In moments when you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, nothing else in life may seem to matter at all. And that’s the case for all folks, regardless of age, background, or life experiences. What’s key for coping, though, is to be able to have perspective to know that even challenging moments will pass. “Life can be challenging, and it’s difficult to get perspective if you’re caught up in it and overwhelmed,” says counselor David Klow, LMFT, and author of the book You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist.
Here’s the thing, though: You’re not the only one who deals with overwhelming feelings that would benefit from a heady dose of perspective. Whether you’re spiraling about a looming work deadline, stressing about relationship issues, letting a conversation with a friend peeve you to the point of no return, or worrying about a regrettable text you sent, plenty of other people have been there. Yep, even the mental-health professionals who supply their patients with tools for coping with overwhelming worry. So, find out how they, themselves, put things in perspective.
Below, therapists share 13 ways they personally put things in perspective when their worries reach an overwhelming point.
1. Think beyond this moment in time
When you’re overwhelmed, it can be hard to think about anything beyond the current moment, but it’s still important to take a beat to try it. Doing so may just help you put things in perspective.
For instance, when Jennifer Carter, PhD, a psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, is overwhelmed, she considers advice her mom gave during her college swimming years. “An upcoming race felt like life or death. My mother helped me one time by asking, ‘Will you even remember this race in one year?’” she says.
2. Be aware that you actually have to change your perspective to feel better
Understanding the need to put things into perspective is one thing, but recognizing that doing so requires an actual mental shift is crucial. “Slow down and become aware of your perspective or lens, and actively decide to use a different one,” says Miami-area psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD. “Seeing things from a different perspective helps people see situations and problem-solve more effectively.”
“Seeing things from a different perspective helps people see situations and problem-solve more effectively.” —Erika Martinez, PsyD
For example, if you’re worried about a looming work deadline, consider how an even-keeled co-worker may handle the stress. Then, try to approach the issue the same way.
3. Don’t treat your inner monologue as fact
It’s easy to create a narrative around what’s going on, and that may or may not be based in fact. “One way to find meaning is to create a narrative,” Dr. Carter says. For example, if your partner isn’t texting you back, you may create a story to explain why. One possible reason is because their partner doesn’t care. What’s key, though, is to be able to differentiate fact from conjecture when it comes to personal narrative.
In order to achieve a balanced perspective and see things from beyond your limited point of view, Dr. Carter recommends trying to think of a different viewpoint, like maybe your partner is at work and doesn’t have time to reply, or is on a call, or is wiped after a long day. With a more balanced perspective, she says, you’ll likely feel less stress.
4. Name your emotions
“When I have a panic moment, I always try to imagine pressing a pause button for just a second and naming the emotion I’m feeling,” says Jeremy Tyler, PsyD. “It’s powerful to be able to name the emotion that you’re feeling in your mind.” If you can name an emotion, like thinking, “I’m afraid” or “I’m worried,” you can then take the moment a step further by identifying extra detail in your feelings, like “I’m afraid I’m going to screw up.” “Once you can ID that emotion, you have an opportunity to try to think about that emotion,” he says.
5. Flip the script on the emotion you’ve named
Once you’ve named how you’re feeling, Dr. Tyler recommends taking on the exact opposite perspective. So, if you’re worried you’ll fail at something, tell yourself that you’re actually going to crush it. “Telling yourself there’s nothing to worry about—even if you don’t believe it at all—can really help,” he says.
6. Remind yourself that you’ve done this before
It’s highly unlikely that this is the first time you’ve needed to put things in perspective, which is why clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, recommends remembering that you’ve survived this kind of thing before. Thinking things like, “I’ve accomplished this before” or “I’ve coped with this before,” even if you’re not in that exact same situation again, “gives you the comfort that there will be a tomorrow,” he says.
7. Practice the “5-Why’s” method
Dr. Martinez likes the “5 Why’s” method, which asks five ‘why’ questions to drill down on worries. For example, if you feel like you’re irrationally angry at someone who cut you off in traffic, ask yourself these whys:
- Why am I angry/upset with them? Answer: They cut you off.
- Why might they have cut you off? Answer: They were rushing.
- Why do people tend to rush? Answer: Poor planning, hurrying to get to a loved one at the hospital, needing to go to the bathroom, etc.
- Why am I angry at someone if they’re struggling with these situations? Answer: Because it’s rude and inconsiderate.
- Why do I perceive someone possibly experiencing such situations as rude or inconsiderate? Answer: I don’t. Sometimes things come up and they mess with your schedule and you can’t plan on someone being in the ER or needing the bathroom at a store.
Basically, this process can help you turn around your thinking and potentially defuse your emotions at the same time.
8. Get up and move
Physically changing your environment can make a difference. With the shift in environment can come a change in mind-set, says Dr. Martinez.
9. Think about the best-case scenario
It’s easy to worry about the worst-case scenario, which is why Dr. Tyler likes to try to think about the best-case scenario. “Just thinking or saying it gives you a moment to see how that perspective feels,” he says. “In the moment, if you have extreme negative thinking, putting the positive out there at least lets you find that balance.”
10. Talk it out
“The most powerful method of gaining perspective is to talk to someone about your concerns, whether that be with a family member, parent, or even a therapist,” Dr. Tyler says. Even shooting off a quick text to a friend about what’s stressing you out can help.
11. Meditate regularly
“Meditation is a time-tested practice for finding perspective and getting more in touch with what matters,” Klow says. “It doesn’t have to be a religious practice, but finding some time to meditate regularly can go a long way toward putting things in perspective.”
12. Be more creative on the side
Creativity can help get you used to changing your mind-set, says Mary E. May, MFT, who prefers music and dance to decompress. They “support my ability to refuel and calm my energy so that I am able to prepare” for whatever comes up in the future, she says.
13. Try therapy
“Therapists need their own therapy,” Dr. Carter says. “Not only is taking a turn on the other side of the sofa helpful to get perspective, but the experience of being a therapy client builds empathy for how uncomfortable it can feel to be vulnerable and ask for help.”
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