Overwhelm & Getting Back Into Control
It may be a fleeting moment of disorganized chaos. Perhaps it’s an exhausting day filled with more demands than you can cope with. Maybe it is an extended period of time in your life when big things are happening that require a lot from you emotionally and physically. This could be an illness, a big change like moving, trouble in interpersonal relationships, a newborn or other family issues or maybe financial problems. It’s that moment when you feel too drained to cope and it’s difficult to see you way through. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one to experience these feelings, as with many of us, overwhelm visits me often.
Overwhelm can take shape in many ways and visit for many different reasons.
- Everything is happening at once and you feel out of control – as though the slightest thing could push you over the edge.
- You feel like everyone is demanding more from you than you have to give and you feel depleted.
- You feel your heart is pounding heavily in your chest as you struggle to breathe and get through the moment.
- Your mind is racing, rational thinking dissolves and emotion engulfs you.
- You are about to burst into tears, scream or lose control.
- You experience the intense feeling of pressure building up all around you.
As a mother with a young, bustling family – all with their unique set of needs and stages, a husband who constantly travels for work, a new business that my heart & soul is invested in (requiring enormous reserves of time and energy), continuous study (I have an insatiable thirst for ‘more knowledge’) and because I’m a sensitive soul who requires time alone in order to rejuvenate & recharge, life gets messy often! I know I’m not alone on this.
Overwhelm shows up in my life when I take on too much at once, expect too much of myself, aim for perfection, push myself too hard, put myself last, allow the noise of the outside world to disturb me, get sucked into the social media vortex, get my priorities all wrong, stretch myself too thin, neglect self care and sometimes it shows up due to circumstances completely out of my control.
HOW TO EMBRACE OVERWHELM RATHER THAN FIGHT IT
What if you were to think of your life as the ocean?
There are times when the ocean is still and calm and all is well. You glide along choosing the pace and direction you wish.
There are other times when the seas are stormy and wild. Fighting the waves is exhausting and unproductive.
There are also many times when the ferocious waves that crash through our days are created not by the sea, but simply by the crazy and unnecessary flapping about we all love to do!
Fighting the waves is exhausting and unproductive.
I challenge you to start allowing the overwhelm to wash over you. See it for what it is and simply allow it to happen. I recognize the ferociousness of the waves is not always in my control. My mindset, however, is totally in my control.
The way I care for myself, so I have more strength and resilience, is also completely up to me. We have the power to stop flapping about and creating overwhelm where it isn’t necessary!
DAILY STRATEGIES TO SURF THE SEA OF OVERWHELM
Some are for getting through the moment once you’re in it, others are long haul survival tips – both are important.
Sounds so simplistic. You might nod and sigh “Yeah, I heard this one before.” But when overwhelm kicks in our breath gets fierce and short and we often feel like we are suffocating.
Close your eyes. Get a sense of where your panic resides in your body (for me it’s my head and sometimes my stomach), you can place your hands there or gently on your stomach.
Feel the breath go in through your nose, slow and gentle. Expand your tummy. Feel the breath move to that part of your body where the panic resides – imagine your breath sweeping the overwhelm with it as it moves through your body and then push it out as you exhale.
Already two or three of these cleansing breaths will help calm and nourish your nervous system. If you keep a bottle of lavender essential oil handy, 1 drop in your palms, rubbed together (or on a tissue) and inhaled deeply can be instantly grounding and calming at once.
The situation will not have magically resolved, but your coping mechanism will be greatly improved and that is what it’s all about.
Another obvious one that is both a preventative and a curative. I know many of you reading will be ready to skip past this as you don’t believe you could have time in your crazy, busy day to ‘sit and do nothing’.
I thought so too! Then I downloaded 8 of my favorite, short, guided meditations (from various courses I’ve done) onto my iPhone. I have ones for gaining clarity, energizing, healing, cleansing, creativity and some are simply to calm the mind and body.
They usually take no more than 10 mins – about the same amount of time we easily lose, being sucked into the vortex of social media (which can make overwhelm feel even worse).
Ten minutes spent on re-balancing my mind & nervous system is so much more appealing but it requires me to make that choice.
I also use two apps on my iPhone ‘Headspace’ & ‘Smiling mind’ (I’m sure there are plenty more) and both have exercise as short as two minutes.
If you need to hide in the bathroom to do it – so be it. If you have to switch on the tv for the kids – so be it. If you have to set them an impossible task so you can have a moment – so be it. But it is important to make this time for yourself. If you really can’t escape the kids – involve them.
Turn off the lights, get everyone comfortable and turn it in to a game. Who can keep their body the most still and listen to the guided meditation? I’m a huge fan of introducing meditation to children from a young age. These little bedtime mini-meditations are a great way to introduce it to little ones.
3. See The Humor Wherever Possible
Difficult I know, especially if you are not in that headspace. Try to imagine yourself laughing about it with friends and imagine telling the story over a coffee and laughing about how ridiculous life can be!
We can take ourselves and our lives way too seriously sometimes.
Imagine the funny story it will one day be to tell your grandchildren about “the day their dad weed all over the floor and then their uncle came along and slipped on it and cracked his head on the tiles, just as their aunty thought she would swing the glass light hanging from the stairs, to see if it would bounce against the wall… while grandma’s tea towel -that she threw in a panic – set alight on the gas cooker … (yes – true story! I think there may have been some vomit in there too … hence the nude baby … which led to the wee on the floor).
Sometimes you have to laugh or you cry – both are highly recommended as they offer an excellent release of tension.
4. Ask For Help
Im still learning how to do this. It often feels easier to muddle on in overwhelm and resentment than to reach out, but the relief when you finally let it out and admit ‘I need some help’ and have a friend or partner step in can be enormous. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
5. Change Course
On those days that are snowballing from bad to worse, what would bring you joy? What is your oasis? For me it is a cup of tea, a soak in a warm bath, a swim in the ocean, a wander along the beach or being close to nature.
What about you? Maybe lay in the sun, call your best friend, get in the car and just drive for a while, abandon dinner for tonight or pack some snacks and take them into the garden.
Try doing something different. Getting stuck in a rut can lead to overwhelm, so sometimes it helps to just break away and be spontaneous. The world won’t stop, but it may help you from falling down that deep hole for today.
6. Soften Your Inner Voice
Often when we are overwhelmed our internal voice starts yelling and berating us – “this is ridiculous”, or “what the hell are you thinking?”, or “what a nightmare my life is” and last but not least: “I’m such an idiot”.
This kind of language just feeds the overwhelm. Try speaking to yourself as a friend would. Would you tell your friend their life is a mess, they are a failure and that everything is doomed? Friends offer an outside perspective and an injection of empathy and encouragement. They often help putting things in perspective.
Imagine if your best friend was in this predicament right now – what would you say to her? Those are the words you need to be hearing inside your own mind. Be gentle with yourself, you’ve been through enough!
7. Adopt Some Little Mantras And Keep Them On Repeat
Use whatever resonates with you. Some of my favourites are:
‘This too shall pass’
‘Small steps everyday’
‘Slow down, calm down, don’t worry, don’t hurry, trust the process’
‘Stop, breathe, cry if you must’
I have them pinned to the wall of my office space.
PREVENTATIVE TIPS FOR THE LONG HAUL
1. Drop Whatever You Can
Say NO. This is a tough one to execute when we are trained to be ‘people pleasers’, always searching for the approval of others.
The hard truth is: we can’t do it all.
When it all gets too much something has to give and you need to make a decision about what that will be.
If there are certain factors causing the most overwhelm then focus on those first. We often load our lives up in the belief that busy is good and that unless our lives are jam packed, we are wasting time or missing out.
I challenge you to flip that mindset and work out what truly adds value and joy to your world and what might just be adding to the “busy-ness”. As the adult in the family this is your decision to make. Try not to make life more complicated than it needs to be.
Simplify wherever possible.
2. Self Care – Fill Your Cup
When you nourish your body with nutritious foods, prioritize on having enough sleep, take care of your ‘self’ and make time for things that bring you joy, your coping mechanisms and resilience will naturally be stronger.
Know yourself well enough to read the signs of becoming rundown and know that it is in the best interest of your whole family that you take good care of yourself.
3. Learn The Lesson
Do what you can now to help yourself next time. Be organised. Thinking ahead. Plan for the unexpected.
It’s little things like keeping spare change in the car, spare nappies in your bag, buy a portable phone charger, keep a spare key with your neighbor – all little life savers that can help avoid the sense of overwhelm when everything goes wrong at once.
4. Flip Your Mindset
Rather than asking ‘why is this happening to me?’, ask yourself ‘what is this asking me to pay attention to?’. Could your overwhelm simply be drawing your attention to aspects of your life that need your attention, require change or need to be totally let go of?
Jump out of the victim mentality that keeps you stuck and ask yourself “What have I done to create this situation and what can I do differently next time to avoid this overwhelm?”.
We are often our worst enemy and create so much of our own drama and overwhelm, unnecessarily. There is huge relief in knowing you are in control of yourself and you get to choose how this life plays out.
When life circumstances happen out of our control we still have absolute control in how we perceive them, deal with them & learn from them.
- What do you plan on trying out the next time you find yourself drowning in the sea of overwhelm?
- What can you start doing now to support yourself down the track?
- Can you visualize the overwhelm washing over you rather than drowning you?
- Remember: “this too shall pass”
There are the times when it is a murky line between depression, anxiety, overwhelm and panic. If the overwhelm is starting to visit way too often and nothing is helping you through, I would strongly urge you to seek professional support.
There are many avenues to find relief and support so please don’t suffer in silence.
I hope to have inspired you to find comfort and take back control when feeling overwhelmed. I would love to hear your personal story on dealing with these situations. Feel free to connect with me by posting in the comment section below.
Photo Credit © Jay Mantri