When Life Becomes Overwhelming, Here’s How To Feel More In Control Of The Situation

young troubled woman using laptop at home
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“When it is clear that the objectives cannot be achieved, rather than adjusting the goals themselves, alter the action steps.” ~Confucius

My current job is temporary while I look for something more permanent, and the process has not been simple. For the first few months after I left my work — a position that I believed should have been great and where I assumed I would remain for years — I was completely immobilized and unable to take any action about anything that had to do with my professional life. I had stopped trusting my own judgment since, after all, I had assumed that job would be the one and it wasn’t, so how could I be sure that I even knew what it was that I wanted?

My ambitions, my aspirations, and even the veracity of my sentiments come under scrutiny whenever I have this sort of self-doubt because it makes me question everything I know to be true about myself. Whenever this happens, it usually means that I start doing something, then question what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, then feel pressured and overwhelmed, and then end up not accomplishing anything at all.

I am currently in the midst of this change; but, while before the feelings of self-doubt and overwhelm rendered me helpless on a daily basis, I am now regaining control of my life and starting to mold it according to my preferences.

To begin, I would want to share a tale with you. Jessica is now in the midst of taking the SAT for her senior year of high school. She is very motivated to perform well since she is aware that if she gets a better score, it would increase her chances of being admitted to the school of her dreams and of being eligible for financial aid.

Everyone has emphasized to her how important the SAT is, how difficult it is to perform well, and how (sadly) improbable it is that she would get the score that she is aiming for. When she gets to the difficult question on the exam, she has no idea how to respond to it at all. Here are two of the options that she has:

-Option A: Jessica wracks her head, her mind flooded with ideas of her ideal school sliding more and further out of reach. She tries a few various approaches, but she is only successful in dismissing one of the erroneous options. She starts to question her decisions, but then she remembers that she’s running out of time, so she tries to finish the remainder of the exam as quickly as possible while feeling stressed out and irritated.

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-Option B: She does not answer the question and continues on with the remainder of the exam, responding to all of the questions that she is comfortable answering. When she looks at the challenging question again, she realizes that it is not as challenging as it first seemed to be, and she is able to complete it with full assurance. She does not let her exam anxiety get the best of her and is able to complete the test with self-assurance.

What lessons may be learned from this scenario for those of us who aren’t still in high school but are still coping with difficult circumstances? Actually, quite a bit.

In the event that Jessica is confronted with a challenge at a time when she is already feeling stressed, she has two options: she may either attempt to push her way through the challenge, as in Option A, or she can sidestep the question and return to it later, as in Option B.

As a teacher of test preparation, I use a guided exercise to show my students how to complete the second choice, and they are often shocked to discover how much simpler the “hard” questions are once they have completed the exercises with the easy questions. The first strategy raises test-related anxiety, whereas the second strategy helps students become more self-assured.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether I could really use this test-taking approach in real life, or if it was just too crazy to be effective. It turned out that by temporarily diverting my attention to something else — essentially’skipping’ the problem with the intention of coming back to it at a later time — I was able to reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed and take actions that I had previously been unable to take, such as acquiring new skills.

Stopping what you’re doing and switching to something else is the most effective technique to deal with feelings of being overwhelmed. This is true regardless of whether we are preparing for a test or dealing with a source of stress that is more complicated.

This is something that we don’t do very often since it goes against common sense. When we are experiencing feelings of overwhelm, we often have the perception that there is an excessive amount of work to be done, that there is an insufficient amount of time or resources, that we do not know where to begin, and that our objectives are generally unachievable. How can we justify “spending” time on anything else when there is so much to accomplish and so little time? If there is so much to do and so little time. Won’t this merely make reaching our objectives even more difficult?

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However, after seeing how unsuccessful Option A is for Jessica, I came to the realization that maybe there is a connection to be drawn between this situation and other elements of life. Jessica has the option of choosing to stay irritated or nervous for the same length of time that she could choose to say “not yet” or “not right now” and go on to something else, all the while being aware that the issue will be sitting just where it was before.

Now, anytime I feel the suffocating sense of being overwhelmed, I know that the next step that I need to do is to stop whatever it is that I’m doing and shift my focus. It doesn’t matter whether I’m ruminating, doing clothes, or writing; I have to interrupt whatever I’m doing and go on to something else.

When I do this, a miraculous thing takes place: I reclaim power over the direction that my life will go.

Although I may not have control over all of the situations in my life or even my feelings, I do have control over how I respond to those circumstances. I am able to see obstacles for what they really are when I make the conscious decision to respond in ways that contribute to the maintenance of my feeling of well-being and give me a sense of achievement.

If the prospect of settling in front of my computer to compose a new blog article sounds particularly intimidating right now, I’ll go take care of some housework instead. If it seems like the tasks are going to be too much, I’ll go for a stroll. When I feel that going for a stroll might be too much, I write in my diary using stream of consciousness.

The particular activity that is overwhelming us and the activity that we decide to perform instead are not the most important considerations for this strategy. The inherent power of choice is what enables us to disregard society’s conceptions of success and follow our own personal, ever-evolving concept of what constitutes a successful life.

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Although it is not feasible to suggest alternate courses of action that are relevant to every case, the following are some basic ideas of things to do when you are feeling overwhelmed:

– Get out of here. It may be as easy as moving to another room, or it might involve travelling to a whole other part of town. Changing one’s environment might provide one with a new perspective on an existing challenge.

-Make something. You may either design one, make one in the kitchen, or fold one out of paper. When we engage our creative side, rather than focusing on the outcomes, we have more fun and increase our confidence through the process.

When I am overwhelmed, I often get a feeling similar to that of being stimulated yet directionless; maybe you too feel this way. You may boost your mood and let out pent-up energy by engaging in the physical activity that you like the most.

Connecting with people, whether it be with loved ones or with a spiritual or religious practice, enables us to feel encouraged when we attempt something new.

Even if we can’t avoid being overwhelmed at some point in our lives, we can choose how we respond in a manner that makes us feel more in charge and in command of the situation. It’s not the same as escaping from your issues; rather, it’s about finding a detour that, in the short term, helps improve your feeling of well-being and, in the long term, assists you in taking action and locating answers.

When we take responsibility for the substance of our lives, we may discover that even in the face of overwhelming circumstances, we possess the means to cope with them and the ability to mold our lives via the decisions we make and the things we do.

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