9 Mental Health Tips for Anyone Feeling Totally Overwhelmed

Do you know that feeling when something completely unexpected sets you off? Like a minor inconvenience pops up and suddenly it feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? And after crying or venting or tearing your hair out, you’re left wondering WTF happened—only to realize, Ohhh, that wasn’t about [insert minor inconvenience here] at all?

That’s kind of how this whole year has felt, to be honest. Each New Bad Thing—whether it’s a tiny personal mishap you’d typically take in stride or an awful news event like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the Breonna Taylor ruling—seemingly carries with it the weight of all the bad things that preceded it. As a result, we’re all kind of getting emotionally pummeled. Over and over and over. And it’s exhausting.

If you’ve been feeling this way too, you’re definitely not the only one. It’s kind of just…the experience of living through 2020. “We’re experiencing the cumulative effect of so many large-scale issues and we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Jor-El Caraballo, L.M.H.C., therapist and cofounder of Brooklyn-based therapy practice Viva Wellness, tells SELF. “Whether it’s politics or the lived reality of the pandemic or racial injustices and violence against Black bodies, we haven’t really seen any significant periods of release.”

All of that has an impact on our brains and our ability to deal. “Usually when we face a threat, we get scared, we get stressed, and we go through our responses,” clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts, Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., tells SELF. “Hopefully, we use good coping strategies to get through, but in the very least, the threat eventually goes away and our physiological stress response can reset back to our baseline. The difference here is that we haven’t gotten to reset but everything keeps accumulating anyway.”

It all makes sense but it’s also kind of a grim picture. More than once, I’ve found myself thinking, “Okay, this is my breaking point,” but the things just keep on coming. So what do we do? While there are no five easy mental health tips for making things go right when we can’t catch a break, there are small things we can do to take care of ourselves in moments it feels like we can’t come up for air. Hopefully, some of the advice here can help, even if it’s by making you feel less alone.

1. Focus on getting enough sleep.

If you’re going to prioritize one traditional self-care strategy right now, please try to get some sleep. It may seem like a small thing, but it impacts so much. “The less sleep we get, the more hypersensitive to threat we are,” says Bonior. “We get more anxious. We view things more negatively. It’s all an evolutionary response. Back in cave-dwelling times, if you were sluggish and tired, you got eaten unless you were on your guard. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body will view everything as a threat to protect you.”

Of course, there’s a good chance the stress and anxiety of everything are interrupting your sleep right now, so prioritizing sleep isn’t exactly easy. But it’s worth putting in extra effort to make sure your sleep is as protected as possible, whether that’s through adjusting your screen time, doubling down on pre-bed relaxation exercises, or talking to your doctor about other steps you can take. Start with these tips on getting sleep despite pandemic anxiety.

2. Don’t beat yourself up about how you “should” and “shouldn’t” feel.

There’s a lot of talk about how we should be adjusted to the “new normal” of living amid a pandemic, and for many that just adds guilt and invalidates how we’re feeling. Like, what does getting used to something really mean, anyway? “It’s like permanently having a rock in your shoe,” says Bonior. “Sure, you might get used to it being there, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt every time you walk.” So cut yourself some slack if you find yourself thinking, Why do I still feel so bad? Shouldn’t I have it under control by now?

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