How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is such a familiar strategy to me. Do you know the feeling? It's all too much, you don't know where to start, there is more to do than you can possibly get done, it's all coming at you at once, you feel stuck, paralysed, overloaded, weighed down, unable to choose between two or many more tasks, confronted with insurmountable obstacles, as if you're wading through mud. It all looks like a big mess, sounds like a bunch of noise, feels chaotic and a logical way through is not obvious.

Did you notice I just called it a strategy? It's inevitable that my coaching training will start to appear in my articles. If you tell a life coach that you're feeling overwhelmed, she is likely to ask you how choosing to run that strategy is working for you. Huh? You mean I'm choosing it? Does that imply that the answer to the question: "how do I stop feeling overwhelmed" is simply don't choose to do it?

 

 

And what about the rest of that coaching question – how is it working for you? You might think initially that it obviously isn't working for you, but on closer inspection you will find that running this strategy or pattern is working for you on some level. There is a payoff. We're getting something out of it.

What could we possibly be getting out of it? There are endless possibilities. Some possible secondary gains are getting attention, having an excuse to avoid things, the ability to blame externals rather than take responsibility, creating drama, being right, making others feel guilty, forcing a decision we are unwilling to make consciously or know is not best for us, taking an easy way out. Getting out of our automatic thinking and looking deeper for these possibilities is a very valuable thing to do. It can be confronting and uncomfortable to consider these possibilities. If so, you may well be onto something.

Why on earth would we engage in such ridiculous behaviour and make things difficult for ourselves like this? Surely we are smart enough not to fall for such illogical and silly reasons for making a choice which does not serve us. This is where it gets really interesting. There are deeper reasons for the things we do which are not always easy to see. There may be fears or beliefs affecting us which we are not consciously aware of.

Whilst addressing these deeper issues is a wonderful goal and well worth pursuing, we can make massive improvements to how we are functioning in our lives simply by being aware that these things exist.

So getting back to feeling overwhelmed, or choosing to run an overwhelm strategy, simply being aware that we have a choice and that there is a reason we have been making this choice opens up new options and possibilities to us.

You can ask yourself how you do it. How do you know when to start doing the overwhelm? What is the first step you take? What do you tell yourself? What happens in your body?

When identifying what you tell yourself, for example "I'm too tired, I'll never get all that done, it's just too much for me, I'm too depressed, how do they possibly expect me to cope with all that, it isn't fair, I can't believe nobody else has touched this, they'll be sorry if I get sick and can't do anything, I just need a week off to get it done properly, I'll be able to start when ..blah blah... is sorted out, and blah blah is not my fault and out of my control, I haven't got the right coloured pens, if only the widgets weren't so crooked and faulty I'd be able to do it, why doesn't somebody see how much stress I'm under....." you might feel embarrassed, ashamed, in denial, surprised and so on. You will see clues to your secondary gains.

What do you see when you look at the stuff that is overwhelming you? Do you see an insurmountable, impossible situation that nobody could possibly deal with? Do you see the scariest pile of papers in the universe? Or is it just, for example, stuff which can be put away in cupboards, possibly fill a mini skip, fill four boxes for the charity shop. Or just a pile which you are pretty sure contains the gas bill, the note that tells you which day is your child's library day, some class notes you'd like to file so you can easily refer to them and 70% stuff you can glance at and chuck out. Do you see a wardrobe or closet bulging with pain and misery and evidence of your shortcomings, or just some clothes that don't fit you, some that were a bad selection, some that need cleaning and repairing and some that you love and wear often.

When you recognize these things going on, it's not a reason to give yourself more negative talk and start blaming and criticizing yourself. You need not choose to use this as evidence to back up some silly belief that you are all useless. Instead, you can recognize that it took some guts for you to face this, and that you are pretty cool to be brave enough to really have a go at looking outside your little box of familiarity. You can choose to see that this is exciting and means you have other options.

What if you chose to find it hilariously funny, to be amused and laugh out loud at the crazy things you've been telling yourself. What if the fact that it seems so funny, simple, harmless and small means that it's easy for you to take control? What if?

What if you could think of different things to tell yourself which were empowering? What if you look at how you approach your life as a game, and have fun seeing how well you can do. What if you just wondered how sane you could be today, and took pleasure in every little victory, and noticed victories all over the place.

"I put a load of washing on – yay! Clap, cheer, woo hoo!"

"I'm making my bed! I'm so awesome. Thanks me. That will be nice tonight."

"I'm choosing to pay this bill now, because I'm so amazing I know this one matters the most right now and all those other papers don't have any power over me, they're just paper."

"Yeeee har! I just made that phone call I'd been dreading and it only took five minutes and hardly hurt at all."

"I'm on such a roll here I might just walk the dog. It'll feel good. Yeah, why not. Here boy..."

Does that make you feel silly? Does it feel good? Do you feel any resistance?

What if you did feel some resistance but you chose to do it anyway, because you can see that you will do better choosing the new way, and that the resistance is just some fear nagging at you. Fear that stops you walking into traffic protects you. Fear that stops you getting on with your life – well, that's a whole other article, but well, it won't hurt you – you can just choose to feel it and carry on anyway.

And here's a nice little piece of logic for you: If you feel emotional discomfort about doing something you know you need to do or want to do, the discomfort abates after you have taken the action. If you wait for the discomfort to disappear before you act, you will be waiting a long time and you will not experience change. Aha! Could you be avoiding experiencing change? Hmmmm...

So what breaks the cycle of overwhelm? Taking action of course. As I've mentioned before, don't decide to quit your job, send that email, buy that car, end that relationship etc when you're feeling angry, depressed etc. Important decisions require a clear head. But you need not let emotion hold you up from taking that box to the charity shop, doing the dishes, tidying up that cupboard, getting those tax papers together or emptying that rubbish bin.

The no brainer stuff where a perfectly good decision is already made, i.e. you show up for work, you follow certain procedures, you shower every day, you eat, you exercise, you tidy up after yourself, you read your study material, you take an action step on a project – does not have to be re-thought or re-considered every time it comes up. You just need to take action, and not allow your hilariously funny overwhelm strategy to get in your way.

Hey, leave a comment and share the silliest, funniest self talk you've used when running your own overwhelm strategy.

Comments 

 
+1 # Mrs Fusspot 2011-03-03 06:57
Nice to hear from you again Yvette. I realised that my completely immobilising overwhelm strategy gets other people to do things. So now I just ask for others to help as I go along, even if it's stuff I could do and have time to do. It's better that I focus on the stuff that I can't ask others to do and will eventually overwhelm me if I don't do them - I'm only doing all the little things that other people can do to avoid doing the big important things anyway!
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+1 # LS 2011-03-03 08:31
Hi Yvette,

This is a really encouraging article!
Exactly what I need as my wardrobe is bulging with clothes that I need to attend to, the washing and ironing are way behind, not to even mention the paperwork. This has been such an overwhelming burden!

And it really made me laugh to know that I am not the only one postponing work/paperwork because I dont have the "right" stationary :-)

My selftalk ranges from: I'll do it this evening when I am not so busy, and then: I'll do it on the weekend when I am not so tired and then: it is not really that bad - I can't do it all whilst working secularly! Which does not help as I feel guilty about it all the time. Yikes - everything is in a bit of a mess but I am quite determined to stop feeling sorry for myself and get myself into gear!

Thanks for a great article - making me recognize this as a strategy - my choice, was quite the eye opener. I am forwarding this one to my husband as we are both in this rut and in actual fact, we both hate a mess.

Many thanks for this.
LS
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0 # Jeannie Nelson 2011-03-03 09:21
The only times I have ever felt overwhelmed is when I am not able to maintain my "schedule"........I do much better/get much more accomplished when I can stay on a routine........i.e., doing certain things on certain days of the week/certain times of the day. For instance, I have been terribly ill for the last month, on the verge of pneumonia. I hardly did ANYTHING....just kept up with dirty dishes and some laundry.

But my self-talk when something like that happens is usually "I want this all done and I want it all done NOW!!! But, I found that when the self-determination kicks in, the routines and schedules come back in to focus and things get back to my "normal"......LOL! And I get very motivated but try not to overdo anything. I like to take my time and do things properly and completely, notwithstanding perfection.....that never happens but get as close as I can so the tasks don't have to be redone or repeated.

I love one thing my husband says about routine things....."It's easier to keep up than catch up".......That thought escapes me sometimes but when I remind myself, getting caught up is the motivating factor so that the next time it gets easier........Hope this makes sense!;-)
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0 # KATIA 2011-03-03 13:30
My word! this just HIT home! What a brilliant and constructive email!

WELL DONE - you have summed up my life and now i need to go - got something i need to take care of NOW!
:-)
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0 # mica 2011-03-03 20:04
I love your gentle, disarming and logic persuasion to change ingrained habits.
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+1 # Carol 2011-03-05 21:08
Thank you! I really identified with the negative self talk, I just never realized thats what was causing my feelings of being overwhelmed. I would say to myself, "I just don't feel like it today, no one cares anyway. Or there's no way I'll ever get it caught up with my small children underfoot" I didn't realize being overwhelmed was my own strategy for not having to deal with things, but that makes perfect sense when i think about it.
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0 # christy 2011-03-06 01:02
What a great article, Yvette. So insightful. While I may not have a silly store to share, I can tell you that the most empowering self-talk I regularly engage in is simply to say "I can do this." And then when the hard task is completed I cheer and say "Yay, ME!" Thanks again for the inspiring email.
Christy
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+1 # TishXu 2011-03-07 00:56
Wow, talk about tough love. Pow!! Thank you though. I realize now that my biggest issue is feelings of being unappreciated, unsupported, and frequently taken advantage of. The thing is that I only feel overwhelmed when things get out of control, and it gets out of control because **I** am not doing my part for one reason or another. And when things are going well, everybody works together, we are happy as a whole, and everybody does their part because they can see what their part is.
I have the perfect opportunity to use the strategy of anti-overwhelmism as things are in quite disarray after many of us taking turns being sick.
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0 # Les S 2012-04-01 06:14
Thanks for your articles Yvette. Always enjoy reading them and it helps to realize that I am not the only one with "getting things done" problems. I do achieve a lot in my day in that I am very organized. My problem is that I spend my life organizing and creating systems and keeping a spotless home and garden but my problem is that I do not find time for my hobbies and interests. It dawned on me the other day that it might very well be that I see doing my patchwork and quilting and decoupage etc as a self-indulgent treat and I am probably denying myself that luxury. Every day I tell myself that I am going to sew today but before I do that I must just clean this or organize that and put away that and this goes on all day till I am tired, it is late and I have not picked up a sewing needle which is the one thing I truly want to do. It is obviously some sort of guilt thing that I feel I cannot afford to spend time enjoying myself. Even tho I think I have hit the nail on the head, I am battling to change my daily pattern. Aren't we humans crazy things!!!
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0 # michele 2012-07-30 11:51
Hi and thank you for your article--like a lot of people I suppose I'd like to add it's nice to know that I'm not the only one dealing with this internal stress. I've been dragging my butt out of bed every single a.m. and instantly it starts: gotta scoop the cat litter box, but wait, that's dirty work, should do those dishes from last nite instead, then a bunch of other chores that I need to get to...etc. And then trying to fit some exercise in there (dealing with a chronic medical condition that makes it hard to feel like even doing five minutes alot of days) and having the energy to keep up with my teenage daughter and husband-- but hey some changes in attitude and routine could make things run more smoothly. You have some good advice and I feel like you've "walked the walk" so thanks for the eye opener, and good luck to everybody!
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0 # Noon 2012-11-16 20:49
:-)I have followed this advice and can see that I am improving !!!
I love gardening. So I tell myself if I start and complete task A, B and C which might take about three hours then I allow myself to play in the garden for one to two hours.
Thanks Yvette

Noon
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