Tag Archive for: mental health

Chop Wood, Carry Water, and Other Helpful Tools

If you’re like so many of our patients, (and me, too) you have felt overwhelmed at some point lately. You know the feeling…there are just too many things on your plate, your mind, and your to-do list. You start to feel tense, stressed, and anxious. After a while, it can make you feel indecisive, and even frozen, unable to do much at all. 

Overwhelm can debilitate you.

It can happen because you just have too much going on in your life, from all the stressful events in the world at large, or because you’re not feeling well from health issues. The anxiety and stress it comes with often disrupt your sleep, compounding the overwhelm itself. 

I want to assure you, that you are not alone.

We have all had a whole lot of stress these past few years with the pandemic, political discord, and changing weather patterns on top of all our normal life stressors. Plus, our go-go-go/always-on culture creates a baseline of overwhelm for most of us. 

I remember those first few months of the pandemic. Things that always felt unquestionably stable felt wobbly, like there wasn’t solid ground to stand on. I’d speculate that a lot of us still feel that way, for a lot of reasons, based on what I hear from patients, friends, and family. 

Take back some control…

We can’t always change the external stressors, but we can do some things to help reset and restore our nervous systems.

7 Ways to Overcome Overwhelm 

1. Chop Wood, Carry Water

Maybe you’ve heard the old Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” What does that even mean? It can mean a lot of things, such as we make things happen by taking action, or that the journey itself is as important as the destination. After all, even if you win the lottery tomorrow, you’ll probably still be doing some dishes from time to time.

We can also use this as a reminder that the mundane activities of daily life can be grounding, calming, and centering. The day-to-day chores can even help us build some resilience. 

What happens if we can slow down and be fully present with what we’re doing…smelling the herbs and spices in a dish you’re cooking, or appreciating the rhythm we can get into while we clean? Can you let the rhythm and familiarity of your daily routine and chores be soothing? Can you slow down and be present? 

2. Sit and breathe a minute!

Don’t underestimate the power of your breath! When you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, taking even 30 seconds to take some slow deep breaths can do wonders to take your stress down a notch. It can be as simple as a few slow, deep breaths, or as involved as a yin yoga class. 

Each time you slow down and breathe with intention, you’re retraining your nervous system to slow down a bit, just like practicing the piano. The more you do it, the better it works. 

Here’s a video of my favorite breathing trick, the 6:3 breathing technique on YouTube. 

3. Be in nature

We are a part of nature. Getting out in it helps reset our nervous systems almost immediately. There’s a ton of data out there showing that being in nature is good for your nervous system. From calming negative ions to the actual electrical grounding that happens when we touch the earth, nature will help you to feel calmer. As I write this, my window is open just after some rain, and the fresh breeze and smell of fresh rain are lovely. Plus, we know some morning sunshine can reset your circadian rhythms. 

Whether it’s enjoying your morning coffee on your porch, going for a walk after a meal, or a long hike, find ways to get yourself out there in nature as often as you can. 

4. Create some space

We can create some space for ourselves in a few ways. First, and most importantly, create some space by subtracting. We need to take things off our schedules, our to-do lists, and our minds. 

Be a little ruthless here, and put yourself and your well-being first. Do you have too many things to do this week? What can you postpone, reschedule, or even take off your list entirely? What can you simplify? What can you set down? 

Yes, decluttering can be helpful in the long run for managing overwhelm, but if right now you’re already overwhelmed, just set that down for now. Just allow yourself a little space. Stop should-ing on yourself so much, and embrace a “good enough” mindset. When we were in the thick of parenting with three young kids, I had to ask myself, “will I remember this in a year? A month? A week?” If the answer is no, it’s ok to do “good enough,” and make some space for yourself. I promise you will all remember those times when you just sat on the porch and watched the sky change color at sunset far more than how clean your house is this week. 

5. Be mindful of what you’re feeding your body

It’s human nature to reach for comfort foods and drinks when we’re stressed. We just need to keep in mind that some of those comfort foods will make us feel worse if we overindulge. Too much caffeine will make you more anxious. Too much sugar and highly processed foods create systemic inflammation that just makes us feel bad in general. Too much alcohol can create irritability, mess with your sleep, and make you feel bad the next day. 

Of course, a little here and there of most things is ok. Hence the “be mindful” part. As always, a whole foods diet full of fresh fruit and veggies will make you feel better in every way. 

6. Be mindful of what you’re feeding your mind

Be thoughtful not just with what we eat, but also with what we feed our minds. The more primitive parts of our brains, like the limbic system, can’t tell if that scary movie you’re watching is happening in front of you or not. Plus, there’s the always-on internet, where we see video after video of traumatic events.

It’s hard to escape it. I remember way back when 9/11 happened, some of my clients were watching the news all day, seeing the planes hit over and over, and after a few weeks they were displaying symptoms of PTSD. 

By all means, stay informed.

But don’t swim in it. Reading is less visceral than video. And it’s not helpful to anyone to watch these events that you can’t control over and over. Weed your feed–you can choose what shows up in your media/social media feeds by unfollowing, liking things that make you smile, and choosing not to engage with the trolls. 

Overall, try to stick with media that makes you feel good, makes you laugh, feel love, instead of fear, stress, and disgust. Our brains work on repetition. What do you want to be feeling most of the time? Choose media that supports that. You get to curate what you feed your brain over and over. 

7. Get regular acupuncture and massage

Whether you feel like you can’t overcome the overwhelm by yourself, or you know how much “maintenance” care helps everything, acupuncture and massage can do wonders to help reset and rebalance your nervous system. 

If you need help in the moment, you will leave your acupuncture or bodywork session feeling better than you came in. Ongoing, or weekly appointments will deepen and expand those benefits, from tight muscles to anxiety and stress. Chinese herbal medicine and supplements like magnesium and l-theanine will add to the benefit. 

Even when life gets overwhelming, there are lots of things, big and small, you can do to manage the stress and anxiety. And we’re here to help if you need it. 

If you’re local in Centennial/Denver and have questions about how we can help you, we offer free 15-minute initial consultations. Call or text us at 720-507-1705, or book online here.  

Dr. Jennie Luther, DACM, L.Ac 
Acupuncturist Centennial
Family Tree Acupuncture & Wellness