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Six Steps to Take When You Feel Overwhelmed

The last week engaged my wife and I in quite an adventure. She had tickets to go to her childhood home and assist her parents who were having some medical issue. The day before her departure, she became violently ill and required emergency surgery. Thankfully, everything came out well and her recovery progresses well as expected.

The day after her surgery, I was scheduled for a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) trial to see if the device would reduce or eliminate back pain I’ve experienced for more than fifteen years. Both of us decided since she was recovering well, I should go ahead with the trial. So we enlisted my daughter to play taxi cab for me, and transport me to and from my outpatient surgery to implant the device for the trial.

All went well. . .I became a believer in the SCS the first day. Then I remembered I had promised to keep my grandkids for three days while my daughter participated in a conference in town. He husband travels often in his job and this week, of course, he traveled. She couldn’t opt out of the conference since she was one of the keynote speakers on the agenda. So. . . here comes a real test of my resilience, coping skills, and stress reduction techniques.

A lot goes on in our life every day. Some good, some bad, but it happens whether we want it to or not. Sometimes the events come because of our choices, sometimes they come because life happens. We can get through them, though, if we follow a six simple steps.

overwhelmed, stress, relief


1. Take things one at a time. Too often we look at the whole of what we face and get overwhelmed. All of the events that faced Carole and me last week looked impossible with rearranging travel, scheduling surgery, my SCS trial, keeping promises, taking care of my wife post-surgery, etc. How could I do it all not knowing whether this device with wires poking out of back would even work or not? What if it didn’t? How would we make it? So many questions! The answer is focus on things one at a time. The emergent issue was my wife’s surgery. This was life or death, had to get done, everything else could wait or be cancelled. I kept my calendar with me to make sure I could keep up with the next event and changed her travel plans while she was in pre-op. Done! Next issue. By looking at events one at a time, and putting a blinder up for the rest of them until the first one is under control, we can keep ourselves from being overwhelmed. My daughter got ready with a stand-by babysitter if I was unable to care for her children, but the SCS seemed to work well and would be a good test of it’s capabilities chasing three kids under the age of six, so I kept my promise. One event at a time, with contingencies set for the just in case issues.

2. Take a few deep breaths before getting lost in an emotional pit. We’ve heard the grand advice about counting to ten before talking when we are angry or upset. The same advice holds true when we find ourselves in what seems to be an overwhelming situation. Take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself. Understand this is not the end of the world and probably not as bad as it looks at first. Solutions are available and people are around to help. So before you crumble into a million pieces, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and relax as much as you can.

3. Take inventory of issues. As in my story this last week, stop and make a list of everything going on. I keep a pretty detailed calendar to track events in my life. It’s a habit of mine from the early 1980’s because we never get time back. It just disappears and we only get to use the minutes we have once. So I’ve tracked appointments, requirements, events, to-do lists on a single calendar for over 30 years now. So when my wife became ill, it was easy for me to see what else would move to take care of her needs. It could see what could slide and what could not. I could see what was important and what was not. I could make immediate phone calls and cancel things that would interfere with focusing my attention on her.

4. Take inventory of assets. As I looked at the issues I faced last week, I also began to take inventory of the people around me I could call on to help. With smartphones, it’s easier to categorize and tag people into those special places. I can’t say I’ve done as good a job in my contacts as I should. With some 4,300 contacts, I have a lot of work to do to catch up on tagging and categorizing like I’d like to, but I’m in the process based on some work I’ve done with this program. However, if you’ve identified those with special skills, close friends, confidants, locations, etc., it’s not a hard process to find people quickly when you need some help.

stress, relief5. Make a preliminary action plan to resolve the issues as you see them. This step gets you out of the hair-on-fire mode and lets you see solutions. You may not know how to solve everything that’s facing you, but you probably know the next thing you can do in the situation. It might be as simple as making a call to a friend or 911 or a neighbor. But in most situations, you probably know the next step and probably the next several steps you should take in most situations. Stop and think about those steps. If you have a few extra minutes, you might even write them down so you don’t forget them. Your calendar is a great place to put those next steps.

6. Do something! This final step is probably the most important. Often when faced with what seems like overwhelming events, people freeze and do nothing adding to the stress, emotion, frustration, depression, etc. Just do something. It might be the wrong thing to do, but it will get you moving and wrong things can usually be corrected without much trouble. It’s much easier to turn a moving object than a stationery one. So just take that first step and get moving.