So many people I work with suffer overwhelm. More often than not it stems from a heart-felt desire to do amazing things, to cease suffering and to help everyone whilst precariously juggling self-care, family commitments and life.
Overwhelm can do weird things to people too, it can create snappy tyrants, some just retreat and some ramp up the speed of their actions. However you ‘do’ overwhelm please be careful, while you just might be able to push through it into the next layer of consciousness, it could also bring you completely unstuck.
Have you ever felt like you were completely and utterly exhausted and in need of a holiday (or at least a good night’s sleep) but couldn’t stop because ‘they need me’, ‘there are jobs to be done’, ‘things will crumble without me’, or ‘nobody else can do it’? That is the doorstep of overwhelm.
But how do we avoid falling into the sticky trap of ‘overwhelm’ when our lives are so busy and complicated? Here are some strategies to ponder:
#1 Know your signs: Busy is one thing, overwhelm is another dimension. When you are moving into overwhelm your body will exhibit particular signs. Know yours. Perhaps it’s an upset tummy, maybe you feel tingling in your limbs, maybe your mind feels cloudy or perhaps you are unusually short of breath. Jot down some reflections in your diary about how your body is feeling and look for patterns.
#2 Spit it out: When you notice your signs manifesting it’s time to stop and do a brain dump. You might do this alone or you might have a brain dump buddy (I do both). I grab a big pile of post it notes and create a grid that’s stuck up on the wall. Across the top of the grid is the title of the thought stream (usually client and project) and underneath each title is a post it note for each task that needs to be done. I usually add home tasks to this as well. I cannot describe in words the satisfaction I feel as I remove those sticky notes from the wall because the job is done. This visual map will help you in numerous ways – the ecstasy of getting all of your thoughts out of your mind, perspective, seeing where you can delegate and having some framework to see beyond ovewhelm to name just a few.
#3 Rescue Remedy: If you are so inclined have a bottle of rescue remedy (it’s a flower remedy) on hand. You can source this from a naturopath. You might also like to experiment with aromatherapy, massage or any other natural health solution that works for you. I’ve been using Rescue Remedy for decades and it just works for me. I can keep it in my handbag and a few drops under the tongue is sure to calm most situations. Look, I know there’s a combination of magic and good health behind this potion but personally as I apply the drops I also make a mental note to breathe, and that helps even more.
#4 Ask for help: I know you don’t want to, or maybe you don’t quite know WHO you can ask for help but as my colleague Rosemary often says “whatever you don’t want to do there is someone else out there just dying to do it”. Find them, engage them and don’t let ‘I can’t afford it’, ‘they won’t know what to do’ or ‘it’s easier if I do it myself’ get in your way, just approach help with an open mind and you might just surprise yourself.
#5 Time out: Sometimes you just need to STOP. Whether it’s leaving your laptop at work overnight or taking the whole weekend off. You will be amazed how much more productive you will be when you step away and take some time steady your thoughts.
#6 Let others know: If you feel yourself going into overwhelm make sure others around you know. The last thing you need is to have a fight at home escalate just because you were feeling the pressure of stress and snappier than you’d otherwise like to be. Tell those around you what is going on and even if they zone out over the details make sure they HEAR you when you tell them how you are feeling right now.
#7 Prioritise: Work out what really and truly needs to happen right now and what can wait, even if it’s just for a day.
# 8 Exercise: Move it. The endorphins you create will instantly start a shift. Even a short walk, a swim, time at the park will create small changes. If you can grab an exercise buddy all the better.
# 9 Watch a sunrise: As I typed this I noticed out of the corner of my eye the most magnificent rose coloured sky behind the trees in my backyard. There’s something about nature’s beauty that can shift feelings of overwhelm but the trick is to stop, and take the time to notice and enjoy it. Can you find just 10 minutes to do that today? There is a whole gallery of beauty just waiting for your eyes to take in.
#10 Come back to your senses: Psychologist Peter McGrath speaks of the importance of coming back to your senses when you are in a state of overwhelm. He suggests we do so by focusing on the breath, or just listening to the sounds around us. Perhaps you could tune into your sense of smell, or as per the abovementioned point take some time to use your sense of sight to really notice what’s around you. This intense focus creates change quickly.
#11 Risk manage: When you are in overwhelm there are some things you should probably avoid doing (even if you still think you are feeling competent enough). Try to avoid making big or important decisions, if you have a difficult conversation on the cards give it a little while (though, if it’s the imminent difficult situation that’s throwing you into overwhelm be aware of that and refer to point #10). You know what you probably shouldn’t be doing from the point of overwhelm, just put it on pause, you’ll be pleased you did.