7 Things to Do When You are Feeling Overwhelmed


By Leo Babauta


Lately my life has felt pretty chaotic: lots of projects, calls, and creation, along with helping loved ones with things, and preparing to move once again to a new home.

Chaos can be beautiful. And I’m embracing it. But it can be hard to embrace chaos when we’re feeling scattered, lost, confused, stressed, and so I practice helping myself to feel grounded.

When we ground ourselves, we can feel a sense of calmness and relaxation with whatever is happening. It’s a “relaxing with what is” from a place of, “I’m okay, I got this.”

It takes some practice. Let’s talk about how I practice.

Recognizing When We’re Feeling Ungrounded

The first thing we have to do is notice when we’re feeling chaotic, lost at sea, unanchored, groundless, scattered or thrown around by the stormy weather of our lives.

We don’t usually notice—instead, we run around like a chicken without a head. We try to do a bunch of things, jump from one thing to the next in a rushed state, or let ourselves get lost in distractions and busywork. We comfort ourselves with Internet, social media, TV, food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and so on.

So the first practice is just noticing: I’m feeling chaotic and scattered. I’m feeling groundless and unmoored. You can start to notice by how frenetic your activity is. How distracted are you? Are you picking up your phone every two minutes?

You can then notice how it feels to be scattered, as sensation in the body. What sensations can you notice of groundlessness?

How I Practice Grounding Myself

Once we notice, we can practice grounding ourselves. There are lots of ways of practicing this, so I’ll share what I do:

Pause. Notice how I’m feeling. Not the thoughts, but the bodily sensations of groundlessness and chaos. Perhaps sensations of frustration, scatteredness, anxiety or fear.

Breathe deeply into my belly. Deep, wide breaths that allow me to feel spaciousness.

Relax. Let my muscles relax as I breathe deeply. Let myself rest in the groundlessness.

Find some way to connect to the world around me: to feel gratitude for this moment, to feel appreciation for the storm, to feel my connection to other people, to feel a love for the world just as it is. In this way, I can feel less like a vessel tossed about in stormy waters , and more a part of the ocean itself.

Gratitude. Feeling grateful to be alive, to be connected, to be able to behold this breathtaking world. Let myself feel wonder at reality in front of me.

Ask myself: What would serve? What do I want? What would be of benefit to others? And then choosing to take action from that.

I don’t always practice exactly like this. Simply pausing and breathing can sometimes be enough. Sometimes a little gratitude is all I need. When I practice this full sequence in roughly this order, it can be really powerful.

Relaxing with Chaos

When we ground ourselves in this way, breathing and relaxing with what is present in the moment, it makes something new possible.

We can be with chaos in a relaxed way.

Our lives are often chaotic and stormy. We can be overwhelmed, scattered, confronted by unexpected events. And this can shut us down or have us go into anxious overdrive, or we can simply be with the chaos in a relaxed way.

We start by recognizing that we’re feeling chaotic, and then practicing grounding ourselves.

From this grounded place, we can open to the chaos of our lives with openness. We might feel fear, frustration, difficulty, but we are able to be with all of that with openness. We practice opening, relaxing, being with the storm, over and over.

So that the storm doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but just a manifestation of this beautiful chaotic world.

Leo Babauta is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). He eats vegan food, writes, runs, and reads. He is the founder of Zen Habits which is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.


Photo: Adobe

Editor: Dana Gornall


This article was originally published on Zen Habits and re-published with author’s permission.


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