Feeling Overwhelmed? Try Taking a Nap

The Sentry (1654) by Carel Fabritius

What is a productive response to feeling overwhelmed? I'm asking for a friend, of course. I just consulted Dr. Google on this one, and let's just say...

The response is overwhelming.

I did, however, find one article wherein the author lists four helpful steps:
  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Make a list
  3. Create a clear actionable plan
  4. Stop multitasking
All of this makes sense.

As I have said before, I often find myself losing my breath during the day. My chest tightens, my eyes squint, and my jaw clenches.

It's all part of a process of going inward, of shrinking into my own space. I haven't imploded yet.


Still, deep and intentional breaths help.

And so do lists--to write down the tasks, and have reasonable and achievable goals.

Then there is the avoidance of multitasking. When I'm writing, I do best when I shut everything down. All it takes is one email to pull me away.

So yes, I agree. These are all healthy steps to managing feelings of being overwhelmed.

Very healthy.

But I have my own list of unhealthy responses...
  1. Avoidance--"Hey, internet, what have you been up to?"
  2. Fretting--Nothing gets done, but I feel worse.
  3. Eating--Preferably packaged things with massive quantities of fat, sugar, and salt.
  4. Sleeping--wait, what? Sleeping? 
OK, let me explain...

Once in graduate school, I reached the end of the semester and had a pile of essays due. I was way behind, so I blocked off an afternoon to get some stuff done.  I settled in, opened my books, and... 


I slept like a boss.

Deep REM stuff.

For hours.  

I still get sleepy in moments of stress. But I'm less inclined to take a dim view of this response since Dr. Google told me that sleep can be a helpful coping mechanism. To put it simply, sleep helps the brain to reset and refocus. This reminds me of a sports psychologist I once heard, giving a talk on the importance of sleep for athletic performance and overall health and well-being. Among his several key insights, the speaker emphasized that in America, we tend to associate sleep with laziness, or as a signal of weakness. But this is shortsighted. The brain and body both need rest, time to catch up, and time to heal. 

So I think I'll move sleep to my list of healthy responses to feeling overwhelmed.

And maybe I'll even take a nap to prove my point.