"The First Eighty Years are the Hardest: Feeling, Dealing, Healing" - Mary Roush
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Emotional First Aid: How to Keep it Together When You Are Falling Apart

Depression Woman with Kleenex
Have you ever noticed how Life sometimes delivers a "lightning round" of challenges, one right after the other? It is possible to spiral to a level of emotional "tilt" where it seems like every aspect of your life is falling apart. You can get to such a crisis point that you don't even have the presence of mind to stop and know where to start. Paralysis may set in and all you can do is sit on the couch with a frozen stare of overwhelm. Days become nights filled with depression, apathy, anxiety, isolation, and confusion.

Here is a suggested place to start when you feel like you have enough composure to start to put one foot in front of the other.

1) Get help. You need and deserve some help. Confide in a friend; talk with a therapist. Just share what is going on for you. You don't have to be "fixed;" it can be a comfort to share the weight of your burden with another human being.

2) Narrow your focus down to just today.  Do only what is in front of you. Simplify. Stop replaying yesterday and stop practicing tomorrow. Manage your life one hour at a time, one day at a time. Chunk your life down into manageable bits. "What am I in control of? What am I not in control of?" Simplify. Breathe... You need to conserve what little energy you have left and use it for yourself.

3) Be gentle and nurturing toward yourself. If your best friend was going through this, how would you support her? Support yourself this way. Breathe in to a count of three; breathe out to a count of five. Do this four times a day. Buy yourself flowers.

4) Eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, try to move your body even if it's just to go for a walk and get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure every day. You need the Vitamin D from the sun.

5) Remember that this kind of crisis warps your sense of time. You will fear that you will never come through the other end of this. You will. "This, too, shall pass." Don't quit before your miracle. Get back into today. Now. This minute. Breathe...

6) If you have any kind of spiritual belief system, get back to it. Read an inspirational book, something that will put you back into "the big picture" of Life and the Universe. Pray, meditate, light a candle, journal about it. Write every worry down onto a piece of paper, fold it and put it in your "Let Go, Let God" bag. If you are agnostic or atheist, do it anyway and call the bag something else. The act of writing it all down on separate small pieces of paper helps to organize, and it imposes some appropriate perspective to what feels like a huge brown overwhelming cloud. It helps you to feel bigger than your problems.

7) Do a mental or written gratitude list. I know you might be mad and you don't feel like being grateful. Do it anyway. Just look around for a minute and recognize a few small or large things you are grateful for. Related to this, perform some act of kindness today, preferably for a stranger and do it anonymously if you can.

8) It is OK to withdraw; just don't isolate. You can go within, be quiet and be alone. It is a common response to want to contract and pull inward. The fetal position under the covers can be comforting. Just be sure you come out and bathe, eat, drink water and do your life whenever you can.

These occasional periods of "too much" are a normal part of Life for those of us who are showing up to do our lives. Get some support. This is why friendships are made. Every now and then, we need to actually call in and enlist the benefits of the friendships we have built. They are not there just for movie companionship.

I would love to hear from you about how you have navigated troubled waters in the past. Please share your tools for getting through the hard times.

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This article is a keeper!

Tom Adams

Great ideas! This stuff works to get through the seemingly unbearable "hardtimes".


Great stuff, as always! Thanks, Kris!

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Mike,
Thanks so much for being a loyal reader!

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi, Tom and Amy!
I am so glad you find my tips helpful! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it!

Mary Maulsby

I'm going through one of those wonderful lightening rounds right now! Thanks for reminding me to breathe and to simplify. It beats staring at the wall in overwhelm.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Yay, Mary!
Your comment made it this time! And I am so sorry this is a "tilt" time for you. You are so good at remembering the big spiritual picture; I am sure you will come through this time with grace.
Much love back to you,


Hello Kristin,

Thank you a lot for this article. It seems I'm having the "too much" period of life right now and these tips really made me feel better. I also believe that intense physical activity is one of the key points in overcoming these hard days.

The problem is that when you find yourself in the ""falling apart" condition, you tend to think and analyze a lot. You start dwelling on your past mistakes and become uncertain about your future.

And a physical activity helps you to focus all your attention on the present moment. I recommend jogging, swimming and, especially, taking some martial arts classes. Why? Because martial arts training requires the most attention from you. If you start dwelling on your thoughts during the training, you may simply get punched or kicked in the face. Yes, it may be a little bit tough, but a martial arts class gives your mind 1-2 hours of rest from all the negative thoughts.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hey Alex,
I am so sorry this is a tough time for you. I am sure you will move through it just fine. I totally agree with your suggestion about the value of physical activity. Research shows it cab be as or more efffective for depression than either anti-depressants or talk therapy. And we're not just talking about a short burst of endorphins, either.
I think my article was trying to address the more acute, initial stage of overwhelm. As soon as one feels able to exert any kind of energy and can get past that paralyzing inertia, I think exercise is great. Thanks so much for your comment, Alex!


Hi Kristin,

Your list is so right on for me. I'm currently in therapy and my therapist has suggested some of those same points. Makes a big positive difference.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Debby,
Thanks so much for confirming that these tips are helpful for you.
I wish you the best!


Hello Kris,
I recently made a big move to another state and seem to be in the spiral "tilt". Since I haven't made friends out here yet, I didn't have anyone close to talk to. Things got real hard for me and I ended up on medication to help. I also started seeing a therapist, which also helped me to see that the move was a lot better for not only myself but my children. There is nothing wrong with seeking help if you are are overwhelmed. We all need someone to let us know that everything will be alright and to have someone to understand us. The breathing technique really does help let go of the stress we feel in our daily life. I love reading your posts when I get a chance because they help me to see I am not alone. Thank you, Kris.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Sharlene,
Wow, moving to a new state where you don't know anyone is a big step. I can appreciate that it can be overwhelming and I am so glad you gave yourself the gift of seeing a therapist to lend yourself some support! Yes, it will all be OK, particularly if you can remind yourself to stay in the now.
I was once lamenting to my mother on a Thanksgiving day about all the pressures I was experiencing. She listened patiently and then finally interrupted with, "And today is Thursday." This is my new daily mantra - every day of the week.
I am so glad you find the posts helpful. Your comment helps me to be re-invigorated and to start publishing more regularly now.
Thank you!

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