There’s a big difference between being stressed and being overwhelmed. Stress you can live with. You can muddle through work and errands and carry on conversations. You may have to do it all with a clenched jaw or a crease between your eyebrows, but you can function when you’re stressed. When you are overwhelmed, the wheels start to come off. You can’t exist in an overwhelmed state for very long; you need to retreat or escape. So what do you do when the world is crashing down? One piece of advice: find out how your other half copes when things get overwhelming.
She Said: When life overwhelms me I try to carry on, but I usually wind up doing something stupid because I’m so distracted. The other day I was feeling particularly beaten down by life. I walked into a convenience store, grabbed a Diet Coke and took about three steps out the door before I realized I hadn’t paid. The cashier laughed about it riotously, but I felt like a moron. When I’m truly overwhelmed, what works for me is a simple remove and re-focus approach. I’m a big reader, so if I’m having a legitimate flip-out, I like to physically go to the library, find a comfy chair and read for at least 90 minutes. It’s fantastically quiet. Most of our local branches have great seats by the window so natural light pours in. You can’t talk on the phone, you don’t know anybody there, and no one looks at you funny for reading 12 chapters without a break. I read a 300 page book start to finish yesterday and I can tell you honestly that life seems a lot more manageable since I gave my brain something new, and fictitious, to focus on.
He Said: When I feel completely squashed by a current life issue, I like to take to the open road. There’s something unbelievably calming about driving away from the city you live in or work in. Even if you aren’t headed anywhere specific, even if you just drive to a community park, walk around for a minute and head right back, it reminds you that the world is full of possibilities. Nothing sets me back on my feet like a mini adventure. I really enjoy exploring new places. Neighborhoods, historic districts, museums, green space; all of it interests me. Taking some time away from my own life to delve into something new really helps me organize my thoughts. If you add music into the adventure, that takes the relief up several notches. Listening to an album or playlist uninterrupted is therapy for my overwrought soul. If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t always serenely follow my own advice. Sometimes I bluster around, overwhelmed, for days doing much more harm than good. But when I’m really at the end of my rope, I hop in the car with a good CD and take off.
Overwhelmed couples fight a lot. They are nasty to each other and short fused with the rest of the world. The next time you start to come undone, stop for a moment, think about what would take you away and quiet your mind and make it happen. It will do you and your significant other a gigantic favor.