What to do When You Get Overwhelmed

Sometimes it happens suddenly, sometimes gradually, but we’ve all been in a situation where we can’t focus because there’s too much going on.

This morning I was trying to learn and understand a new project and suddenly it was like my eyes crossed and my brain blanked out. I just could not make heads or tails of what I was looking at. Thankfully my inner voice spoke up and said, “this is too much Mike, put it away.” It was like I had blown a fuse.

The point is, I’m very familiar with what it’s like to become overwhelmed. It happens pretty regularly for me, mostly from being out in public or from being in places where there’s a lot of noise. Sometimes it’ll even happen if I’ve just spent too much time looking at twitter.

I think most everybody can relate when I say it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are things you can do to ease that feeling though and it’s important to realize that it’s not permanent and most times, all you need is a little rest to get your mind right.

This may seem elementary but one of my favorite ways of easing a blown brain is to take a nap. You don’t have to sleep, just lying down and closing your eyes for fifteen minutes creates a nice reset and helps you better collect your thoughts.

I realize that napping in the midst of a work day is a luxury I have being a writer, and is not something most people can do but taking a small rest is definitely doable for most.

If you’re at your desk, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for a minute or two. Breathe deeply and think about the breath going in and out of your lungs as your thoughts pass by. Congratulations, you just meditated.

After that, it’s probably alright to get up, walk around a little bit, go to the bathroom or get a snack and come back to your desk. Chances are, things will be a little clearer and you’ll be to focus more cogently on the project you’re working on.

Even if you aren’t in an office, this method can still help tremendously.

Say you’re in a loud public space with lots of people talking and you start to blank out a little bit.

Firstly it’s ok to escape for a second and go find a quiet area, but even if you can’t, just closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths as you focus on your breathing can calm down even the most extreme cases of being overwhelmed.

It’s ok to get overwhelmed, it’s ok to blank out, and it’s ok to lose yourself for a moment or two. Just remember that it’s a normal human reaction and it happens to the best of us.

Again, as I’ve said many times, you are not alone in this experience.

Millions of people feel or have felt the way you feel.

Just remember to take those moments for yourself when you can and you’ll be alright.

It’s Ok to Overthink

I’m guessing I’m not the only out there that has a tendency to think and overthink things to the point of exhaustion. In fact, I know I’m not.

Millions of people struggle with anxiety in their daily lives and one major facet of that anxiety is the tendency to overanalyze.

For me, my mind seems to mostly spiral on social interactions and money related issues sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.

“Did I say something off when I was talking to that woman? it seemed like the energy shifted. I think she looked at me funny like I said something I shouldn’t have. Did my face look weird? Did my voice sound ok? Does she think I’m weird. I better apologize in case I said something weird.”

A monologue like this can run through my head for hours and I yell at myself to stop, put a lid on it. Stop overanalyzing Mike.

Of course then, that only makes me angry at myself which causes more anxiety.

Having dealt with this for most of my life though, I’m here to tell you, It’s ok to overanalyze. It’s ok to be anxious and it’s ok to worry.

These are all natural human reactions to stimuli and while they may have served us well in the past when we had to deal with very real scenarios of life and death, these anxious reactions don’t really have a place in modern society.

We can’t ignore them though, it’s smart to be wary of what’s happening in your surroundings and be prepared for eventualities, but when they cause us unnecessary anxiety it’s time to get a handle on them.

How do we do that?

Acceptance and acknowledgement.

In order to lessen the power these mental windstorms have, we need to realize that they’re normal and rational and ok to have.

You are not messed up because your thoughts are too overpowering. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious sometimes and it’s ok to overthink.

We have to accept and acknowledge that we are having these thoughts and sit with them. We have to get to know them and become familiar and friendly with them instead of constantly fighting them and trying to push them away.

Lastly, we have to acknowledge them as what they are, transient, floating thoughts that drift through our brains like clouds. We don’t have to hang on to them, we don’t have pick them apart. We can accept them as simply thoughts and let them pass.

Sometimes assigning a name to these thoughts helps too. Like, oh, that’s just my brain pest Phil who likes to mess with me. Get bent Phil.

I’ve used all these techniques in dealing with my intrusive spiraling thoughts and each one works in different ways.

Finally, one of the most powerful ways we can quell our pesky thoughts is to meditate, that is, to focus on something like our breath going in and out as we close our eyes and breathe deeply, even just a few deep breaths like this can calm our nervous system and make it easier to forget and let go of overthinking.

Believe me when I say that I am no stranger to overthinking and dealing with spiraling and intrusive thoughts. They have been part of my experience of schizophrenia from the very beginning and even before then so I know what it feels like to have them.

Trust me when I say that it’s ok to overthink. It doesn’t mean your weird and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy.

You probably just need to take a moment to yourself and get friendly with your thoughts.

Fighting them is only gonna hurt more.

Whatever happens, you got this.

What Separates Paranoia and Anxiety?

If you suffer from paranoid delusions you’ve probably heard it time and time again that your paranoia is just social anxiety, and while there’s a function of anxiety in your delusions, paranoia seems to be a deeper, more sinister animal.

It used to bother me to no end when people would tell me my paranoia was social anxiety. I’ve had an innate fear of people since day one with my illness, and when people would say that, it felt like they were minimizing the intensity of what I felt and for that I became reactionary.

Mind you social anxiety is a huge problem for a lot of people and I don’t aim to lessen that, it’s just that paranoia is, at least I like to believe, kind of like a step above normal anxiety.

Paranoia is the delusion that the people around you are going to hurt you in some way while anxiety is just the worry that they won’t like you or that you’ll embarrass yourself.

It’s very easy to see how they can be confused with each other.

In my experience, paranoia is like walking around downtown and knowing that the people around you have motives purely to hurt you and to cause you harm in some way. because of that you have to remain hyperaware of your surroundings, you have to see and evaluate everyone and everything within eyeshot to determine whether it/they have the potential to mess with you, and you have to situate yourself in a safe space among this situation to keep tabs on them and any obstacles that may limit you from exiting.

Social anxiety on the other hand feels duller, more like just a worry that you’re not a part of the group and that you don’t fit in somehow.

I guess what I’m saying is that, for me at least, the difference between the two is the notion of imminent danger.

I fully acknowledge that other people might not see it this way and have an entirely different experience of the two as well.

I equate paranoia more with post traumatic stress disorder, in that you were hurt or irrevocably changed by a situation you found yourself in. One that, hence the name, caused a significant measure of trauma. I feel as though paranoia is a function of being on constant guard for that same or similar trauma.

What’s the point though? Why does this matter? Mainly, the healing for anxiety and the healing for trauma based disorders differs so it’s important to be cognizant of the things you are experiencing and feeling.

It’s important that you recognize what steps you need to take in order to handle the situation correctly, in a way that minimizes severity in order for you to push through until the time comes where you can leave the situation.

That said, social anxiety is a beast all it’s own and I applaud people who live and deal with that in their daily lives.

It takes an immense amount of strength to live with mental illness regardless of your diagnosis or the symptoms that you suffer with.

It’s important though to get the right treatment for your particular brand of crazy and with the help of a psychiatrist and a counselor, that treatment can be correctly determined.

No matter what you’re dealing with though, I want you to know that your experience is valid. You are important and you deserve to feel comfortable.

Regardless if it’s anxiety or paranoia, you’re allowed to be afraid and you’re allowed to get out. Your mental well being is and always will be the most important thing.

Is Recovery Possible?

I was diagnosed schizophrenic in 2006, it’s been almost seventeen years now that I’ve lived with this devil on my shoulder, and the verdict is, unfortunately, still out on whether or not I’ve fully recovered.

I still have days, weeks, months where I feel the brunt of my mental illness, but for all intents and purposes, I suppose I present normally to the outside world.

That is, if you met me today, would you be able to tell that I have schizophrenia? My loved ones say no but I still feel every odd slight, every weird little idiosyncrasy that hints at something majorly wrong behind the curtain.

That may be just anxiety rearing it’s ugly head but there are moments where the reality of my diagnosis is made keenly apparent to me.

I still struggle tremendously with paranoia, the notion that someone is watching me, dissecting every move and action I take to find something to hurt me or to use against me. I’ve said before that if there were Oscars for real life I’d win for best actor every year. Acting though, is not something that I like to do, especially for the benefit of any suspected character who has decided to act in bad faith. I want things to flow, I wanna be natural and easy but unless I trust you inherently, I’m not letting down my guard.

As you can imagine this has been a pretty big lynchpin when it comes to things like job interviews, dates, or even merely just making new friends. Sadly, If I don’t know you, chances are, that I’m terrified of you.

With all this said, it seems pretty clear that I’m not entirely recovered from my illness doesn’t it? That’s the standard I set for myself. I will be recovered when I can feel at ease around people I don’t know. It’s hard to say if that will ever truly happen.

I’ve often looked at my illness as a second life, removed from the life I had before I was diagnosed. Interestingly, I’ve equated the last sixteen years to being a second childhood, if that makes sense.

I was thrust out into the world after being told everything I thought I knew was fake and I feel as though I’ve had to rebuild my sense of being and my personhood from scratch, zip, zero. This being the sixteenth year I’ve had schizophrenia, I am now essentially a sixteen year old in the way I feel I’m interacting with the world.

I don’t really know how else to explain it other than a hard reset and a total and complete system reboot and rebuild.

Will I ever fully recover? That remains to be seen, but for now, I’ve got the things I need, and I’m comfortable with my life and the way it’s gone.

It seems strange, but I remain thankful that I was given this mental illness. It’s taught me some very, very valuable lessons. It’s given me a razor sharp self awareness and understanding of who I am as a person, and it’s forced me to give regular and rigorous introspection a major place in my life.

It has also taught me empathy, perhaps more so than I want. I understand that on a deep level, everyone is constantly evaluating and judging themselves and that everyone, regardless of circumstance, deserves respect and care.

So is recovery even fully possible? I don’t know, but I’m steadfast in improving myself in anyway I can as the years go by and honestly, normality is probably an illusion anyway.