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Hi Cary,

I love your column. I hope you can help me. I have a multitude of problems all happening at the same time in my life.

Well, some started years ago, but as long as they happened one at a time, I managed to get through them. Right now they seem to be taking place simultaneously. Without going into too much detail, I’ll tell you that my family members have or are suffering from blindness, degenerative disease, cancer, serious emotional problems, and alcoholism. I have a care-taking personality, and am physically healthy, so I take care of (constantly worry about) all of my loved ones. I am one of those “HSPs” (Highly Sensitive People) so all of these things make me suffer greatly. I feel like my heart is perpetually breaking. I feel that I can’t be happy unless all of my loved ones are fixed and happy themselves.

I work in an office with a lot of people and marvel at how easy their lives seem, and how they react after the death of a parent, for example. Some of them are back at work in a couple of days, laughing by the water cooler with their coworkers.

I guess what I’m asking is: Do I have a problem with how I perceive life, or is my family really cursed and am I reacting normally to horrible situations?



Dear Overwhelmed,

Please realize that for right now, you are OK. You are safe and protected. Things may be a little crazy around you. You are in a situation with a lot of emotionally volatile, draining people and challenging problems. But at this moment, as far as I can tell, you yourself are OK.

So, right now, wherever you are, take stock of your location and what is going on in your physical environment, in your own body. That is the first step to feeling better and getting out of this feeling of overwhelm. Take a look around you. Are you in danger, physical danger? Probably not. Do you have enough to eat today? Do you have shelter and clothing and a safe place to sleep? Seriously. I want you to orient yourself in your physical environment as a first step to feeling better.

It is possible that your mind is playing over and over certain scenarios: What if this happens? What if that happens? My mind does that, too. It’s just my mind going on and on. So focus on where you are and what is going on around you. If you know how to meditate, do some meditation.

After you take stock of where you are and what is happening around you, take out some paper and pen or use your computer or however you write, and just make a list of all the things you can be grateful for in this moment. Do you like the sky? It’s not too crazy or trivial to mention the sky as a gift. What if you were in solitary confinement in a prison? You would not have the sky. You have the sky. It is like a gift to you. You can walk out and look at it now, or any time you want to. And you have your family. Members of your family may have challenges but they are alive and in your life. So you are not alone. That is a good thing. Put that down on your list. And I think it’s safe to say you are not in great physical pain right now. You could put that down on your list. As you do this, you may find you feel a little calmer.  That’s good.

Just concentrate on how you feel now, in the moment. You can draw a good, deep breath. You could go for a walk if you like. You could get into the rhythm of walking for a while and forget whatever is tormenting your mind. Just take some time to let these things sink in. These things can help you get out of the overwhelm.

Next, make a list of all the places you know you can go where you will feel safe and protected. You might have friends’ houses, a cafe, a park, your car, a classroom. Just make a list of all the places where you know you can go to feel safe and protected.

Then pick one of those places, and set a time today to go there. Or if not today, then tomorrow.

Also make a list of the people you know that make you feel good. Pick one of those people and call that person, or get in touch somehow. Go see that person. Spend some time with him or her. Make eye contact. Enjoy some laughs. These are things you can do right now to get out of that antsy feeling of overwhelm.

Long term, you will want to make some plans for how to structure a life that suits your sensitivities. If you haven’t already, you might read Elain Aron’s book on highly sensitive people, too. But for right now, you need to be able to cope with a difficult situation by lessening the effect of your own panicky feelings of overwhelm.

Life is long.Things change. Situations come and go. You can handle this. For now, pay attention to where you are physically, and how you are breathing, and this will help. Long term, you will need to make some plans. But you can’t plan when you’re panicked and feeling overwhelmed. So don’t worry about the future now. Just take a few weeks doing these simple things and then, when you’re ready, start making some plans.

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