There is No Such Thing as Overwhelm

John Owens

There is No Such Thing as Overwhelm

What? No such thing? In this age where we are multitasking to meet all the demands of job and family and health and technology and…Am I crazy? There’s no such thing as overwhelm? Then what are we all feeling so much of the time? You might be feeling the author here has a screw loose. We’ve all felt it; how could it not be real?

So what is overwhelm? I wake up this morning with immediate thoughts flooding my brain of having to write a blog today, getting my tax info prepared, cooking dinner, meeting my clients, paying my bills, preparing to leave for vacation, and a half-dozen other items. I feel that I’m not enough, I don’t have enough (time, money, support) and I am responsible for more than I can possibly manage. It is not fair, but all this stuff is mine to do: that is overwhelm for me. Underlying it are some beliefs, feelings and sensations that create this perspective of overwhelm:

  • I am not enough
  • I am fallen prey to circumstances
  • I have to do it all myself
  • I am alone; I am not supported
  • Something bad is going to happen to me or those I care about
  • I feel afraid
  • Shallow breathing (or hyperventilation), tension in head or stomach, irritability
  • Need to escape OR need to get busy and stay busy OR sensation of being frozen / stuck

The sense of overwhelm also has impacts on you and those around you. Because your state of being is in distress and fear, you will tend to create more of the same around you. People will notice your state of being, and either move away from you because your energy is so hard to be with you, or they move toward you, trying to ‘rescue’ you from the overwhelm that is persecuting you by providing comfort or trying to guess what will be helpful. This is caretaking, may be another way for them to take care of their internal distress. (Contrast this to care giving, which comes from the abundance of the heart.) Other impacts of overwhelm are increased blood pressure, stress hormones that cause aging and oxidation of body tissues, and a host of other physical conditions due to stress that can shorten life.

The result of these impacts is that the sufferer: a) gets stuck and fails to do anything (frozen), b) denies responsibility and dumps everything (flight), or c) grits their teeth, puts their head down, and bulls their way through as much as possible, denying themselves sleep, food, reasonable breaks or any sense of fulfillment, just to get it done and checked off the list. Which one sounds like you?

At its core, the overwhelm syndrome is a state of victimhood that seems to have either oneself or else no one to blame as the perpetrator. Now let’s go back to my title statement that there is no such thing as overwhelm. It’s made up. You are not a victim of circumstances, but just fallen into a perspective that may not serve you well. You are free to choose another set of beliefs. One that has more life, energy and resource for you to actually do what needs to be done and feel a sense of fulfillment rather than dread.

Here are some tips to try the next time you feel overwhelmed. Some will work for you, some may not. What is key is to find out a strategy that works for you and follow it. You can try these:

  • Breathe easily, deeply, and with your diaphragm. Your stomach should distend with each inhalation. Do this for several minutes (yes, you have time to do this, because you will be so much more efficient when clear-headed). Now notice what is true in this moment: you are safe. You are enough. You have everything you need to get through this day. Breathe.
  • When you have centered yourself, write down all the stuff in your head that is overwhelming you. The appointments, the To Do list, the calls, what you have to remember, along with all the messages floating around in your head (“can’t do it”, “not gonna make it,” “there is no time,” etc.). Get it all down on paper so it is out of your head. Now consciously let go of holding these things. Say it out loud, “I am letting go of these messages. I am letting this list hold them for me.”
  • Cross out each item that does not serve you or that you will say “NO” to. Start with those negative messages. You can even write in some messages you want to tell yourself. Cross off at least one thing you choose not to do today.
  • Prioritize: what is important and urgent? Do these as soon as possible. Click here for more of my ideas on prioritizing.
  • Delegate and out-source: don’t put artificial restrictions on yourself that make you responsible for running the universe. Some things can be hired out or delegated. Be specific about what you need and when. Make requests of family or friends commensurate with their abilities, or find help from the yellow pages or web, if it involves fixing, cleaning, or cooking. Even if it costs you money, it will be well-spent if you feel empowered to do more and be more.
  • Hire a certified life coach: These people are experts in helping you to get past the blockage that overwhelm creates to your fulfillment. For more info, click here.
  • Celebrate each completion: it may be a fist pump or victory dance. Move your body to celebrate so you anchor that good feeling in your body. Breathe it in. Then move on!
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