Feeling overwhelmed again? How do you get yourself out of a downward spiral and pull yourself back up?
The problem when you finally regain “control” over your life (after recovering from depression, for example), is that it is no guarantee that you won’t have to do it all again. Or that you won’t feel overwhelmed again, later down the road.
Self-care, getting back on the horse after you’ve fallen, ‘finding’ yourself… they all sound nice and all. But they are not destinations per se. You don’t get there and stay there. They are more like never-ending quests. And you should expect to lose your way from time to time.
What to do when you find yourself spiraling down into depression again?
Even though I found my way out of severe depression does not mean that I haven’t been back on the edge of the precipice a few times. I guess there will always be a risk of spiraling back into depression?
In any case, I suppose feeling overwhelmed and having to pick yourself up is part of the human experience…
The good news is, you can apply (almost) the same recipe over and over again to the same problem and hope to achieve similar(ish) results.
That’s because we are (kind of) always facing the same issues in our lives, they just manifest themselves in different ways: stress, eczema, insomnia, weight gain, etc.
And these issues usually are that you’ve lost sight of your goals or what matters (to you), that you’ve not been taking care of yourself, or that you’ve let doubt and fear take over your thoughts.
Your fears, goals, and what matters to you evolve as time pass and as you grow. So, it is only natural that you would need an adjustment from time to time. Thus, the crisis at hand and the need for you to pick yourself up today.
So, here is what I do now when I (inevitably) lose sight of my goals and what matters to me, and when I find myself in a downward spiral.
Disclaimer: I only share my personal experience here regarding my own mental (and physical) health journey. The information contained on this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your doctor or other medical experts regarding your health. Thank you!
The 9-step self-care program I use to pull myself out of a downward spiral
1. Face just one thing at a time
Obviously, if you are feeling overwhelmed again or find that you need to “pick yourself up”, then there’s most likely more than one thing in your life that needs fixing.
The problem is that if you start looking at the whole mountain, and by this, I mean all the things you would need to fix or address to feel better, you will probably feel discouraged or even more overwhelmed. And you won’t do any of it. You will keep avoiding, procrastinating, and sink even further down your dark hole of self-pity and depression.
So, the first thing I do when I know it’s time to pick myself up again is to remind myself (over and over) that I need to do just one thing. Each day, I try to focus on just one thing that I can do to take one extra step toward feeling better and taking care of my needs.
Ideally, I pick that one thing the evening before, that way when I wake up, I already know what that one thing will be for the day. That’s one less decision to make in the morning, and one less opportunity to flake, get overwhelmed, and give up.
Oh and, by the way, that one thing doesn’t need to be fixed all in one day. It can (and it probably will) take many days before that one thing gets done, and you can move on to the next one thing.
Now, if you do more than just that one thing during the day… then, great! But if you only did that one thing, no matter how small, then congratulate yourself. You did good!
Now start again tomorrow.
Clutter is almost always both at the source and/or a symptom of me feeling overwhelmed and depressed again.
One of the first and main things I need to do to put my anxiety and depression back under control and stop feeling overwhelmed is to declutter my living space.
Clutter is cyclical. No matter how many times you declutter and organize your space and your life, you will need to do it again. It just never ends.
And it gets annoying sometimes. (sigh).
But every single time that I feel depressed or overwhelmed and need to pick myself up, it always implies a good amount of decluttering necessary. So now, decluttering has become one of the pillars of my self-care routine.
Decluttering doesn’t only mean getting rid of unnecessary “stuff” like the mess in your house or kitchen (although that’s a big component). Decluttering also means regular assessments of your relationships, of your finances, your desktop, inbox, schedule, memberships… and even your feelings!
You carry so much stuff around, it weighs you down.
Do yourself a favor and unload. You will feel better.
3. Remember to practice daily (conscious) gratitude
When my life starts to fall apart again or when I find myself in a spiral downward, it usually coincides with a period where I’m not actively practicing daily gratitude.
Gratitude is a very important component of a happier, more fulfilled life.
Active practice of daily, conscious gratitude makes you more apt to see the good in your life and thus better equipped to spot potential solutions to your problems. It becomes a habit, and the more you do it, the better you are at it.
It may all sound very “kumbaya” to you, but I’m serious. By constantly exercising your ability to find things to be grateful for, you actually train yourself to be more creative. Like a muscle.
And creativity is nothing more than your ability to solve problems. And you have to admit, it’s pretty hard to solve your problems if all you see around you is the things that are wrong or bad in your life.
So, one of the first things I do to pick myself up when I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed again, is to incorporate gratitude back into my morning or bedtime routine.
4. Define a new goal or redefine your goal(s)
Surprisingly, “progress”, or the lack thereof, can be the reason behind you spiraling downward into a dark hole.
A few times I felt miserable even when things were “good”, and so I couldn’t figure out why. Turns out, I was simply plateauing and I needed to push myself toward a new or more challenging goal.
This thing about progress and plateaus was one of the most incredible and life-changing lessons I learned when I 1) started running religiously and 2) made my first vision board.
And so, if you feel like you have accomplished or are accomplishing the things you needed to do to be happy and yet find yourself in a downward spiral of darkness, then it might be time for you to readjust your goals, or define new ones.
5. Take some time to identify your (current) fears and reflect on them
When I start to feel overwhelmed again or see depression creeping back up, then there is usually something scaring me (in the back of my mind), or that’s making me doubt myself.
If I keep avoiding these fears, I just make things worse for myself.
It’s really important to understand that: the more you try to run away from your fears and/or escape, the more they will chase you. And the more power they will have over you.
In order to get out of this downward spiral, I must face those fears. This means:
- identify the fear;
- acknowledge the fear;
- understand the fear;
- challenge the fear and
- Replace the fear and these self-sabotaging beliefs with new, more empowering ones (with affirmations and deliberate action).
Now, you might think that since you’ve made that exercise in the past, you’re off the hook now, right?
Even if you’ve been through that cycle of facing your fears in the past does not mean that you are set for life. You will need to constantly reflect on your fears, old ones, new ones, evolving ones… They will always be there, ever-changing, but always there.
Another challenge is that sometimes, I’m not even aware of the thing that’s bothering me. But I still have to sit down with a pen and paper and investigate until I figure out the problem and get to the root of it.
Related post: How to start journaling and why you should
Talk to a friend, a therapist, or write it all down. Facing your fears can take a couple of hours, days, or weeks. It doesn’t matter. Just give yourself the time you need to question them and give your fears the attention they need so you can move past it all.
6. Choose the appropriate affirmations to change your beliefs around those fears
Affirmations are a powerful tool to rewire the beliefs you carry about yourself, especially when you are spiraling back down into depression and self-sabotaging behaviors.
Sometimes, the (negative) beliefs you have about yourself are so strong, you are the whole reason why you feel so overwhelmed. And you are the one stopping yourself from achieving the goals you want to achieve.
Now, just because you’ve faced your fears and deep-rooted beliefs (in the previous step) does not mean that you suddenly think differently.
In step 5 you cleaned up the mess; now in step 6, you will need to change your whole mental program to avoid repeating that same mess. What you need now is to change your pattern and upgrade the program that generates your thoughts.
And I do this through affirmations and exercise (my next point).
Once I’ve identified my fears, the limiting beliefs surrounding them, and how they are hurting me, I then turn to daily affirmations to rewire my brain and construct a new narrative around what I believe about myself.
For example, if I notice that I fear the next step in my business because I think that it’s too big for me, that I am not smart enough, or that I am not capable of (or am unworthy of) success, I formulate affirmations that address those specific beliefs.
Every morning in bed (for at least a few weeks) I will say out loud things like:
- I am a smart, savvy businesswoman.
- I solve problems and bring value to the world.
- (or for negative beliefs around money): I’m happy and grateful because money comes to me in increasing quantities.
7. Strengthen your body
If I am to be strong enough to pull myself out of whatever downward spiral I find myself in, then I need help from exercise.
I simply cannot pick myself up if I am not working out at that moment.
Exercise, or even just stretching just 5 minutes every day, has an incredible effect on my body and my mind. It helps me feel stronger in my body which in turn makes me feel stronger in my mind. And without that strength and sense of pride, it’s impossible to pick myself up on my own.
Now, you may be thinking: “How can I exercise when I already feel so overwhelmed!?”.
Good question. But remember, it only seems so big and impossible because you are looking at the whole mountain.
Start with just 5 minutes of stretching and breathing exercises, straight from your bed if you need to. But aim to do it every day.
Yes, in your bed. That’s how I start, every time I fall off the wagon and feel overwhelmed. And IT WORKS.
Do that every day for at least a week and then gradually intensify/diversify your workouts. Depending on my physical shape at that moment, I then either go for light walks, long walks, I run, or/and do some (light) weight training.
8. Feed yourself appropriate food at all times
Now that I have defined a goal, faced my fears, and am transforming my limiting beliefs, I now have a reason to take better care of myself.
Because if I’m hoping to pull myself out of a downward spiral and pull myself up, I need to feed my body the appropriate foods it needs.
Ever since switching to the Wahls diet (to ease the symptoms of my Rheumatoid arthritis) I finally understood the dramatic impact food has on my physical, mental and emotional health.
Related post: I tried the Wahls diet and here’s what happened
But to make a long story short, I cannot half-ass my diet. I have to follow it at all times, all day, every day. However, this is hard. So hard! Particularly when you live in a world serving you all the things you cannot eat all the time, or when you are already overwhelmed and dealing with depression, mental and physical health issues at the same time.
I’m still getting better at managing it all, with the help of all the steps on that list (and more).
Happiness is progress, and boy is that true!
9. Stay away from weed, tobacco, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6.
Addiction is basically any pattern of behavior whereby you cannot stand to be with yourself and the more uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that come from being on your own. So therefore you can be addicted to almost anything as long as it keeps you away from yourself (Alain de Botton).
When I find myself in a downward spiral, it always coincides with a period where I’ve been diving deep into some sort of behavior destined to help me avoid life.
This can be through smoking cigarettes or weed, binge-watching useless crap on streaming platforms, drinking, shopping, obsessing thoughts, over things or a guy, etc.
Unfortunately for me, I can never do things halfway: I’m either 0 or a 1 000. That’s why I’m working on eliminating most of these behaviors because I find it difficult to keep them under control.
And so, if I want to get myself out of a downward spiral, I have to ask myself what avoidant behaviors have I been indulging in lately and stop them.
Now, your turn: how do you get yourself back up when you’re spiraling down into a pit of self-sabotage and depression?
Read next: How do you break out of negative thinking?