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.
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