What Can I Do When I Feel Overwhelmed?

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In these strange and scary times, it’s easy for anyone to get overwhelmed. We alcoholics and addicts are sensitive people for the most part, often prone to anxiety, depression, and panic. When the world has been turned upside down for pretty much everyone, it’s no wonder that our emotions are all over the place.

Over the last several months, much of our day-to-day stability and routine has been turned on its head. When things are this disrupted, it can be normal to feel like we’re overwhelmed. We don’t have our usual stand-bys and routines as readily available to help us get right and get rooted. But as always, the program of recovery and the experience of people who are staying in recovery through similar events can provide some useful tips. So, how do we stay safe and protect our recovery when we feel overwhelmed?

Remember to Breathe

Of course, we don’t actually have to remember to breathe — our body does that on its own. But we do have to remember to keep our minds where our feet are. The 11th-Step teaches us and strongly suggests that prayer and meditation are highly valuable tools to improve our lives and our recovery. Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or any negative emotion that threatens to dominate us, we can stop right then and there, wherever we are, and pray. What we say doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we are reaching out. And once we are somewhere we can sit safely down and meditate, that’s exactly what we should do. Perhaps we have a mantra to repeat or a thought our sponsor gave us. Maybe we just close our eyes and keep silently praying. Again, it doesn’t matter how we meditate — just that we do it.

It may not seem like much, but once you’ve tried it and experienced it, you’ll likely understand the powerful grounding and calming effect of focusing on our breath, praying, and meditating. When we clear and center our mind and body in this way, it helps to ease our thoughts and emotions. It’s not only approved by the 12-Step program, but meditation has benefits proven by science. It can lower a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and reduce the severity of anxiety attacks. Prayer and meditation are highly recommended as a go-to defense when we feel emotionally or mentally overwhelmed. They produce the best results when practiced regularly over a period of time, but they can come in handy in a pinch as well. However, like everything else in the recovery program, they must be backed up with action.

Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk

Silly rhymes aside, sometimes the simplest advice is the best. If you’re feeling acutely overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed and you’ve already prayed and meditated, you may find that you’ve gotten grounded enough to start moving again. If you’re able to, take advantage of this momentum. Physical activity of just about any kind, from slow walking to weight training to running, has been shown to have wonderful effects on our mental and emotional state. Physical activity releases endorphins, which help us feel better. Because it requires our attention and focus, it can also help us clear our minds. Even if you only have a few minutes, go for a little walk.

Perhaps while you’re on that walk, it would be a good time to talk as well. However you do it, getting things off your chest is important when you’re feeling overwhelmed. We can always call our sponsor and let them know what’s going on and how we’re feeling. If we’re lucky, they’ll give us some 12-Step work to do to occupy our time and help us break free of our stress sooner. We can also talk to a trusted member of our recovery community — a friendly, understanding voice who can give us some perspective and helpful personal experience. Whether we feel overwhelmed frequently or just occasionally, it may not be a bad idea to find a therapist to talk things out with, even if just for a short while. There’s nothing shameful in talking about our thoughts and feelings, just as there’s no shame in experiencing mental or emotional health issues. So we’re breathing, praying, meditating, walking, and talking. What next?

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

It’s possible that we didn’t get overwhelmed overnight. Typically, little things pile up on us slowly, one by one, until they’re a mountain. How do you climb a mountain, you ask? Well, one step at a time, of course. Even if we do find ourselves suddenly overwhelmed by something, or if it’s just a molehill turning into a mountain, the way to address it is the same — one thing at a time. Pray and meditate. Work the 12-Steps with your sponsor, or work them with a sponsee if you have one. Go to meetings and talk about what you’re going through with friends. Ask them for guidance or advice on what actions may be most fruitful, or listen for the right thought to come to you during meditation. Sometimes we must go slow and steady. If we stay focused on our meditation and our 12-Step work instead of what’s overwhelming us, it’s likely that we’ll get clear direction on how to proceed.

Many alcoholics and addicts experience mental and emotional health issues while active in their disease and in the earlier stages of sobriety. Too often, this is a contributing factor for relapse, which only provides temporary relief while exacerbating mental and emotional stress. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or addiction, with or without concurrent mental and emotional health issues, Jaywalker Lodge is here for you. We have a long history of helping people just like you achieve and maintain lasting recovery.

Call us today at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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