overwhelmed woman

Self-Care When You’re Overwhelmed

When we’re overwhelmed or stressed, self-care is more important than ever! But it’s not always easy to find the time or energy we need to care for ourselves. So, read on for tips on practicing self-care when you’re overwhelmed.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Is your stress level rising? If so, you’re not alone! Most people are facing increasing levels of stress, worry, and uncertainty and need to find effective ways to cope and stay emotionally healthy.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed and stressed?

When we feel overwhelmed, many of us revert to unhealthy coping patterns and bad habits, like overeating, drinking, and zoning out in front of the television. And while these aren’t the best ways to take care of ourselves when we’re overwhelmed and stressed, it’s completely understandable.

When we’re mentally, emotionally, and physically depleted, we don’t have any bandwidth left to think of and implement healthy forms of self-care. So, we revert to the fastest and easiest ways to comfort ourselves – things that we know will immediately give us some relief, like eating a bag of chips or drinking a bottle of wine. They quickly provide comfort, numbing, and respite from our troubles, but they aren’t actually going to help us cope and build resiliency!

We all know that drowning our problems in potato chips and wine isn’t actually going to help – and if we use them repeatedly, they will cause additional problems. Potato chips and wine aren’t real self-care.

What is self-care?

Self-care is an activity that you do to care for yourself, to improve your physical, emotional, or spiritual health. Acts of self-care can include going to bed on time, ending a phone call with a verbally abusive caller, writing in your journal, meditating, or going to the dentist.

As you can see, self-care isn’t just pampering yourself. In fact, self-care isn’t always enjoyable – it’s the stuff we need to do to keep ourselves healthy, so we can be our best selves.

Self-care can be a preventative activity that we do, to stay healthy, like exercising or eating healthfully.

We also need to practice self-care in response to stress. And the more stress we are under, the more self-care we need. For example, if your spouse is in the hospital, you need to care for yourself in some additional ways beyond your regular preventative self-care routine. During this stressful time, your self-care might include praying in the hospital chapel, calling a friend, asking your sister to help watch your children, and so forth.

Self-Care When You're Overwhelmed

What do you need when you’re overwhelmed and stressed?

Of course, practicing healthy self-care is easier said than done. It can feel like one more thing to do when you’re already depleted. And, for some, it can feel selfish to do something for yourself when a loved one is sick, you can’t pay your rent, or our country is in crisis. However, self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential to your emotional and physical health.

When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, your mind and body are telling you that something is wrong, that you need to attend to your needs and rebalance yourself.

When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, what do you need? The answer will be different at different times, but you might need rest, emotional support, or to quiet your mind and stop worrying. Once you’ve identified what you need, you can figure out how to meet that need. For example, if you need rest, you might take a nap, or ask your partner to do the shopping so you can have a break, or you might call out sick from work.

When we’re under a lot of stress, our minds are overloaded and it’s hard to muster the extra energy and brain-power that we need to check-in with ourselves, find out what we need, and identify healthy forms of self-care. So, we want to make this process as easy as possible. Use the tips below to help you.

Tips for practicing self-care when you’re overwhelmed and stressed

  • Make a list of self-care activities that might help you when you’re overwhelmed or stressed. Keep this list somewhere handy, like on your phone or next to your bed. You want to be able to access this list easily, so you don’t have to come up with new ideas when you’re already overwhelmed.

  • Remember that self-care includes both what you do and what you don’t do. For example, self-care can be adding exercise or it can be limiting how much time you spend on social media or declining an invitation.

  • Try to maintain your regular healthy habits and self-care practices, such as exercise, getting enough sleep, hobbies, and so forth.

  • Ask yourself: How do I feel? What do I need?

  • If you use an unhealthy coping strategy, give yourself some grace, and move on. There’s no need to beat yourself up for smoking a cigarette when you’re in crisis, even if you quit ten years ago. Forgive yourself and make a plan to meet your needs in a healthier way.

  • Self-care is essential, it’s not a luxury or something to do if you have time.

  • Remember, the more stressed and overwhelmed you feel, the more self-care you need.

Read more about self-care

©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Canva.com.

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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