Tips for moving forward when you’re overwhelmed

Overwhelmed - positive peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

It’d be nice to find a trashcan in the alley to dump all your stress in. But it’s not that easy to make your worries go away.

If you’re dealing with staying on your meds, putting up with side effects, and tiptoeing through minefields of friends, family, careers, and the rest, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Because all that is too much for anybody to deal with.

But how do you shake it off and get back on your feet?

We have some tips that might help:

Overwhelmed - positive peers

Focus on what you can control

Draw up two lists — one with stuff you can control and one with the stuff you can’t. For instance, if you are living with HIV you can control it with meds. Or if you are short on money, then start applying for jobs or ask for more hours or pay at your current one. And from time to time, it’s good to remind yourself, “I got this.”

Now, start thinking about stuff you can’t control — other people, especially. No matter how you deal with people, you can’t make them do or think or feel what you want. You can’t make them like you; you can’t make them admire you; you can’t even make them listen to you.

We encourage you to make up your mind that you’re not going to stress over things you can’t control. Instead, it’s better to focus on what you have the power to change.

Overwhelmed - positive peers

Start planning a getaway — no matter how small

You can’t always walk away from your issues, but you can plan a mental health break to do some self-care. The act of formulating a plan alone will help focus your mind and provide a quick break from stress and worries.

Even a few minutes of quiet downtime can be huge. Find a comfortable chair in a quiet place and sit down, close your eyes, lean back, and chill. Stop thinking about anything except how good it feels to have a rest. You can focus on your breath if that helps.

You know how your phone works better when you turn it off and back on? A mental health break is sort of the same, but it’s a reset for your body and soul.


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Kick it up a notch

Once you’ve chased the demons away and retaken possession of your brain, now you can go for a walk or a run, stop by the library, or play a video game.

For those of you who find peace while being active, you might consider forest bathing. Studies suggest that lacing up your favorite pair of shoes and hitting those deep forest trails can drastically improve your mood and help your spirit and your body to de-stress.

Whatever it is, it needs to occupy your brain and your body long enough for the stress to wear off.

Overwhelmed - positive peers

Change course

Another option is to change things up:

  • Call a friend and go out to lunch.
  • Do some volunteer work and help people out.
  • Try cooking something you’ve never cooked before.
  • Create a journal and start recording your innermost thoughts.
  • Listen to music you’ve never heard before and give yourself a chance to start liking it.

Overwhelmed - positive peers

Embrace your imperfections

When your mood is shit, it’s hard not to feel like you screwed up somehow. But look: what good does it do to beat yourself up? Remember what we said about not worrying about things you can’t control? That’s what the past is. Try not to be too hard on yourself, we’re only human, right?

Or maybe you think if you just hang in there you can fix everything in your world that’s broken. But that’s called perfectionism, and it tends to drive people batty.

You can’t change the past, and you can’t make the present perfect. What you can do is decide what’s most important to your mental well-being, embrace the feel-good stuff, and let go of the rest.

Life is about responding to the present and building a better future any way you can. That, and unloading the baggage that’s trying to lock you in place.


Talk to someone

Trying to carry the whole load alone is exhausting. Talk to a counselor, social worker, friend, co-worker, or family member. Friends are worth more than gold. If you have a support group, you might try pouring your heart out there.

 Overwhelmed - positive peers

Put yourself first for a while

But what if you have people counting on you? It’s human instinct to put other people’s welfare first for the good of everybody else, especially when there are loved ones involved.

You don’t want to let people down. That’s understandable.

But you need to be healthy — physically, mentally — to be of any use to other people. So, make a place in your life to escape, chill, and recharge your batteries. Love thy self.

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