Let’s talk about feeling overwhelmed and provide some top tips on how we can best manage this dreadful, yet all too familiar emotion.
Dealing with being overwhelmed seems to be a natural and recurring part of our everyday life. We simply can’t avoid it in today’s world. Because of this, it makes sense to take a moment to better understand its causes and learn some top tips for its management. These pointers can help us all be our best.
It may seem counter-intuitive to discuss being overwhelmed during the summer months, a period of holiday time for many. But it’s not. This is a perfect time. First, some of us are big able to go on vacation. If we can, the holiday provides reflection time which is ideal for pondering better life habits. Also, feeling overwhelmed can come at any time, and even more so with heat, so the sooner we can be prepared the better. Lastly, this summer brings more mounted stress than usual for many of us, and for college graduates and school-aged children we know. Opportunities for many of us have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Let’s absorb these practical pointers now to best help ourselves and our loved ones manage feeling overwhelmed.
A familiar feeling
Stress is acceptable in manageable doses. It can create a surge in the intensity of focus which helps us accomplish a task. However, a tad too much and the effects are disastrous. The weight of being pulled down overpowers and productivity can crumble. The worse yet is that no matter how much life experience we have, these feelings of overwhelm will recur.
Statistics say that over 90% of us have felt a sense of overwhelm at least once in the last 7-10 days. This takes hold like a surging wave instigated by something we could predict – like juggling too many responsibilities at the same time – or it can strike suddenly, triggered by something not forecastable. Overwhelm can also lurk as a constant, low-grade threat underlying the surface, present but not threatening until too late… ominous like a vine growing around our necks, slowly tightening.
Either way, overwhelm is unwelcome and unpleasant. But it could be managed. Let’s now discuss how our brain reacts to overwhelm and then provide helpful tips on effectively tackling it.
What happens in our brain
When we are feeling close to reaching the point of overwhelm, our brain seeks to resolve the situation and calm us down. I’m not a doctor but what has been explained to me by a Biologist is that is two things happen when we are feeling overwhelmed. Stick with me for this basic biology class because it explains a lot about our behavior when in this state.
First, our brain tries to reduce the demand on it, so extraneous noises which we can usually tolerate become unbearable (like footballs being hit onto your wall. That’s which made me lose my cool with one kid last week, something I still feel bad about).
Second, when we are under pressure our brain relies on fast, instinctive processes to make decisions rather than slower, more analytic ones. That makes us more likely to fall into old habits and also reduces our ability to be rational or problem solve. When feeling overwhelmed, we judge situations in basic terms, as good or bad, positive or negative. Life is not that obvious. In reality, things are rarely as bad as they feel when we are in that state of being overwhelmed.
It’s important to remember that the negativity we feel when overwhelmed is a symptom, not a reality. When we calm down, our thinking brain kicks back in, and things don’t seem quite so horrendous. We feel more hopeful. When we take a breather, we literally feel better.
So when the quicksand and level are rising … or the vine around our neck is tightening… it literally is best to have a time out. Let’s talk about ways to tackle overwhelm in a minute.
OK, so we understand now what happens to our brain when we are overwhelmed. We also get that we all live in a world where this feeling will reoccur. Let’s benefit by better equipping ourselves for dealing with this feeling by better understand its causes and learning some helpful pointers on what to remember when we are next feeling overwhelmed.
Causes of overwhelm
We all must learn to recognize our individual triggers which can make us feel overwhelmed. A classic for many is having too many balls in the air. Some of us may like being mega-busy. However, if we are not mindful, being occupied and engaged can quickly descend into feeling submerged in stress.
Other common triggers for feeling overwhelmed include emotional trauma, financial stress, an anniversary of a loss or emotional benchmark, family friction, spending too much time alone, being yelled at or in a hostile environment, sexual harassment, health issues, our own internal expectations and dealing with change – a big one now that our routines and future plans have been affected by the pandemic.
The bottom line is that our everyday life can and probably will include at least some of these stress inducers. So, let’s prepare ourselves and our families.
Here are some practical pointers on how to manage the overwhelm and stay away from the quicksand.
TOP TIPS ON HOW TO MANAGE OVERWHELM
Remind Ourselves these points
When overwhelm sets in, let’s first remind ourselves of the following nuggets of wisdom to help ease the feeling.
For ease of recall, I have labeled them “The R-P-G-Ps”. Let’s remember:
* Real. Be aware these feelings are real: It’s our mind’s way of telling us we need to slow down if we want to live a healthier life. We should listen to this warning.
* Positive. Get rid of the negativity. Let’s remember while our feelings are real, overwhelm is a simply jumbling of our thoughts, not a collapse of our life. We all have the power to control our thoughts. We can thus manage who we are and where and what we want to be. That’s important to understand and believe. We need to remind ourselves that our whole life is not falling apart. Let’s acknowledge our thoughts may be in a state of confusion and might need a rejigging. We need to take some time out to purge negative, self-deprecating emotions and thoughts. As we do this, we will feel renewed energy and more invigorated to take on the day.
* Gratitude. This is important. The feeling of being grateful and appreciative is vital for mental health. Coaches often suggest clients write journals recalling what they are grateful for. This helps to be in “the present”. Gaining perspective on our problems is also important and can also augment gratitude. Perspective and gratitude are topics I will write more about.
* Proactivity. When we feel overwhelmed, let’s first remind ourselves of the “4 Be’s” and then progress to the following pointers to practically and proactively manage and emerge from this feeling.
Prioritize and Divide into Manageable Chunks
If thoughts and worries interrupt our daily rest time or barge into our usual activities, it’s time to prioritize. Let’s stop, breathe deeply, and think of all the issues that are swirling in our heads. Then it is easier to tackle.
I find making lists helps. This process allows us to identify the plethora of stuff that needs to be addressed and the act of writing it all down is cathartic. I swear there is some magical meditative power for me in list-making. I will let you in on a secret – sometimes I add quick tasks to my lists just to enjoy the therapeutic act of crossing off!
Now we’ve made a list, let’s segment the whole seemingly mammoth mess into smaller, more manageable chunks. That’s the key: identify, divide (or segment) and conquer. We can tackle the job once we understand all the components. Then we can do what needs to be done first.
Communication is important so we don’t feel isolated. Let’s tell other people how we are feeling. Share. Vent. Have a conversation, monologue, dumping session. This helps reduce our stress levels which both ease the sense of overwhelm and provides the breathing room and fresh perspective needed.
Remember to balance communication with the adage “less talking, more doing”. We need to be aware that talking gets us only so far. At some point, proactivity needs to start. One example is a friend who volunteers at a homeless shelter. This allows her to contribute, enhances her gratitude and perspective, and also helps the shelter. Analysis through communication is important but is not an excuse for procrastination.
Delegation is a key to survival. Often this sense of overwhelm is a result of feeling there is just too much to do. If this is the case, is there someone at home or work that we can delegate some tasks to? While it’s easy to think “it’s just quicker if I do it”, that doesn’t help us nor teach the others around us. We must learn to ask for and accept help.
Know our boundaries:
We must remember our boundaries and keep them. Remember the expression “saying yes to someone else can be saying no to yourself”. Whether it’s accepting another project at work or social invitation or task we’re simply not keen on, saying yes commits us. Instead, perhaps we follow the strategy of “let me get back to you”, decide on our own time scale what we want to do, and then revert … but remember to!
Make time for daily re-charge:
For those of you who know me and The Next Half, one of the mantras is “Remember Recharge Time”. We are not any good to others if we are in a state of depletion. Staying recharged helps us both better manage when feeling overwhelmed and also prevent its surge. Let’s prioritize getting our personal reflection time to refuel, both to manage overwhelm when it surges and to also prevent its approach. Let’s get some fresh air, vitamin D3, and exercise, or take a nap, see a friend or spend some time on our hobby. Do what it takes to recharge.
Let’s try to listen to our warning signs and try to head off any eruption. This loops back to knowing your triggers and paying attention to them. I’ll admit that I’m rubbish at this. But life is about learning and improving, so I will keep on trying.
Now it’s time for some re-charge time: walk with a friend and then a chocolate cookie! Life is good once again.
Wishing you all a peaceful, overwhelm-free, contented, and productive week.
If you’ve enjoyed this article share it. If you have thoughts on the content leave a comment below. Do you have expertise, knowledge, or a life experience to share? Visit the Contributor tab for more information.