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Feb 8

Navigating Overwhelm And Body Image



From time to time I write about dealing with overwhelm on Weightless because often when we’re stressed, we tend to take it out on our bodies.

Just this morning as I was putting on regular clothes (that’s what I call pants made from less than 5 percent spandex and shirts I can’t wear to the gym), I could feel my face forming into a scowl.

And then the “have I gained weight?” question just popped up, followed by “Ugh. I hate my outfit. I hate my skin.”

For many of us who’ve struggled with body image issues, berating, questioning and criticizing our bodies may still be automatic. The words just spill out, like water from a faucet.

The very thing sparking our overwhelm may have zero to do with our bodies. But that’s the place we go to when our stress peaks.

Problem at work? Suddenly, your stomach feels unbearably big.

Had a fight with your spouse? Suddenly, your clothes feel tighter.

Have a mile-long to-do list? Suddenly, you need to buy different makeup, because everything you own makes your face look… strange.

I’m feeling overwhelmed about many actually wonderful, exciting things in my life, such as working on our new home and writing a book on creativity.

(I feel so ungrateful saying that I feel overwhelmed, but as I wrote this week, our feelings are valid — whatever they may be. And I’m going to extend this fact to myself and my experience.)

Right now, I’m staring at our green pool, piles of matted leaves in the backyard (it just keeps raining), and gutters that need repairing.

I’m staring at my journals with ideas and quotes scribbled inside, wondering how the heck I’m going to go from a messy draft to a completed, cohesive, coherent manuscript.

And I feel the overwhelm rising. Rising from my stomach and crashing into my chest. And I’m kind of freaking out.

But instead of berating my belly (or my personality or anything else about myself, which is my other default), I’m working on accepting my anxiety, pinpointing it, savoring the rain, and taking a very deep, slow breath.

I’m also paying attention to the thoughts swirling in my mind. Because what we tell ourselves plays a powerful role in perpetuating our overwhelm.

Here’s an excerpt on changing overwhelm-inducing thoughts from a piece I wrote with expert tips:

Let’s say you have a mile-long to-do list, and all you keep thinking is “I’ll never get this done.” That’s a damaging thought that can lead to distress and anxiety, Deibler said. And it paralyzes you from problem-solving and taking action, she said. But remember that you’re not a slave to your ruminations.

Ask yourself “In what ways might this [thought] be inaccurate, unreasonable or unhelpful?” Deibler said. Next, consider how you can think more realistically. Here, your goal is to generate alternative thoughts that will lead to positive emotions and behavior.

For instance, to revise the above overwhelming thought, Deibler suggested these alternatives: “I may not get it all finished today, but if I work on it or if I seek assistance, I will likely get it done;” “I know I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, but if I take a break, I may feel differently about this when I return;” “It seems overwhelming to me right now, but if I break it down into smaller parts, it may be more doable.”

For many of us — probably more like most of us — overwhelm is a real part of our days. And when we’re super stressed, frustrated, worried or feeling helpless, we may take it out on our bodies.

And when we do, we can acknowledge it, put our hands to our hearts and breathe. Just breathe.

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