your “No”

I have learned a lot about setting and enforcing boundaries with people. I believe that it’s much like a muscle — the more you practice it, the stronger you will become. And the more confident and comfortable you will be while doing it. One way to enforce strong boundaries is not to dilute your “no”. If you say you will not do something, stick to it. For example, I worked with a woman once (Kim) who claimed she does not work Tuesdays because that is the only day she had to spend with her son. He was a college student with a very busy class schedule who was also interning. Another coworker asked her to switch shifts and work Tuesday so that she could celebrate her wedding anniversary with her husband. Kim asked me for advice about whether she should make an exception just this once. I told her, if you agree to this, expect to be asked again. You will have diluted your “no” and shown that, despite your claims, you are in fact willing to work Tuesdays. After saying “yes” once, that boundary will be compromised and weakened, and it will be easier for others to ask you a second time. This principle can be applied to many situations, with coworkers, friends, and family. On the contrary, sticking to what you say and refusing to compromise that stance even once will more than likely result in your never being asked again. Saying “no” the first time will be uncomfortable and feel adversarial, but it will be much, much harder to say “no” after having already said “ yes”. Saying “no” the first time leads to less wiggle room for arguments. If you have said “yes” before, it will be much harder to justify saying “no” the second time you are asked. Also, if you never budge your boundaries and always stand by what you’ve said and don’t make exceptions, there is less chance of others getting their feelings hurt over perceived unfairness. Ultimately, you want your words to be taken seriously and at face-value by others. This will lead to a greater level of respect and understanding.

When There’s No Lesson to be Learned

I think one of the worst experiences is to go through something awful without learning a valuable lesson. One of those experiences where you ask yourself, “What could I have done differently in order to avoid that situation from occurring?“ or “What was I supposed to come away with/ how was I supposed to change after that event?” and nothing comes to mind. Of course, it could be said there is always a lesson to be learned and that’s it’s only a matter of being honest enough with yourself and unbiased enough to accept what the situation is trying to teach you. Granted, there are many lessons I have learned via negative experiences. However, there are many I feel I must have missed. Learning a lesson makes me feel empowered and as though I didn’t go through a tough situation for nothing, that there’s a “silver lining”. Not knowing what to glean from a situation makes me feel like I have zero control over my own life. If I learn a lesson, I can put that lesson into practice to avoid or ameliorate future issues. If not, all I can do is dread the next time it might come up again. Not having learned a lesson makes it very hard to let go of my emotions surrounding it. It feels more like an assault than an opportunity, more like scorched earth than a rebuild. It feels like a bandaid that keeps getting ripped off or a trauma relived. I think in this type of situation the only thing you can do is to position yourself so that it’s less likely to happen again (whether that means moving, changing jobs, etc) and learn to accept what you can’t change or control. Am I the only one who has things happen that are super unpleasant and yet seemingly unavoidable and without any merit or redeeming value? How do you weather that experience in a dignified manner while not coming out on the other side jaded and fearful?

Dangerous Self-Care Myths

There are many myths surrounding the concept of self-care. Let’s talk about what they are and what the truth really is. But first, let’s define self-care. I would define it as anything you do to intentionally maintain or improve any facet of your health, including the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects.

1. Self-care is expensive.

Self-care doesn’t have to be an expensive massage, expensive dinner, or anything else that requires a lot of money. Self-care can even be free. Taking a walk or a nap, for example, are both self-care activities.

2. Self-care is selfish.

The only way you’ll have the energy and patience to help others is if you give yourself the opportunity to become rested and rejuvenated. Regardless of your best efforts and motivations, you are not a machine and will break down if you do not take care of yourself. Mothers especially often forego their own health to focus on others.

3. Self-care takes up a lot of time.

Self-care doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. It can be a 20-minute cat nap or eating the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the fried one (or, if it’s time for a treat, eating the fried chicken sandwich instead of the grilled one).

4. Self-care is always fun/ pleasurable.

Self-care is very different than self-indulgence. It can be doing something you don’t enjoy, such as exercise or cleaning your home.

5. Self-care is a one-time thing.

Self-care must be regularly scheduled just like other commitments like work and school. For example, getting a massage once a week or setting aside ten minutes each day for meditation are examples of self-care.

6. Self-care is a luxury.

Self-care is a necessity. It is essential to ensure we are able to function properly and not become burned out. Thinking of it as a luxury builds feelings of guilt into self-care time, which deters many people from engaging in self-care.

7. Self-care is trendy.

We live in a busy, stressful, complicated world that is only becoming moreso. Due to the state of things, the topic of self-care has come up a lot in recent years. More people are being introduced to the term and learning what it means and how important it is. Yes, the topic is more popular now than ever, but this doesn’t mean it’s a fad or that it’s not integral to a healthy lifestyle.

8. Self-care is only for mentally-ill people.

Everybody, including those without mental disorders, needs self-care. Of course, those with mental disorders often need to attend even more closely to self-care. Many people with mental disorders have an extra hard time attending to self-care. And mental illness is often the result of neglecting self-care for an extended period of time.

9. Self-care is always an action.

Sometimes, self-care is inaction. For example, not driving by somewhere that triggers you or declining a party invitation can both be examples of self-care.

Have I missed any harmful myths related to the topic of self-care? Do you find yourself believing some of these myths?

Fat Person’s Thoughts on the Body Acceptance and Health at Every Size Movements

The Body Acceptance Movement purports to be a movement about loving your body in its present state, flaws and all. The face of this movement used to be people with disabilities, deformities, scarring, skin conditions, and the like. It was an empowering movement that emphasized looks don’t matter; health and self-care do.

The Fat Acceptance or Health at Every Size Movement was founded as a reaction toward the extremely thin figures that started becoming popular in the 1960’s on television and in magazines and that eventually made its way to Main Street, negatively affecting women’s mental health due to insecurity over their own bodies. Nowadays, when people hear body acceptance, the first thing that typically comes to mind are fat people.

In recent years, as the rate of obesity in the U.S. has skyrocketed, the movement has centered moreso around accepting extreme levels of fatness, and the movement itself seems to have grown in popularity and acceptance. This movement asserts that fat and obesity have nothing to do with how healthy a person is, so a fat person should accept being fat and shouldn’t feel the need to lose weight– that the only reason anyone would ever lose weight is to fit in with and please others, which are regarded as non-legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately, this view conflicts with science to a massive (pun unintended) degree. Almost every disease and condition that affects human beings is worsened due to obesity, if not directly caused by it. Since 2013, obesity itself has been considered a disease. And yet, while we don’t ridicule or bully people who have other diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cancer, we also don’t preach that they should be “accepted”, either. Instead, we promote the funding of cancer research, as well as lifestyle changes being instituted by individuals to reverse their diabetes.

I agree that it’s important to love and appreciate your body at whatever state you find it in currently. But self-love will inevitably result in giving it what it needs in terms of exercise and nutrition, not routinely overeating, and not accepting or settling for an obese body. Similarly, a parent who loves their child will make sure to wake them up in the morning, educate them, feed them healthy food, and limit their technology use, not because it makes the child happy but because it is what the child needs. As well, positive psychology has taught us that using positive motivations to change (for instance, losing weight to be able to participate in sports) is more effective than using negative motivations (feeling worthless after being bullied about your weight). If you don’t love and value your body to start with, you won’t care enough to take care of it. There’s nothing refreshing, glorious, positive, or inspiring about a body that is so large normal daily activities such as bending, walking, and climbing stairs are painful. Neither is there about the possibility of high blood pressure, strokes, or death resulting from carrying excessive weight.

I would really love to hear other’s opinions about this topic, especially other fat people’s. Do you think the Fat Acceptance Movement is a long time in coming due to all of the prejudice we have faced historically? Or do you agree that the movement is misinformed and dangerous?

Self-Indulgence = Self-Care or Self-Harm?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about when self-indulgence acts as self-care and when it acts as self-harm. Examples of self-indulgence include eating junk food, overeating, sleeping in, not exercising, procrastinating, etc.

Sometimes we use self-indulgence as punishments for past mistakes, without even realizing it. If you do not feel as though you’re worthy of a healthy body, mind, and spirit, what can appear to be self-care can actually be self-loathing and self-sabotage.

Putting off chores, staying in bed, and allowing yourself unhealthful but tasty treats both feels good and can be considered part of a balanced life, if done in moderation. For example, many people have “cheat days” on their diet. These are not considered to be negative because they acknowledge that perfection is not necessary or even desirable and that most things in life are not “all bad” or “all good” (including different foods).

I believe the difference is what we make the focal point of our lives and what we do most of the time. If we make it giving into every whim and following every fleeting feeling instead of doing what we know will be more worth it in the end (for example, building a savings account or achieving a healthy BMI), we will end up miserable. However, no play and all work will also make us miserable. Self-indulgence should be used as a reward for a productive week (or day), not in lieu of being productive. Hard work and productivity are natural mood-lifters and will bring more ultimate satisfaction to our lives than a life filled with nothing but leisure and hedonism.

I hope I haven’t come off preachy in this post. As with all my posts, I write about what I struggle with or can relate to, myself. And lately I have been struggling with my competing responsibilities and desires and striking a balance between them. Does anybody reading have any additional or alternative thoughts on the matter?

The Negative Side of Always Being Positive

Is it always right to be positive? Always wrong to be negative? Is it possible for negativity to be positive and positivity to be negative? Can positivity ever be counterproductive and negativity productive? Here are my thoughts.

Positivity doesn’t always acknowledge your feelings. You are everything and all you feel, and it all has value to you, even your grief, heartache, confusion, and anger. You must honor your feelings and their underlying motivations before you can move past them to other more pleasurable emotions.

Positivity implies there’s nothing redeemable about the existence of the supposed negative in life. However, there are almost always important lessons learned going through tough situations and coming out the other side alive. Trauma, death, loss, and destruction are not thought of as inherently positive, but can act as teachers revealing the direction of one’s life.

Positivity denies the opportunity for growth. You learn about yourself moreso through the bad times than the good. In the good times, facades are impenetrable and masks don’t slip. In bad times, your mettle is tested and character is revealed. Your triggers, your natural responses, your learned coping strategies, your natural tendencies all come to the forefront, and it’s a time of self-exploration and digging deep.

Positivity is often unrealistic. Things sometimes suck, and it’s okay to call a spade, a spade when they do. Denying reality seldom fixes anything.

Positivity, or “putting on a brave face”, is often used as a charitable act towards others. People seen as “positive” are generally more well-liked and enjoyable than those seen as “negative”. Negative people can even be seen as a burden to others.

So what’s the take-away? It’s natural for your mood and outlook to be aligned with your current emotions and circumstances. If they’re not, you risk being untrue to yourself, sacrificing self-care and the hard work of self-discovery on the altar of social acceptance.

What to Do (and Not Do) When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Overwhelm can be…well, overwhelming. And yet in our fast-paced, busy, over-scheduled society, it’s a common experience. What do you do when they’re aren’t enough hours in the day to handle all of your responsibilities — at least, without giving up necessaries such as sleep, food, and recreation? It’s easy to let the stress of it overtake you. I have come up with several “to dos” as well as some “don’ts” to follow when you’re feeling overwhelmed. These have helped me immensely and I hope they help you, as well.

What to Do

1) Get a relaxing shower. It seems silly, but shower time can feel like time spent in a womb-like environment, and thus be incredibly stress-relieving. The roar of the water blocks out other noise, while the heat loosens tight muscles, and the solitude allows you to get away from having to face other humans for a while. Also, some of my best thinking gets down in the shower, so you might just have an idea come to you while you’re in there. Start re-conceptualizing showers as therapeutic rather than solely related to hygiene purposes.

2) Count to ten. This exercise can take your mind off your worries momentarily, while centering you. It can also help steady your breathing and make you feel more in control.

3) Do breathing exercises. Similar to counting, these can help you concentrate on steadying your breathing, which in turn can help you feel calmer. One I find helpful is to slowly take a deep breath, hold it for three to five seconds, then slowly breathe out.

4) Write down everything you have to do or that is bothering you. This will help organize your thoughts and emotions. It will make your responsibilities feel more manageable and once again put you in control. I am constantly writing lists either with pen and paper or in the “Notes” section of my iPhone. It’s the only way I feel “on top” of things.

5) Tackle the easiest thing on your “to do” list. This always helps me get through my list faster. If you get lots of easy, fast things done first, it motivates you to get the harder, longer tasks done.

6) Play classical music. It’s been proven to increase mood. Many people find playing music while they work to be motivating and make the time pass more quickly.

7) Color. It was fun as a child and is now relaxing as an adult. There are many coloring books marketed towards adults nowadays. I got mine on Amazon for $5. This activity can help you use up some nervous energy and center your attention when you’re feeling out-of-control.

8) Meditate. This is a good practice to incorporate into your daily self-care regimen, but it can be especially important when feeling overwhelmed. With practice (ten minutes a day), you will get better at mastering your mind and letting thoughts come and go without becoming emotionally attached to them. When feeling overwhelmed, meditation will help pause the constant surge of worry, so you’ll be more clear-headed to tackle your day.

9) Move your body. Run. Dance. Do jumping jacks. Stretch out your muscles. Exercise has been proven to release “feel-good” hormones, is good for your heart, and can help release nervous energy and frustration.

10) Vocalize. Sing. Scream. Do scales. It will let out built-up frustration and immediately make you feel calmer, and give you more positive energy, afterwards.

11) Procrastinate. This is only to be done if you have not planned. Tackling a hard day without proper preparation is the fastest way to burnout and failure. If you haven’t come up with a plan, don’t self-sabotage. First make a plan of attack, then get busy.

12) Drink water. Dehydration causes confused thinking. Don’t try to get through a tough day (or week, or month…) while dehydrated.

13) Make yourself comfortable. Are you cold? Warm yourself up. Are you hot? Cool yourself down. Getting a lot of work done from home today? Put on comfy clothes or PJ’s. Have a (healthful) snack. Making yourself comfortable will make your work easier and more pleasant.

14) Straighten up. If you’re like me, it’s hard to think in a cluttered environment. Cluttered space, cluttered mind. A neat area without unnecessary stuff is less over-stimulating and will therefore help you feel calmer and more organized.

15) Get enough sleep. I’ve read that 100 years ago people got 12 hours a night, on average; 50 years ago, people got 10 a night, on average; and I know when growing up in the 90’s, people were getting 7-8 a night (and this is what was recommended). Now “they” are recommending 6-7. The recommended number keeps decreasing, and I have to wonder if this is due to new research being done that shows humans need less and less sleep, or if it’s really about convincing people they need less sleep so they’ll happily continue to work 50-60 hours/week to make somebody else as rich as possible (but oops, I’ve revealed my cynical side…) Moving on…If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before and can spare the time, take a 30-60 minute nap. Just enough to feel refreshed, not enough to feel groggy. Then continue with your day.

16) Share your frustration with someone you trust. Talk it out. Gain an empathetic ear. It can help just to know others are thinking about you and you have their moral support.

17) Hand off responsibility to others. Are there responsibilities you’ve taken on that really shouldn’t belong to you? Have you taken on an unfair share of the load? If it’s a work project, can your co-workers help? If it’s planning a family reunion or wedding, can your relatives help?

18) Schedule time for work, fun, and rest. All three are equally important to having a balanced, satisfying life. Some type of work (whether paid or not) is important for feelings of productivity and worth. Fun is necessary to enjoy the lighter, more personal side of life (humor, time spent with family and friends, expanding your horizons via hobbies and travel). Rest is necessary to allow your body to repair and to have the energy to do work and fun.

19) Let go of things you can’t control. The weather messing up plans or timelines. Others’ attitudes, actions, and decisions. Sickness. Your car randomly deciding to break down or pop a tire when you REALLY need it to just cooperate and take you to your destination. I’m convinced the fastest way to a miserable life is allowing worry and stress to eat you up over situations and circumstances out of your control.

20) Use positive affirmations and internalize them. Find ones you resonate with or make up your own. Look in the mirror, say them to yourself every day as though you’re reading a love note to your significant other, and feel the power and strength they imbue in you. Examples are “I am capable”,”I feel motivated”, “I love myself regardless of my productivity levels”, “It’s okay to take a break when I need one”, “I did a good job today”, “Everything will be okay if I need to take extra time”, and “I cannot control everything, and that is as it should be”.

What Not to Do

1) Panic and try to handle everything at once. This will result in mistakes being made and your mental and physical health being depleted.

2) Beat yourself up for not meeting your expectations. Perhaps your expectations were not realistic. Perhaps there were unforeseen circumstances that came up that pushed your deadline farther away. Be gentle with yourself while challenging yourself to reach your full capabilities.

3) Put your self-care on the back burner. Not getting enough sleep. Working through the night. Missing meals or eating convenient, unhealthful foods. Skipping making your bed in the morning, even though you know that helps put you in a better mood at the start of the day.

4) Fail to reach out to others for moral support or practical help. It’s important to use your support system in times of need, the same way you offer support to those you care about when they are in need.

5) Live in the past/future. Dwelling on past “failures”. Worrying about what the future holds if you don’t meet your deadlines or things don’t go as planned. You cannot give 100% to the task at hand if you’re not present. Be present for your life always.

6) Take on even more stress and duties. If you’re already drowning, you don’t welcome yet more water. It’s important to learn assertiveness and how to say “no” in a kind way. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Employers are often guilty of over-depending on their standout employees and then becoming shocked when those employees experience burnout. I’ve learned being the dependable, capable one often gets you taken advantage of.

7) Lash out at others. It’s easy to lose patience when your nerves are fried and to treat others poorly when you’re feeling poorly, yourself.

I feel that this is a very important topic, as it affects everybody, the majority of us on a daily basis. Have I missed any points or helpful tips related to this topic? Please let me know!

Slowing Down and Self-Care

In a rushed and chaotic world, self-care for me often is all about slowing down and getting back to the basics. Even with all of the technological advancements that are supposed to make our lives easier and faster, people are busier and more stressed than ever. Politics, media, and employment culture are to blame for a lot of it. However, we as individuals can take steps in our every-day lives to help remedy this situation. Even our hobbies are often more stimulating and less relaxing these days — for example, playing video games, watching graphic/over-stimulating/violent movies and television shows, or browsing the internet rather than more traditional pastimes such as reading, writing, communing with nature, or even watching older films/documentaries. I notice in myself a major shortening of my attention span and loss of memory capabilities, which alarms me. I have to wonder if entertainment today is specifically meant to help us forget about our problems, avoid introspection, and numb us, if just for a short time.

The remedy for this situation is to use free time more wisely in order to foster a sense of calm and rejuvenation, instead of hyperactivity and speed. Activities such as taking walks, reading uplifting or educational material, and playing a board game are all fun, healthful, and allow one to fully participate. This is in contrast to watching an action film or playing a video game, which are both fun, but also raise blood pressure and heart rate and relegate one to the position of spectator instead of participant. Of course, playing board games or taking a walk are also better for our social and physical health, respectively, which are important parts of a holistic self-care regimen.

For me, this blog is part of my self-care. I allow myself the time to carefully put into words what I’m feeling and thinking. I’m in a quiet environment and I’m able to focus inwardly, pushing the outside world away if only for a little while. I don’t rush myself and many times come back to edit a post several times before publishing it. This gives me time to ensure I include all my thoughts on a topic and communicate them effectively. Doing so helps make more sense of my often-jumbled thoughts and also invites others to perhaps be introduced to a new perspective or to realize they are not alone in how they feel. After blogging, I feel calm, confident, relieved, capable, and accomplished. I plan to incorporate a nightly walk around my neighborhood into my self-care routine. More on this later.