I pick up my phone, turn on the battery-saving screen but then stop. What was I going to look up? I stare out the window for a moment—the window which opens to a yard covered in snow. A yard not meant for snow and yet, it wears it beautifully. A brand new, sparkling coat.
A beautiful disaster.
Right, “frozen well-pump valve.” That’s what I’d intended to look up, but there is no cell service. The browser on my phone spins around itself before I drop it back down onto the couch cushion next to me.
For weeks, I’ve wanted to tell you stories from this homestead: the one about one of my donkeys experiencing an impaction that thank God, the vet arrived in time to save his life. Or the one about my old, blind dog who’s found a new lease on life through his camaraderie with a squeaky toy pig. Then there’s the one…nay the many…about the barn cat who has changed this little farm’s entire ecosystem for the better.
But it’s as if every time I sit down in front of the proverbial campfire to share my tales, the winds of “unprecedented,” “historic,” and “once in a hundred years,” catastrophe barrels through, extinguishing the flame and forcing a retreat into shelter.
So instead of stories, I’d like to share some thoughts for any of y’all going through all of this with mental and/or chronic illness. Chances are, you’re overstimulated and you probably have been for far longer than your precious human brain was meant to be.
Symptoms of overstimulation / sensory overload include:
- Trouble focusing
- Feeling uncomfortable and fidgety
- Tension, stress, anxiety
- Overhead lighting hurts your eyes
- Too many sounds stress you out
- Irritability or just complete withdrawal (to me, it feels like “shutting down”)
- Can’t sleep
- Sleep too much
- Headaches, nausea, dizziness
- And/or so much more
Overstimulation (and in the south’s case right now, extreme weather changes) can manifest physically and/or worsen the symptoms of chronic illness (such as autoimmune diseases) which may be leading to:
- Swollen joints
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain everywhere — like everywhere
- Loss of feeling in your limbs
- Worse headaches
- Worse nausea
- Weight loss or gain
- And/or so much more
I am obviously not a doctor and if you’re struggling gravely or fear your life could be in danger, please please call your healthcare provider or go to the ER.
But if like me, you recognize you’re in a vicious cycle of mental health affecting physical health and physical health affecting mental health, then I offer you these things that have helped me alleviate even just a little bit of the sensory overload that causes the total-body short circuit. Though the boat may still take on water, here are some corks to plug some of the holes.
- Turn off your damn phone: There is so much going on and yes, it’s important to stay informed; but you’ve got to turn it off sometimes. Our bodies were not meant to handle everything we’re being fed in the amount we’re being fed it. Create boundaries for yourself. For example, put your phone on the charger at night in another room so you don’t lay in bed scrolling on it. Leave the ringer on so if there’s an emergency, you’ll hear it, but turn the notifications off. Let your loved ones know you’re doing this so they don’t worry. If they love you, they’ll respect your boundaries.
(repeat that to yourself in all areas of your life: if they love you, they’ll respect your boundaries.)
- Working from home during all of this? Get dressed in the morning before you “go to work.” Save your jammies for when you’re “at home.” Maintain that boundary between work and home, even if they’re being performed in the same space. Also, create business hours for yourself and honor them. Unless it’s a dire emergency, you don’t have to answer Rick’s email at 8:00 at night just because you can.
- Drink more water than you think you should ****
- Be mindful of what you’re consuming for breakfast. I won’t go into it here, but read about what to eat and when to help your blood sugar be where it needs to be. Here’s a good article to start: https://www.healthline.com/health/hypoglycemia-diet#breakfast-plan — everybody is different, so take some time understanding what helps you feel the best. For me, it’s a source of protein & whole wheat after I’ve been awake for about an hour. Like peanut butter or avocado toast.
- Stretch—do the kinds of stretches you had to do in elementary school out on the blacktop. Nothing fancy (unless of course you want to) but just move in a daily way that reaches every part of your body that you’re able to. (need some inspo? I do have a 20-minute gentle stretch video on my sad, barely used YouTube channel that by even existing, gives me anxiety……but I keep it live as part of my own methods to deal with my catastrophizing when it comes to fear of criticism and/or exposure. More on that another time. Meanwhile, I hope this helps: https://youtu.be/vXyJTu8Sa5U )
- Take little moments to clean your living space. Is there dust along the baseboard? Like right now, look. Is there? Go wipe it off and then come back. Get rid of the spiderwebs tangled around your ceiling fan (and while you’re up there, dust it too). Use a damp cloth to wipe the fingerprints off from around the handles of your most used doors and cabinets. That kind of stuff.
- Rest when you need to.
- Go for walks if and when you can.
- And/or so much more 🙂
What this list does not encompass is what to do during an autoimmune flare up. Honestly, I don’t have that answer and am still trying to figure it out for myself. I’m at a point right now where I can recognize it for what it is, but that’s about it. (Happy to hear your suggestions)
Also not included is what to do if you’re having a panic attack. I have lots of experience with this and have found that the very best thing I can do is lay on the hard floor, face down, for as long as I need. Something about that rigid grounding works for me. But that’s a whole other piece of writing that if you’re interested, let me know.
All this to say: it’s tough. It’s all tough. Everything. And to simply try and “slow down” — well, that’s not always attainable in our situations. We can’t just “let it go” all the time or “unplug.” Anxiety thrives in the uncontrollable and there’s no way you can control the complete and utter heartbreaking and rage-inducing chaos that’s happening out in the world right now. You might not even be able to control your own space if you’ve lost it. So I guess my bottom line is this: find what you can control and do it. Be mindful of where you are and take steps to control the things within your reach that you can. Like boundaries. Like what you’re eating & drinking.
And please, please, please remember: you are not alone. You are strong. You are beautifully made. You are loved.
Hang in there. Wherever you are, hang in there.
****If you are without water right now because of the winter storm, here are some resources I found that I hope help:
Austin / Central TX:
One final note: if you have the means to do so, here are some ways you can help the millions affected in Texas. Many were still recovering from Harvey and this feels eerily similar: https://www.texasmonthly.com/news/how-to-help-texans-recover-from-the-winter-disaster/