Dealing with stress and overwhelm

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

water flowing over rocks with a few leaves

Over the past few months, I've been dealing with one major home repair/improvement project after another, while at the same time juggling multiple jobs, dealing with a prolonged illness, doing a major whole-house purge to prepare for downsizing to a small home, and trying to keep up with all of the usual details of life.

Between the stress of this much disruption and challenge and the resulting exhaustion, I find myself easily becoming discouraged and anxious as my mind wanders into dark alleys of worst-case scenarios.

And yet, I'm also gratified to observe how much better I am responding to this series of challenges compared to how I have responded in the past. This is giving me a chance to observe the golden fruit of the hard work I have done in the wake of overwhelming brokenness.

One of the biggest shifts I'm noticing is the way that I'm responding to those discouraged, anxious thoughts that keep appearing.

Noticing with detachment

Once upon a time, I functioned as if there was no separation between my thoughts and my self. Whatever thought floated through my head was immediately accepted as valid and grasped with both hands as a truth that required some sort of reaction (often emotionally).

Not anymore.

I am much quicker now to see my thoughts as passing phenomena, much like autumn leaves floating along on the surface of a stream. They may get caught upon a rock for a moment or two, but they quickly pass on by.

There's nothing permanent about them. They don't define the stream in any way. They are just passing through.

So it is with my thoughts, and I have learned to (mostly) see them in that light. The freedom that gives me from emotional angst over every passing thought is immense.

Testing my thoughts and reactions

At the same time, I've also learned to question my thoughts when I notice myself reacting to them in any way.

This is especially helpful when my mind is tossing one worst-case scenario after another at me. I am increasingly able to stop, question the story line and assumptions behind the story line that is causing me anxiety or stress, and thereby drop any of them that are nothing but story.

So many of my thoughts are just old programs that are no longer needed. Just as I am going through and releasing so many physical possessions, I am also releasing any need to hold onto old thoughts and stories that aren't helpful.

Focusing only on what is helpful

This practice of testing my thoughts before I choose a response (if any is even required) has allowed me to focus only on what is most helpful in the moment.

Sometimes there is a pressing need to act on something, and stripping away the thoughts and stories that aren't helpful allows me to choose actions that move me forward without getting so tripped up by old mental "junk."

Likewise, I can choose new stories and perspectives that begin producing new, more helpful thoughts into that ever-flowing mental stream. I now consciously explore different perspectives for any situation and choose to focus on the one that is most empowering and helpful for meeting my goals.

I don't have to follow every leaf floating down the stream. I can pick and choose which ones to pay attention to.

And now I do.

Looking for the deeper needs

I've also learned many of patterns well enough now that I can recognize the deeper need that lies behind old patterns of thought that arise.

I am so much better at recognizing when it's really exhaustion or overwhelm or anxiety speaking so that I can address the underlying issue with some form of self-care without needing to latch onto the old stories that these states produce.

I can better weigh whether I would be best served by pushing through and getting more done or giving myself a break and getting some extra rest (or exercise or better food).

Measuring the results

The result of all of these shifts is that I'm navigating this challenging season with much greater equanimity than I would have even imagined possible in the past.

Yes, I'm still exhausted, stressed, and anxious with the overwhelming number of uncertainties and challenges that continue to pop up in what feels like a whack-a-mole game.

But I am also keeping all of these things in perspective and continuing to make progress toward my goals in rather significant ways. This would not always have been the case!

These kinds of results are often hard to see in the moment as I am dealing with healing from the hard knocks of life, but facing this new season of challenges is giving me a wonderful chance to look back and measure how I've grown.

It's good to see the gold that has sprung from my hard work at healing! That gold keeps me motivated to continue working at the deeper healing of life in addition to its daily challenges.

Questions to ponder

When you consider how you respond to challenges now compared to the way you have responded to them in the past, what growth do you see?

When was the last time you acknowledged yourself for that growth? What shifts have you made that are worth calling out so that you can focus on them more consciously?

What things might you work to heal or develop to increase your resilience to future challenges? The best time to develop those skills is before you need them!

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