When Stress Gets Overwhelming

At times I get overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Usually it’s because I have too many things to do. Sometimes, just the thought of adding something else to my busy life makes me stressed. Other times, something unexpected pops up and leaves my well-laid plans in shambles, and then I have a hard time staying relaxed and calm.

If you’re overwhelmed by stress and anxiety here’s how you might be feeling:

Stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed

Stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed

  • You have lots to do but don’t know where to start.
  • It’s hard to concentrate and focus.
  • You lack motivation.
  • It’s hard to fall asleep or stay asleep because your worries play on a continuous loop in your head.
  • You’re irritable with those you care about.


It’s Hard To Manage If You Feel Overwhelmed

When you’re stressed, even daily tasks like doing the dishes, laundry, shopping or taking the dog out can feel like a burden. Today I completely avoided vacuuming. I really wanted clean carpets, and I knew it would only take a couple of minutes to do it, but guess what? I didn’t do it because the idea of having another thing on my plate left me feeling totally stressed out. I told myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Not vacuuming for a day isn’t a big deal. The problem comes when you’re constantly avoiding stuff just to avoid the stress and anxiety. Then things begin to snowball, leaving you more stressed out than you were to begin with.

How To Manage Your Stress

You may not be able to eliminate stress from your life completely, but you can find ways to manage it so you don’t feel as overwhelmed or anxious. Here are some tips that have worked for me and my clients:

Keep to-dolists short
  • Keep to-do lists short. Long lists can add to your stress. Make the list manageable enough to complete easily in a day. I suggest no more than four items on your list. If you quickly cross them all off, you can always make another list — or just revel in your productiveness!
  • Start small. Begin with the easiest thing on the list. If making that phone call that you’ve been putting off feels like too much, put the dishes in the dishwasher first. Sometimes checking off items on your list gives you the motivation to do more.
  • Practice mindfulness when doing your to-dos. When you’re doing one task and you’re also busy thinking about and planning the next thing, or you’re multi-tasking, you’re creating more stress for yourself. Paying close attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching while doing the task at hand allows you to get out of your head and into what’s happening now, right in front of you. And that can calm your frazzled nerves.
  • Create some time for you. Take a few minutes out of your day to sit and have an herbal tea, or whatever sounds good to you. It’s important to take care of yourself, even if that means you’re just taking time to get a drink of water, a snack, or go to the bathroom.
  • Be kind to yourself. If that voice in your head is yelling at you all the time, you might think it would motivate you — but the reality is, it’s just making you feel bad about yourself and adding to your stress. Feeling bad can take the wind right out of your sails, leaving you feeling unmotivated once again. So instead of being overly critical, how about offering yourself some kindness? Say to yourself, “Today I didn’t get as much done as I wanted, but I did cross two things off my list. I will face challenges, and I’m OK with the things I accomplished.”

If you frequently feel overwhelmed and would like some help with managing your stress, please send me an email or call me at 410-340-8469 for a free 15-minute consultation.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Aidan Meyer and Tamarcus Brown for Unsplash.


Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed — We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Why Is Self Care So Hard?

Part 1 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed: We’re Not Taking Care of Ourselves

Recently, my husband and I were both ill — fortunately, not at the same time. When he became ill, I took time off from work, without thinking twice. I rescheduled my clients. I kept him company while he was in the hospital, and I brought him take-out food so he didn’t have to eat the gross food from the cafeteria.

Stress and overwhelm when we don't use self-care

After he was discharged from the hospital, I got sick. I had stomach pains that kept me up all night and lasted for three days. It was hard to eat, my body ached, I was exhausted, and I felt terrible.

If someone had asked me what I’d do if I got sick, I’m sure I would say, “I’d take time off to care for myself.” But that’s not what I did. I went to work! I suffered through the first two days, feeling miserable. I’m sure I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being there and feeling terrible.

Only after I’d struggled through the week, and gone to see my doctor, did I ask myself why I didn’t take better care of myself. How is it I that can tell my clients how important self-care is, yet I can’t stay home when I’m sick?

I talked to a friend who offered her own example. She noted that her intentions were always good, and at times she made self-care a priority. For her, that meant doing yoga every day. But as life her got busier, more stressful and overwhelming, her daily yoga became weekly yoga, and now she said she struggles to fit that in. 

Why do we find it so hard to care for ourselves? Why, when we need it the most — when we’re stressed, burdened and overwhelmed — does self-care go to the bottom of the list, particularly for so many women? I struggled to answer these questions, so I asked a few therapists and healers for their thoughts. This is the first in a series of posts with their insights into the importance of self-care, why women struggle with self-care and how to take better care of ourselves.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

Take time for yourself

When asked about the benefits of self-care, more than person has said to me, ‘They tell you to put on your oxygen own mask before helping the person next to you for a reason.”  If we aren’t caring for ourselves then what good are we to the people in our lives whom we care about?

Read what my colleagues have to say about why self-care matters so much:

“Self Care is important to me because I don't do it enough and I really hate the consequence of that. As a helper, healer, and hopeful - I am wired to support, give to and guide others. Which means, all that giving does two things:

  1. Leaves little or no room for receiving
  2. Reminds me of my purpose

These two things don't sound astronomically horrible, but as a woman, I struggle to hold space for both. I try and remind myself that setting myself on fire just to provide light to others is not the best way to live.”

Robyn D’Angelo, LMFTThe Happy Couple ExpertLaguna, CA,

“I used to think self-care was important because I can't be a good wife and mother if I am not taking care of myself. Now I realize that I deserve to have my own needs met just so I can be a healthy and happy human being, aside from my roles of caretaking for others as a mother, wife and therapist. I am worthy of love and attention just simply because I'm alive, and I have needs that must be met so I can function.”

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, Therapy Chat Severna Park, MD

“Self-care is an activity or practice that gives to us rather than takes from us. It may give us a time to rest, a time to connect with ourselves, a time to invest in our own physical and emotional well-being. Self-care is the fuel for our coping tank.”

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., London Psychological Services, London, Ontario

My next post will examine why women seem to have a hard time making self-care a priority. If you’d like help managing your stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis Counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis.

Photos by: Elizabeth Lies & Drew Coffman- unsplash.com

10 Signs That You Might Be Under Stress

She’s Got It All, Doesn’t She?

Maria might seem familiar to you. Maybe she’s a friend, relative, co-worker…. Maybe she’s even you. I know her well, because she’s like many women I see in my Annapolis counseling practice who are affected by stress.

How stress affects your life

Maria sees herself as a woman who can handle a lot. She’s very busy most of the time, and when she’s got free time she finds things to fill her schedule. She juggles a career, children, laundry, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, and helping out friends in need. In fact, Maria loves to help others, but she finds asking for help much more difficult.

In the past, her friends often wondered how she managed to keep everything under control, but lately they worry that she’s struggling. Maria hasn’t said anything, but she’s missed a few plans with friends, she’s forgotten about parent meetings at the middle school, and she seems very distracted, as if her mind were a million miles away.

Life Changes Can Add Stress

Until recently, Maria had always seen herself as independent and motivated. More important, she always felt in control. Then she was promoted at work. In her new position, she has to manage employees and learn new responsibilities. She was so excited and proud to be promoted, but the added work has created stress. Maria believes that she should be able handle her new job without a mistake. She’s sure the employees are judging her and will no longer respect her if she doesn’t get it right.

10 Signs That You Might Be Under Stress

  1. Worrying all the time.
  2. Feeling as if our mind is always in the “on” position.
  3. Being short-tempered towards family and friends.
  4. Wanting to avoid people and places for fear that others are judging you.
  5. Anxiety attacks that seem to come from nowhere.
  6. Experiencing frequent headaches or stomachaches.
  7. Feeling tightness in the chest, or shortness of breath.
  8. Difficulty focusing on daily tasks.
  9. Trouble sleeping most nights because your mind won’t turn off.
  10. Feeling overwhelmed at work and at home.

Perfection: A Realistic Goal?

Maria thought she had to be a perfect parent, a perfect employee, a perfect wife, a perfect friend — but suddenly all of the pieces of her life that she’d kept organized and balanced suddenly felt overwhelming. She was irritable with her family, she avoided friends because she was sure they were judging her, she was constantly worrying, and she was stressed out. Maria thought that asking for help made her weak. When her husband and best friend suggested she see a counselor to help her manage her stress, Maria felt like a failure, but she knew she needed the outside support. 

With counseling perhaps Maria can learn to let go of the need to control everything and everyone, to reach out for help and support and to accept herself for who she is — a human with built-in imperfections.

Counseling Can Help You Manage Stress By:

Mindfulness helps you feel less overwhelmed
  • Giving you a safe, non-judgmental place to talk about what’s on your mind.
  • Providing space to tell your story from your perspective.
  • Allowing you to gain an understanding of your body’s stress response, and how it impacts your mental and physical health.
  • Teaching you stress-reduction strategies and techniques.
  • Helping you learn to accept yourself as you are, so that you can embrace your imperfections.

Sometimes our carefully controlled lives can feel out of control, like Maria’s did after her promotion. Counseling can help you bring balance to your life and reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed.

If you would like help managing your stress please call me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. You can also check out my blog for more posts on stress, mindfulness and how counseling might help you.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.