I thought I’d connect with you today to Help us Find Happiness by looking at overwhelm and exploring what it actually is.
How do we know that we are in overwhelm? And most importantly, what do we do about it when we discover that we are in it? Let’s look at this more clearly.
What actually is overwhelm?
I’m sure if I asked you have you experienced it, your answer would be “Yes, I have.” Perhaps you’d even shudder, and perhaps you’re even experiencing a degree of it right now?
Overwhelm is a strong emotional uprise of feelings, and it can be a variety of different feelings, and when they rise up they outmatch what we believe our ability to cope with that situation and those feelings actually is.
It’s where we have beliefs about a situation that gives rise to really strong waves of negative emotion. And it’s when we believe that that emotion outmatches our ability to cope with the situation.
So what are some of the signs of overwhelm?
Most people will start to feel signs and symptoms way before overwhelm actually peaks. And yet sometimes, we’re not so aware that we are heading towards overwhelm.
The early signs that we are in overwhelm are anxiety, irritability, frustration and rising feelings of guilt, perhaps even shame. We’ll start to have experiences of one or all of those emotions.
Now in and of themselves, they are quite normal emotions. And when we know ourselves, we can work with those. But what happens is if we keep getting life experiences coming to us, or we’re not dealing with those emotions when they’re smaller? The emotional wave builds up and it can be a bit like a tsunami for some people where we just get totally swamped by these powerful waves of emotions.
Another sign that you’re going into stronger overwhelm is if you want to lash out at someone. If that frustration builds into anger and you find yourself lashing out at different people. Or when the guilt gets so intense you want to start hiding away from the world. Another sign that you’re in overwhelm is crying or that rising up feeling of needing to cry.
Another sign is the unpredictability of our moods and that they’re increasingly uncontrollable. Normally in our day-to-day state we might have the capacity to control our moods and to control our emotions. When we start to lose this control, that is a sign that we are heading into overwhelm and should take action before we do actually tip over
And for some people, overwhelm happens very fast and they end up having panic attacks. There’s very little space between feeling and response.
Overwhelm is not just a response to large life events such as job loss, or when we get massive unexpected bills, or a medical diagnoses. It doesn’t have to be huge events that tip us into overwhelm. It can be these, but sometimes it’s more of an accumulation over time.
I know as a single mum when life is full and I get interrupted sleep: and I’ve got to pack lunches, I’ve got to come up with healthy meals on a budget, I’ve got to do the shopping, I’m self-employed, I’ve got to promote my business, I’ve got to pay all my bills, guide the kids, drive the kids here and there etc. There’s creep over time that adds to that overwhelm.
For me, overwhelm usually comes when I am feeling worn down and tired. I often find that overwhelm leads to exhaustion… and exhaustion leads to overwhelm
What action can we take when we experience overwhelm? Here are 7 actions to take to decrease your experience of overwhelm.
ONE: ACCEPT WHERE YOU ARE
For me the number one thing that I have to do to get myself beyond overwhelm, and it’s the number one thing I help clients do is to sit and accept where you are. One of the major things we do is to fight these feelings and we set up this massive tug of war between our inner state and where we want to be.
This adds fuel to our overwhelm! We don’t want to be feeling these feelings. We don’t want to be out of control. We don’t want to be grumpy. We don’t want to be uptight. We want to be somewhere else. Now that “wanting’ and “not wanting” sets up a resistance, and it makes sure that it actually stays. There’s a beautiful saying, what we resist persists. So number one thing to do when you notice that this overwhelm is building or that you discover you are right in it is to accept where you are. That brings a state of ease to your emotions. It doesn’t necessarily shift the emotions. But it makes it easier to be with this state.
TWO: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE FEELING & CHANGE THE THOUGHTS
So number two for me, when I find myself in overwhelm, and with clients, is to sit with the feelings to understand what they actually are, and then to change the thoughts. It will go something like this “Okay, I’m in this place, I can see that… okay (acceptance), I’m in this place of overwhelm… (then I start watching)… What are the thoughts coming around in here that are creating the feelings, these then create more thoughts and more feelings (and around and around it spirals)… What are the thoughts?..”
Now, one of the most powerful ways that I like to change my thought patterns once I’ve recognised what they are, I ask two questions of those thoughts, of those beliefs. The first question I ask is “what’s the problem with that? And I keep asking that question and see where the answers take me in self-understanding. The second question I ask is, “is that thought true?
Most of the time our beliefs are hidden inside of us and they’re unquestioned. So those two questions become very powerful questions to undo what’s holding us in overwhelm by what we’re thinking and believing onto the situation or onto the person. Another thing I suggest, and I do this myself, is to enact first aid. What does that mean when we’re overwhelmed? For me it’s the first piece of first aid I do. Like when you cut your finger and you rush for a Band-Aid or you apply pressure. Well, I connect with my breath. I instantly stop what I’m doing. Close my eyes and connect with my breath.
This is really powerful because it takes us out of the past, out of the future and into now. Of course it helps if you have this as an established every day practice like I do. But nonetheless, even if you don’t, tuning in to your breath will assist because we hold our breath when we’re in flight and fight response and deep breathing tells the body that you’re okay, as the body will not deep breath when stressed in any way. So we are consciously telling the body through the breathing action that it can relax.
THREE: TAKE TIME OUT
The other thing that I do as a first aid is I take timeout. Whatever is happening for me, if I can I’ll find someone to look after the kids. I’ll stop what I’m doing immediately, connect with the breath, and I take timeout. I leave whatever is creating that overwhelm. Quite often this leaving will involve heading out in to nature… even if that is simply to go in to the back yard and sit.
FOUR: REDUCE THE LOAD
The next thing to do when experiencing overwhelm is to reduce the load. For me overload always happens when I feel like I am carrying too much and it starts to feel like it’s not possible to cope with them all.
So whatever your life is made up of, reduce that load. So for me it’s asking the big kids to do more, it might be caring less about how healthy the meal is that night, letting the house get messy, the yard overgrown (or pay someone to do it for me). It’s sometimes finding a fill-in teacher to work for me, finding child care, having a few days off and away from my normal life.
FIVE: ASK FOR HELP
A big one to reduce the load is to ask for help. Get someone else to help you! And that can be tricky if we have a big connection with pride as our protector. It might be trying to protect us from feeling shame. And so asking for help can be really tricky, as can admitting that we need help and support. So its important to do what it takes to get beyond these limiting thoughts and reach out for help in any form. I’ve found that people are usually very willing to help in whatever ways they can, and if they say “no”, that’s about them and not about me and I can respect that.
SIX: RECHARGE YOUR BATTERY
Next you need to recharge your battery. When we are tired, overwhelm will be much stronger. And when in overwhelm the stress response releases huge quantities of adrenaline which leads to even more fatigue. So get out in nature, take a hot bath, have a sleep, take a holiday or day off. We’ve already talked about reducing your load and asking for help. They’re going to going to help you recharge your battery too, but deep rest is essential.
SEVEN: TAKE ACTION
And the last thing that I recommend to do when we are feeling overwhelmed is to take action. Now all of those things I’ve mentioned above are forms of action. They do walk you forward towards a positive energy. Because what’s happening in our experiences of overwhelm is that we’ve lost connection with our higher self, our deeper inner self. So taking action takes us back towards experiencing our higher self. Action can be in any form as long as it takes you out of overwhelm and towards solving the challenges you’re facing.
It can be very daunting working through overwhelm on your own. Learning what the thoughts are, where they’re coming from and how to move beyond them can be difficult as we are dealing with the subconscious self. Soul Focused Psychotherapy can help you move through these experiences and find clarity, purpose and resolution. Book your session here.
Bye for now.
Love and inner peace,