Finding Your Way Out of Overwhelm
Work, family, school, life changes, heartbreak, breakneck news cycles. All of these external influences can definitely make someone feel overwhelmed. But what if I told you that making some internal adjustments, could help someone find a way to live that is manageable and even satisfying? If you hold your breath for too long you start gasping for air. Your only focus then is saving yourself, not finding fulfillment and certainly not helping others. This “overwhelmed-ness” might show up as disengagement with what you’re currently working on. At work, for example, you may find yourself not wanting to go in anymore, or you may no longer be interested in a project that used to excite and energize you.
In your personal life, you may find your relationships suffering. You may start to withdraw from people because you feel too burdened with what you think are your responsibilities. You may start to experience a victim mentality, like everyone is “out to get you.” Anger often accompanies this mindset. Another reaction may be apathy and an unwillingness to engage in things you used to enjoy. An opposite reaction is also common; you escape from the feeling by putting all your focus on a single task, ignoring all other tasks (or people) around you. Yet another way of escaping is to make a big life change as a way to evade the things that are currently bogging you down. Don’t get me wrong, change can be wonderful, but if you don’t deal with the issues that you’re trying to outrun, I promise that they will catch up to you in your new endeavors and relationships.
Finding A Path Out Of “Over”
Now let’s remind ourselves what not being overwhelmed feels like. Typically, when we’re not overwhelmed, we operate in a more “normal, natural” manner. We don’t get irritated so quickly and things don’t feel as dramatic. We’re not so quick to judge, instead giving time and space for things to unfold. We’re able to see more than one perspective, not just the, “I must save myself” point of view.
So how do we find that different way? First, I will ask you to breathe, slowly and intentionally. At the beginning of this article I used gasping for breath as a metaphor, but taking deep, full breaths will literally help to slow your heartrate and lower your shoulders so you can start to look at your situation clearly. When we feel overwhelmed, those feelings are pressing on our insecurities. What I mean by that is we’ve set such high expectations of ourselves that when we don’t meet them we feel like, “it’s too much” or our “plate is too full.” And then we feel badly for not meeting our expectations. If we look inside to examine what we might be overlooking, then the overwhelming feelings become right-sized and manageable.
You can start this self-examination by writing it out in a journal, but I highly recommend doing this with someone else. I suggest that the person be someone you trust, but it doesn’t have to be a close relationship like a best friend or a spouse. It’s actually better to talk with someone who is skilled or practiced at this process; such as a counselor, life coach, or spiritual teacher. The most important thing is to look for someone who listens well. Once you find that person, here are the next steps:
1. Start by making a list of the things that are making you feel overwhelmed. Brainstorm and get everything in your head on paper. Ask yourself some questions: What is actually bothering me? What’s showing up right now? Why is that important? What am I afraid of? Why is it important? As you answer each question keep asking, “and why is that?” Keep digging.
2. Look at your list and see what’s in common. Is there a pattern? By finding commonalities, you’re beginning to summarize some major themes going on with you. (For example, fear of judgment, fear of loss, or not wanting to disappoint others.)
3. Think about the themes that emerge and ask yourself what’s really bothering you about them.
4. Ask yourself if these things are really true. (For example, are others actually judging you? Will you really disappoint other people, and if so, does it really matter?)
What you’re doing in this process is creating an inventory so you can see things for what they really are. It’s like creating a budget for our finances; when we know what we need to save or spend, then we truly know what we can afford.
Transformation Leads To Solutions
You may notice that what I’m offering is a process, not a solution. We’re not talking about dream goals or setting up more expectations for yourself. We want to clear away the unimportant stuff so that you can see the actual problem. Here’s the secret: once you recognize what’s actually going on, you’ll stop feeling overwhelmed and your intuition will kick in. You’ll begin to respond naturally to external factors, and things will begin to move in the right direction, in accord with the not-overwhelmed decisions you’re making. Just for fun I looked up antonyms to “overwhelmed.” Here are a few words I found: assured, successful, comforted, triumphant and my favorite, joyful.
Jacob Coldwell is the founder of Mountain Pass Life Coaching, which helps leaders in business and in the family discover and clarify their personal direction through 1:1 coaching, corporate training and small group settings. Learn more at: MountainPassLifeCoaching.com.