Ask Deepak: How to Find Balance When You're Feeling Overwhelmed
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.Q: I am 43 years old, experiencing a major life crisis, which is like a spiritual awakening or personal metamorphosis of some kind. My world is crashing in around me, and I feel like a sinking ship. My 20-year marriage is defunct and perhaps has always been. I quit my job. My husband is working like a mad man trying to build a business. He is a recovering addict and completely immersed in his new venture, which makes him 100 percent absent. We have no health insurance and no savings, we hold astronomical debt, and my elderly parents are filing for bankruptcy. I have gained 25 pounds, and the thought of what it will take to try and break free is so overwhelming that I can hardly move, let alone determine what direction to move in.
Where is God? How do I access him? I believe this is a lifelong pattern for me, and that there are many things coming to the surface that I must move through in order to heal, but I don't know how. I am an intuitive, intelligent, healthy, compassionate person who must have something to offer somewhere. I wish I knew how to turn my brain off. No matter what it is I am doing or committed to, I end up hating it. It's a major mental battle to get going or keep with it. My brain just gets totally jammed up with all the overwhelming details.
I suspect I may be somehow broken or unable to change. I have come to believe the only hope is a spiritual awakening of some kind, and I don't have any idea of how to find that. Currently I feel like the universe is just telling me to "slow down" and "be quiet," and that is what I am doing. But how am I to know for sure? It is in my nature to be a slacker and a quitter, lacking any sort of self-discipline or routine. I feel like my thoughts are like a pingpong game inside my head. Help!
— Andriene S., Gig Harbor, Washington
I think it's good to publish your letter at length, even though it could be compressed into two words: feeling overwhelmed. The whirl of words, emotions, beliefs, worries and doubts that fills your letter is the definition of feeling overwhelmed, and we get the sense of a mind that has lost its bearings. Nothing you speak about has escaped the whirlwind; therefore, we need to still the whirlwind first and foremost. Let's leave God and spirituality out of it for the moment. Those are a desperate reach at this point.
I would approach this first as a physical imbalance. In the system of traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurveda, one of the basic elements in a person's makeup is known as Vayu, or wind. It gives rise to a quality known as Vata, the aspect of mind and body associated with spontaneity, change, resilience and vitality. When Vata is out of balance, all the symptoms you mention arise: restlessness, worry, confusion, indecision, anxiety and a general inability to settle down or see straight. I am not asking you to adopt a new worldview, only to see that what feels like a host of problems in fact has a single root. (You can check my book, Perfect Health, if you want to know more about Ayurveda in detail.)
Because you are drastically out of balance, you have lost every trace of stability. I know external circumstances are quite difficult. An overload of stress is the most common reason Vata goes out of balance. You feel uprooted and tossed about by every little wave. We need to get you planted back on the ground again, which begins with planting yourself back in your body again. Take this advice seriously. Don't obey your instincts right now. They are severely off kilter. Here is a two-part program for you that is also applicable to anyone carried away by worry and stress.
Release yourself from your symptoms. When you have a surge of fear or anxiety, lie down and rest. Don't act on impulse. Slow down. Stop criticizing your husband and burdening him with your troubles. When you begin to feel self-pity, don't indulge those feelings. Turn to something else, like housework or even television. If you feel like complaining or whining, stop yourself. All these measures are like putting the brakes on a runaway car. In this case, the mind is the car, and you can't stop it with one tap of the brakes. You have to begin to gain some distance and clarity. Imbalance makes that hard, but you must try.
Take positive steps to regain balance. Begin with a steady routine, however much you have avoided it in the past. Go to bed at regular hours. Cook and eat meals on time. Make sure you get out of bed only after you've gotten at least seven hours of sleep. Clean the house and provide a neat, reassuring environment for yourself. To settle your mind, read books on healing, take time to walk every day, associate with calmer, more secure people. Find a confidant you can trust to give you sound advice. Stop associating with those who bring you down by making your situation seem hopeless, or whose problems only compound yours. If possible, find a close friend who has compassion and can offer you kindness.
On the physical side, Ayurveda recommends daily massage with sesame oil. You can find details online or from the book I mentioned, not to mention Ayurvedic clinics that have cropped up throughout the country. Avoid stimulants like tobacco and alcohol. Ultimately, however, the biggest step will be to stop panicking and take seriously the understanding that your healing lies in your own hands. I deeply sympathize with your difficult situation. If you can bring yourself back into balance, the chances of finding solutions to these other problems will greatly increase.
How to stop feeling out of control
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Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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