Jennifer: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice.

Marie: My name is Dr. Marie Fang. I’m a licensed clinical psychologist practicing at Life Christian Counseling in San Jose, California. I’m passionate about all facets of identity and fostering a sense of unity in my patients’ lives and the world around me. My areas of specialty include the anxieties that can arise around not “fitting in” in its various forms, particularly for those who’ve endured spiritual trauma, racism and homophobia.

Jennifer: What are some of the symptoms that patients who are struggling with anxiety and feelings of overwhelm might present?

Marie: There are an array of presentations of anxiety and overwhelm. However, I primarily look for disruptions in daily living: disrupted sleep, eating habits, relationships, concentration, work flow, etc. Anxiety has a way of slowly creeping into our lives and creating a mess all around us if left unaddressed, and it’s usually pretty easy to see that mess manifesting in the day-to-day of life.

Jennifer: Describe some concrete strategies that you might use to help a patient struggling with feeling overwhelmed by a bunch of life stressors.

Marie: Usually, there’s a two-punch strategy:

First, we start simply by removing stressors that can be rid of, even if just temporarily. Often many of the items we keep on our plate that stress us out the most are not necessary for us to participate in. I also notice that self-care items tend to be the first activities we bump off of our routine in order to make room for our to-do lists. For example, not exercising as often in order to have time to contribute to your child’s bake sale.

I like to focus on finding ways to delegate and offload the unnecessary stressors and reincorporate self-care activities. And in some cases, we need to find ways to discover self-care activities if an individual doesn’t have enough at the ready in their toolbox yet.

Second, we need to address the deeper sources of the issue. Sometimes anxiety is simply a natural result of a rough season of life: navigating caring for a newborn, caring for an elderly family member, going through a divorce, etc. Some seasons of life naturally pull more of our energy than others and we simply need to practice more self-care during that season.

In other cases, we are anxious as a result of an on-going pattern that runs deeper than simply managing our time well. Maybe we have learned to put others’ needs before our own, or we believe that our value comes from what we are able to produce rather than inherent to who we are. We need to identify any inaccurate beliefs we may be operating from that are often the source of some of our anxieties.

Jennifer: What theoretical orientations inform your practice?

Marie: I am rather eclectic, pulling from different theories depending on what I find would be most helpful to the individual I’m working with for the season they’re in. Primarily though I tend to combine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies with more Psychodynamic approaches.

As in my two-part punch described earlier, we often need to address some surface level items first to alleviate some anxiety and then allow ourselves to address what lies deeper to make lasting changes.

Jennifer: How do you personally cope when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed?

Marie: I am rather prone to growing overwhelmed. Particularly, being in large groups of people for prolonged periods tends to drain my energy and I can start to feel anxious about other aspects of my life.

For me personally, prioritizing time on my own is absolutely necessary for my mental health, whether it’s time alone at home, gardening, on a hike or one-on-one with a loved one.

I’ve learned over the years not to wait until I start to feel overwhelmed to schedule my self-care, but I have it built into my routine more as a preventative measure. Doing so also helps me feel recharged so I can find those times in big groups less overwhelming once I’m there, and instead I can be present and enjoy the time with others.

Jennifer: What are some helpful things that you would say to a client who feels completely overwhelmed and like they have too much on their plate?

Marie: Sometimes I’m surprised by the power of validation. Above all else – more than all the tips and strategies to help us cope with overwhelmed feelings – we usually feel most cared for when someone sees us and says, “Wow, your life sounds completely overwhelming right now.”

Before we hastily move into addressing the issues at hand, I prioritize pausing in the overwhelmed space and noticing out loud with my clients just how much really is on their plate. It breaks down the barriers of insecurities that say, “I shouldn’t be feeling so badly about my life,” and replaces it with the peace that says, “It’s normal that I feel this way. I’m not the only one.”