NOTE: This post contains a giveaway – details at the bottom of the post!
“If today gets difficult, remember the smell of coffee, the way sunlight bounces off a window, the sound of your favorite person’s laugh, the feeling when a song you love comes on, the color of the sky at dusk, and that we are here to take care of each other.” ~Nanea Hoffman
I am currently exhausted. Absolutely beat. I’ve taken on more work than I can comfortably accomplish in my available time, I’ve been feeling under the weather for a while, and my eighteen-month-old son is in yet another sleep regression.
Whether I’m caring for him or working, I am almost always doing something, seven days a week. And like many of us, I feel I have very few outlets for fun and relaxation, even if I do find the time, given the limitations of the pandemic.
I know I have little to complain about. I am relatively healthy, and so are the people I love. I have all my basic needs met. And I have a lot to appreciate. But still, my days feel overwhelming and hard.
Maybe you can relate—and maybe for you it’s even worse.
Maybe you’re struggling with mental health issues from months of isolation. Or you’re trying to figure out how to pay your bills because you’ve lost your job or some of your hours. Or you’re dealing with a sick loved one, and the responsibility feels like far too much to bear.
If you’re in that overwhelmed place right now—if you’re frustrated and burnt out or at the end of your rope—I get it. I really do. And I don’t have any simple answers for those very real, and perhaps seemingly insurmountable problems.
I can say, though, that things aren’t always what they seem. And no matter what’s coming down the road, there are a few things we can all do to help ourselves get through this day. Our sanity intact. So we’re less harried, more grounded, and better able to handle whatever the future may bring.
Here are a few mindful ways I approach the day when everything feels like too much:
1. Only do what you can accomplish by single tasking.
I find it incredibly hard to be present when I have to do multiple things at once because I feel like I’m failing at all of them, and inevitably get caught in my head, judging myself and my efforts.
I also don’t enjoy anything when I’m overlapping tasks—even if some of them could otherwise be enjoyable, like spending time with my son or writing. It’s like having twenty tabs open in my mind, with music and video clips and Netflix shows playing simultaneously. All good things, but not all at once!
Even in normal times, parents in particular have to multitask—there’s just so much to do between childcare, housework, and actual work. But still, I’ve realized I can ask for help with a lot and simply let some things go. I can wash the dishes later. Or make a non-cook lunch. Or not do some of the little things I’d like to do but don’t actually have to do for this site.
This isn’t easy for perfectionists. We want to think we can do it all—and do it all well. And if we can’t, we’re hard on ourselves. But I’ve begun to tell myself, at the end of the day, if I can’t reasonably accomplish everything on my to-do list, the problem isn’t me, it’s my workload.
So do one thing at a time, and if you feel you simply can’t, ask yourself if that’s really true, or if you’re just attached to your busyness—because you feel productive, or it gives you a sense of control, or it allows you to avoid emotions you maybe don’t want to face.
2. Allow yourself to enjoy the little things.
It sounds cliché, and I know it is, but this really is a lifesaver. When your days feel overwhelming, those little moments can go a long way toward creating a feeling of balance, even if life isn’t so balanced right now.
Take the five minutes to savor your tea or coffee instead of scrolling and swiping your way through it. Dance to your favorite song and belt out the lyrics, really feeling them in your heart. Take a few minutes to look at the moon and stars at night and get lost for a minute in the evening’s beauty and the vastness of the universe.
The other night, after a particularly taxing experience with my son, I noticed that the moon looked like someone had painted it. It was truly stunning—full and far more orange than usual—and I can’t remember having seen it quite so beautiful ever before.
So I stared. I didn’t try to stop thinking, I just did because it was so spectacular. And after a few minutes I felt calmer. I had meditated without even trying simply by appreciating something I may otherwise have missed—despite it being massive and right up in the sky for me to see.
Take a little time to be amazed by something you won’t enjoy unless you consciously choose to focus on it. See the things you can’t see when you’re rushing. Hear the things you can’t hear when you’re stressing. Get so caught up in your senses that everything else seems to stop for a moment—because things don’t actually stop. So we have to be the ones to do it.
3. If you start worrying about the future or regretting the past, make an inventory of your current strengths.
Hard days are infinitely more difficult when we relive hard days past or worry about potential hard days coming. But our minds are like magnets to negative things when we start indulging defeatist thoughts. It’s like we put on a grey filter and then look back and forth through time with a dark, depressing spotlight.
So instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future, focus on all the strengths you have right now that will prevent you from making the same mistakes and help you handle whatever is coming.
Think about all you’ve overcome and how that’s shaped you. Maybe you’re resourceful, or adaptable, or open-minded. Maybe you’re determined, or disciplined, or empathetic in a way that helps you connect with people and create strong support systems.
Instead of worrying about what the world can do to you, find strength in who you’ve become because of what you’ve been through—and trust, in this moment, that you can rely on those strengths to serve you well, no matter what the future holds.
And then, even better: Find a way to use one of those strengths right now.
The other day I started worrying about my plans for early next year because a lot is up in the air right now and—as always—there’s a lot I can’t control.
Then I remembered that, because I have put myself in many new situations throughout my life, I am always adaptable and resourceful. I find a way to make things work and make the best of things, even if I don’t always trust I will be able to do it in the future.
So right in that moment, when I was feeling overwhelmed and spread too thin, I chose to make the best of my situation by putting on music I enjoy and taking a break from work to watch my son dance. The day wasn’t perfect, but that moment was, because I made it so.
4. Practice tiny acts of self-care.
There was a time when I had abundant opportunities for self-care. Pre-baby, I could easily do an hour-and-a-half yoga class and also fit in a walk on the beach and maybe even a bath.
These days I am more likely to do ten minutes of stretching or five minutes of deep breathing to ocean sounds (since I no longer live near the beach) or take a mindful shower.
There was a time when I thought those things weren’t worth the effort. I’m an all-or-nothing person! But a day with twenty-five minutes of self-care, spaced out, feels far better than a day with no self-care at all.
Here are a few more of my favorite tiny acts of self-care:
- Reading one chapter or a few pages of a book for pleasure
- Doing a facial mask to feel cleaner and rejuvenated
- Doing absolutely nothing for five minutes—just sitting and letting myself be
- Calling someone I love to catch up
- Lying with my legs up a wall to soothe my muscles and relax my mind
- Applying lotion to my hands and massaging it in to relieve tension
- Eating something healthy or drinking a green juice instead of having a processed snack
- Doodling for a few minutes and reconnecting with my creative brain
- Checking in with myself and asking, “What do I need right now?” Then giving it to myself, whether it’s a break, a glass of water, or a walk around the room.
- Doing something I enjoyed a kid, like making up a stupid dance to a song I love
5. Practice radical self-appreciation.
I find that hard days are a lot easier when I’m easier on myself. Not always easy to do when the day feels hard because I often find a way to blame myself for the difficulty. Like I’m just not good enough or strong enough. Or I didn’t make the right choices, and that’s why things feel so hard now.
To counter this, I try to imagine I’m watching someone I love living my life and think of what I’d tell them if they felt overwhelmed or down on themselves.
I have even gotten into the habit of mentally calling myself “sister” sometimes—kind of weird, I know—because I am always highly empathetic toward my sister.
So when I’m struggling, I might say, “Sister, you’re doing great! No one I know can do as much as you, or as well!”
And then as a more preemptive act of self-appreciation, I try to check in with myself throughout the day to note things I’m doing well. And sometimes it’s not about doing, but about being.
Great job being understanding when you really wanted to judge.
Good on you for being thoughtful when you could have been swept up in your own stuff.
Way to go on cutting yourself some slack—right now—even though you feel like you sucked at life today!
I know from personal experience that hard days feel even more draining when we beat ourselves up every step of the way. It’s like walking through a storm carrying your own flailing, screaming twin on your back.
The storm won’t be any less ferocious because we’re kinder to ourselves, but the journey is much less taxing when we consciously choose to love ourselves through it.
**This was post was edited to remove a giveaway that has since ended.