5 helpful questions to ask when you feel overwhelmed or stuck
Do you feel overwhelmed or stuck? Have you lost sight of your vision? Does it seem like it is all you can do to just get through the day? These feelings can be caused by habitual ways of thinking or looking at your life that cause a loss of perspective.
(Please note: feelings of hopelessness and despair can be signs of serious depression. If so, talk to your doctor right way.)
So, how do you shift out of this mindset and change your current perspective? Let’s look at perspective a little more closely.
Perspective is how we look at things. It has a Latin root that means “see through,” “perceive,” or “observe” and all the meanings of perspective have something to do with looking. So when you change the way you look at things, you change your perspective.
We can change our view of things by looking at them from a new perspective.
Seeing things differently
When my daughter was eight years old, she was trying to complete a homework assignment after a long day at school. She had a book report due the next day on a chapter book and she was only half-way through the book.
As she flipped through the pages and saw thousands of words, in that moment, it might as well have been a thousand pages! She sat there, frozen, unable to complete the assignment.
“This is too hard. I’ll never finish!,” she whined as she sat slumped in her chair. No amount of prodding or encouragement helped. All she could see was a seemingly insurmountable task before her and she sat there, miserable and stuck.
Fortunately, I had one of those rare moments of perfectly timed inspiration and suggested she take a break and follow me outside. In the back yard, I asked her to help me find a pebble … a really small pebble. It took a minute, but we found one that was less than a quarter inch in diameter.
I told her to hold the pebble up really close to her eye and asked, “What do you see?”
“It looks like a big rock!” she said. Then I told her to take the pebble away from her eye and place it back on the ground.
She did so and I asked, “Now, what do you see?” She smiled as she recognized how very small the pebble actually was in reality.
I explained that her reading assignment was really just a small pebble in her life, but her thoughts about it were making it seem so much bigger.
By taking a minute to step back, she regained her perspective and was willing to approach her task differently. I suggested she be more curious about the story and focus on the satisfaction she’d feel when she completed her assignment well. To my delight, she pleasantly complied. Within thirty minutes, she had read the remaining chapters AND finished the assignment. Now happy and satisfied, she ran off to play with a friend.
What are the pebbles in your life that appear larger than they really are?
When we are feeling overwhelmed by life, little things can seem so big. Even small tasks can begin to feel difficult when our perspective has been overtaken by the negative thoughts and feelings that have pervaded our mind.
Before we know it, we can slip into unhealthy patterns of blaming our circumstances, complaining that life is too hard, and believing there’s nothing we can do about it. Without realizing it, we begin to justify behaviors that keep us stuck or even propel us backwards. We begin to lose hope, and what’s worse, we often can’t figure out why we’re so miserable.
The good news is that, with a little awareness, we can pull the proverbial pebble away from our eye and see things from a different perspective.
5 questions that will change your perspective:
Did you know that most miserable people don’t really know why they are miserable? Unhealthy coping behaviors are often rooted in a lack of awareness of what one is feeling.
When you can name the feeling, you will be more apt to pinpoint the thought (or root) that caused the feeling. All it takes is a little mindful awareness.
Make it a daily practice to stop and notice what you are feeling. Be really specific. Instead of saying, “I feel anxiety,” expand your awareness and ask yourself, “Am I feeling insecure, upset, nervous, worried, sad, confused, guilty, frustrated, panic, dread, fear, conflicted, shocked, or overwhelmed?” Keep asking yourself questions until you get really clear about what you are feeling.
This is a topic for another day, but highly sensitive people will sometimes pick up on other people’s emotions without realizing it’s not even theirs. If you can’t figure out why you are feeling a certain way, ask yourself if the feeling is yours and then listen to your inner voice for the answer.
When sensitive souls can recognize the difference, it will be easier to let go of those feelings. We need to own our feelings, but we don’t need to own other people’s feelings!
2. What is the thought that caused this feeling?
Feelings are the result of a thought or many thoughts. Thoughts trigger emotions–good, bad, or indifferent–and emotions (energy in motion) influence actions, which always yield results or how we experience life. While we don’t have control over circumstances, we do have the power to choose our thoughts → feelings → actions → results.
Once you’re clear about what you are feeling, you can look for the thought that triggered it and determine what to do with it.
For example, let’s say I notice I am feeling resentful. I ask myself why? Perhaps it’s because I have taken on too much. Do I do it out of obligation? Do I need to learn to say no? Am I trying to accomplish too many things or please too many people? Do I expect too much of myself or do others expect too much of me? Do I allow other’s to dictate my priorities?
Once you know what caused the feeling, you now have the power to effect positive change in your life. Pinpointing the root problem can lead to greater awareness so that new thoughts and patterns can be established.
3. What is a more useful thought?
When you have discovered thoughts that don’t serve you, ask yourself, “What would be a more useful thought?” Some thoughts might be true, but not useful. For example, “My boss doesn’t care about me” might be true, but that isn’t a reflection of you at all, it’s a reflection of them and their thoughts. It’s important that we don’t make that mean something that it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean you’re not likable or valuable. More useful thoughts might be: “I am valuable.” “I do things with excellence.” “I have great worth.” “I am likable.” “I’m a dedicated employee.” “I’m a friend to everyone.”
Using the example in question 2, let’s say I recognize that I have been trying to please too many people and that I need to make my vision, my goals, my family, and my well-being a priority. I determine to take ownership of this behavior and change my thoughts to “I have healthy boundaries, and even though I care about others, it’s ok to say no. I am doing the best I can. If I am available to help, I will be happy to. If it doesn’t align with my priorities, then I will say no and wish them well.”
It doesn’t mean that I will never help anyone, but I am determined to make sure that my priorities are met before I try to help with others with their priorities. I determine that I will protect my time by doing first things first.
Notice that I am not expecting anyone else to change. We have no control over what others think or do. The only power we have is over our own thoughts and actions.
4. Will this matter next week, next year, in 10 years?
If the thing that you are stressing over won’t even matter next week, then why is it so pressing in your mind or life right now? What WILL matter in the next year or ten years?
What are you doing simply out of habit, obligation, or duty? Is there something you can let go of?
Meaningful tasks will improve family relationships, your own mental, physical, or spiritual well-being, or your financial stability.
These things will matter more than, perhaps, finding the right Christmas gift for your neighbors. If you’re running around looking for just the right thing, spending money you don’t have, snapping at your family because you have too much on your plate, then perhaps your priorities are out of order.
Go back to questions 1-3 and ask yourself why you feel driven to give the perfect gift to your neighbors. Is it because you want to impress them? Do you feel obligated because they always give you something? Perhaps, in your situation, a Christmas card expressing your gratitude for them is enough.
5. Are my efforts aligned with my vision, goals, and values?
Do you have a vision for your future? If not, that’s a great place to start. How will you end up where you want to be if you don’t even know where that is?
Create a vision for your life, set manageable goals to achieve it, and make sure everything you are doing aligns with your vision and your values. Make sure that the things you are filling your schedule up with support your goals. If you are passionate about your vision, the tasks you have to complete will energize and enliven you.
For example, being able to be at home with my children has always been a high priority for me. So, getting my kids up each day, taking them to school, following up on homework, talking about what they’re feeling, and all the many sacrifices I’ve had to make as a mother, do not stress me, but rather, it brings me joy. When I compare it with the seven years I had to work following a divorce, and having to put my children in daycare, the sacrifices I have to make now are a privilege because being there for my kids, watching their growth and development, brings me joy!
When I have felt stressed about finances because I was not working, I reminded myself that the sacrifice was worth it. Thinking about working a full-time job would stress me out, but being able to integrate my love for personal development and helping others into life coaching from my home has been a great blessing that enlivens me.
When we are passionate about something, it’s a completely different energy than when we feel resentful and obligated. Get clear about what you want your life to look like and establish healthy goals and habits that are in alignment with your vision.
Other ways to shift your perspective
- Examine your principles – List the principles that guide your life, and consider whether they are values you truly live by or merely talk about.
- Self-care – Make sure you take time to relax, breathe, meditate, exercise, and plan.
- Study good literature – Read scriptures and other inspiring books. Expand your knowledge. Seek truth. Open your mind to solutions and divine guidance. Listen for the still, small voice that will guide you and confirm truth.
- Journal – Sort out your thoughts by writing them down. You could do a brain dump or write a letter to God. Ask open ended questions and listen for the answers. Access higher thoughts through a combination of prayer, meditation, and journaling.
- Look at the bigger picture – Try to look at things with an eternal perspective. We are all children of God, here to experience adversity in order to learn and grow. It is reasonable to believe that we will continually have opportunities to develop divine attributes, perhaps for eternity. Be patient with yourself and others as we all learn to more gracefully navigate this mortal life together.
Perspective gives us the ability to more accurately contrast the large with the small, and the important with the less important. When you begin to feel overwhelmed or stuck, take a step back and examine your thoughts, feelings, and actions, along with their corresponding results.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Develop your capacity to view things in their true relation or relative importance and you will find you have far more influence over the quality of your life experience.
If you feel you could use some help uncovering debilitating thoughts, releasing negative emotions, developing your vision, discovering your values and priorities, or establishing more empowering thoughts and habits, consider a Life Coaching Session with me.