Getting Out of Overwhelm
The Anatomy and Antidote for Overwhelm
A nebulous feeling that descends around you like a cloud.
Where does it originate?
What’s its purpose?
Is it possible to get rid of it?
If you are like me and a majority of the clients I work with you are familiar with the heavy sense of overwhelm.
Overwhelm can descend on one like a heavy dark cloud. We’re not sure where it originates or what may blow it away. Yet, I’ve learned one key thing about being overwhelmed:100% of the time overwhelm is about not being present and trying to do too much at once.
Your thoughts focus too much on the past or forecasting the future. Action in the present moment is the antidote to overwhelm.
Let’s take a look at its anatomy to understand its nebulous qualities better. In my experience overwhelm comes from four primary areas:
- Real-life circumstances. The kids need to get their homework done, a work project deadline looms, the kitchen floor needs replaced, the bathroom sink is clogged and your aging father needs some additional support. Many things demand your attention at once and they all seem important.
- Cultural Expectations. The culture you live in significantly influences the expectations that you attempt to live up to. This can be a little bit like a fish swimming in toxic water. The fish doesn’t know anything different than the toxic water so it doesn’t recognize that something in the water is causing its difficulty. A culture heavy on expectations of productivity, measuring value and worth by accomplishment, and glorified busyness is a toxic pond where overwhelm is the symptom.
- Habitual Mindset. Even those who are extremely intentional about their commitments and choices in life can find themselves swept up in the toxic current of habitual overwhelm. It’s easy to fall into the thinking trap that the to-do list is the most important thing.
- Independence. This mindset crosses with the cultural expectations category. It’s the mindset of extreme independence that says I “have to do it all myself.” This can easily turn into a victim mindset where one feels it’s them against the world. Interdependence is a more effective mindset, where each person contributes to and benefits from the relationship in a way that is not possible independently.
These four characteristics are like the stem of the “overwhelm” plant. The flowers are the feeling of being overwhelmed. But what is the root?
The root of overwhelm is disconnection from self and the present moment. When we are connected to our internal intuitive guidance system it helps us stay in harmony with healthy commitments and expectations. It doesn’t play into the shoulds and awards society affirms for being busy.
“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”
The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said this. It reminds us of the power of stillness and presence when facing a world that often feels too much to handle. It suggests that by quieting the mind, you can gain clarity and a sense of control over external chaos.
So come back to your center.
Take a breath.
Grab a notebook and pen. Stop to notice how the pen feels in your hand. Then write down all of the things that are feeling heavy right now.
Sort your list into two categories: What can I control, what can’t I control? Be mindful to remember you are always at choice. It’s a choice to stay at the job that causes you grief because you have convinced yourself there are no other options. (Fixed mindsets can be fixed with a coach’s support!)
For the things you can’t control: put the list in a jar or envelope labeled “I’m inviting a new more empowering perspective on this list.”
Of the items you can control: choose one action for each. What can you do today to influence that item? Let that be enough. If there’s nothing you can do today then schedule an action when it is possible and let it go.
Here are some additional great questions to ask:
- What can I let go of completely?
- What can I start doing that will empower me?
- What can I change to simplify life?
Now, what wisdom emerged as you sorted through the items of overwhelm on your list?
Stories of my choices to move out of overwhelm:
I’ve experienced being overwhelmed many times in my life. It has been a journey learning to listen to my inner guidance and stay present. Here are some real ways I did that!
- I changed jobs which required a geographical move so that I had fewer after-hours work commitments. As a single parent, this was a choice in support of myself and my kids. Interestingly, that job change came with a pay increase, a larger sphere of influence, and a slower pace of work and life.
- I limited the activities that myself and my kids were involved in. I let go of the idea that we needed to be involved in everything.
- I let go of relationships, things, and beliefs that caused drama in my life….the friend who only wanted to complain about all their problems and drained my energy, the business idea that took more energy and effort than was realistic, and doing things because others thought I should.
- I simplified. Then simplified some more. One of the ways I did this was by decluttering my house of material possessions that didn’t add value to my life anymore. It took me 3 years of intentional consistent decluttering to arrive at the level of possessions that felt light and enjoyable.
Today, when overwhelmed emerges, I pause. Sometimes it comes to my attention through tears and feeling sorry for myself. Just like it did this weekend when I looked at a garageful of my material possessions that is ready to be sorted even further. Another layer of possessions is ready to be released. As I came back into focus and connection with myself I remembered: It doesn’t have to be all done right now. It doesn’t have to be done “perfectly,” and I can ask for help.
Please send me a note at email@example.com. Let me know what strategies you have found for moving out of overwhelm. I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, consider registering for my next Quarterly Self-Check In. Take 90 minutes a quarter to pause, reflect, and be intentional about the next 90 days ahead.
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