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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Shepard, MD

5 Reminders for When You're Overwhelmed

Last week, I was feeling overwhelmed by so many things. In part, it’s because I wasn’t sleeping well- my daughter and I have been sick with some grossness she brought home from school. She just started kindergarten this year, so I imagine I need to get used to having a lot of new germs floating around.




When I don’t sleep, everything feels more difficult. And last week was no exception. But I was even more of an emotional mess because I knew it was time for a reckoning- I had to go through my personal and business finances.


I knew it wasn’t going to be good. It hasn’t been good for several years. I’m still slogging through the fallout from when my ex-husband was in active addiction and unable to hold down a job, and later was so physically ill that he spent nearly half the year in and out of the hospital. If you know anything about the American healthcare system, you know that it wasn’t cheap.


I took time off work to be with him and care for my daughter, so my business took a big financial hit, too. It wasn’t pretty, and over a year later, I still don’t know if I made the right decisions. I know I did the best I could, but I’m not sure if I did what was best.


Throughout our family crisis, I took the tried and true head-in-the-sand approach to my finances. I kept things afloat, but other than that, I closed my eyes, plugged my ears, yelled “LALALALA,” and told myself I would deal with it later.


Well, wouldn’t you know, it’s later. Dammit.

I’m happy to report I’ve been making (sometimes infuriatingly) slow progress over the past year. But once a month or so, I try to sit down and get a bird’s eye view of where I am and how far I have to go.

I really struggled as I sat down to work on my finances last week. There were a few tears, a few whiny “why me?” thoughts, and some good old-fashioned self-loathing. I felt like crap, completely overwhelmed, and out of control. But I knew I had to get it together and do the work anyway.


Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I try to remind myself of a few things. These reminders helped me get through the overwhelm-paralysis last week so I could move forward, and I wanted to share them in case they can help you, too.


  1. Remember to take one bite at a time. Have you ever heard that saying: “How do you eat an elephant?... One bite at a time.”? First of all, what a weird saying. Why are we eating an elephant? But more importantly, it’s true. One small step at a time is far more productive than going pedal to the metal and burning out. I didn’t get into this situation overnight, so fixing it will take a while. When we expect things to change instantly, we get frustrated and tend to go into avoidance mode.

  2. Remember you aren’t alone. I am a human. Human-ing is hard. I’m not the only one struggling with this shit. I still feel gobs of embarrassment sometimes when thinking about my financial situation. But whenever I talk about it (or any of the other screw-ups I’ve accumulated over the years), I’ve found that other people open up and talk about the same things. We’re all out here screwing stuff up. We just don’t talk about it. But if you think you’re the only one, you’re not.

  3. Remember to take care of yourself. I have to take care of myself if I want to be able to take care of my shit. Maybe not the most poetic way to put it, but if I expect to be able to dig myself out of this hole, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure I had a functioning shovel. And in this analogy, my shovels are a body and brain working at capacity. For me, this meant prioritizing sleep and exercise, two things I had been missing lately.

  4. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Goodness, this one has been so hard for me. I’m fortunate to have people out there who want to help me and have the ability to do so. But asking for anything, even just moral support, is so hard. Whether it’s asking my mom to watch my daughter for the afternoon so I can get some work done or asking my ex to cover half of the cost of school supplies, I know they will be happy to help if they can. But it feels like admitting defeat in a culture that heralds independence as the highest virtue. I remind myself to believe people when they tell me they can (and want to) help. And I try to remember how good it feels to help others and tell myself they probably feel the same way about helping me.

  5. Remember that you won’t feel this way forever. When we feel down or stressed, we get so focused on that feeling that we think it will last forever. But our thoughts and feelings are in a constant state of change. We couldn’t feel the same forever if we tried. It would be like asking an afternoon thunderstorm to last forever. Our feelings change like the weather, but we can be like the sky: always there, holding space and openness for whatever the weather may bring.

If you want more pointers and accountability to get through whatever overwhelms you, consider joining us at The Squirrel’s Guide to Overwhelm. At the very least, you'll meet some pretty cool humans and feel a lot less alone.

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