It is possible to conquer that dreaded overwhelm. We can conquer it with the right tools and actions. In this blog, we’re going to look at how to conquer overwhelm, as well as how to push it back into a dormant state, where it belongs.
For many, overwhelm is a very familiar place. There are people who say to me, “I’ve felt overwhelmed for the last 10 years of my life.”
For many adults who grew up with parents who were physically or emotionally absent, controlling, used drugs, abused alcohol, those children tend to grow up not knowing how to do life, and will therefore, have this constant feeling of being overwhelmed.
How many years have you spent feeling overwhelmed? How much of your life have you felt this?
What do you do when you get overwhelmed? Do you shut down or do you go into frenzy, frantic mode? Do you automatically go to certain behaviors to get the panic and overwhelm more manageable?
For some with histories of trauma and attachment issues, living “on the edge” and as close to overwhelm as we can without burnout is a common personality trait. It’s like a way to give ourselves an adrenaline rush and help us feel alive!
However, no matter what the reasons, overwhelm is a heavy burden on your body and on your health, because of its effects on the nervous system and will trigger your body to go into survival mode.
One of the key points discussed was how overwhelm comes from life being too much too fast, or having to live off of too little for too long.
In this blog we’re going to focus on what to actually do when the overwhelm hits.
Overwhelm is one of those feelings that can go unnoticed. We can go for a long time feeling overwhelmed, but there’s usually that one thing added that will cause our bodies to give out, snap, or shut down.
So much of overwhelm is due to that awful feeling of not having any control over certain circumstances.
The loss of control over our lives is a terrifying feeling when life isn’t going well.
Initially, you may try to do something to get things right in your life and gain back control, but if the circumstances are bigger than you, your efforts show that you’re powerless, and you dive deep into overwhelm.
If you had control, there is no way you would have let life go this wrong!
However, once you go into overwhelm, the survival mechanisms that comes out in humans is very predictable. If you don’t have any control, a major survival mechanism that emerges is becoming very passive and emotionally numb.
The human body will give up by shutting down for a time, and you will fall into an apathetic state where you don’t care what is happening. This is your bodies way of managing survival. Drugs, alcohol, and other addictive habits can increase that sense of apathy.
Have you felt yourself shutting down emotionally from having too much too fast in life, or from having had too little for too long?
This is how you know you’ve been in overwhelm and it’s time to regain your peace and health.
Which leads us to how to come out of the overwhelm back into a place of peace.
The first step in combating overwhelm is getting back a sense of control. Once you have a plan of action, it’s amazing how immediately the overwhelm lessens.
Figure Out a Plan
What Not To Do:
Figuring out a plan is not figuring out how to make life perfect and resolve the entire situation!
When you have a history of trauma and attachment issues, it can be your tendency not to do anything at all until you know exactly what to do and how to do it perfectly.
I am exaggerating a bit, because that isn’t usually what we realize we’re doing! However, it can be normal to go back and forth between being paralyzed with fear, frantically overreacting, and throughout it all, having the expectation that we’re going to do it perfectly.
Figuring out a plan shouldn’t be just calling your friend to complain or vent. While this may be helpful, it isn’t actually a plan.
Figuring out a plan isn’t looking for ways to just numb the stress and overwhelm so that you can deal with life.
No, you’re looking for something that will lessen the feeling of overwhelm in a healthy way for your body. Numbing or distracting yourself from overwhelm won’t give you the improvements in your health, energy, and pain that you want.
Do you shut down and isolate from other people? While this will be a very common reaction, you need to push against this. Figuring out a plan doesn’t involve shutting down or numbing yourself through various ways.
So what are somethings that you can do to help you figure out a plan?
What To Do
You’re looking for an action on your part that’ll make the overwhelm a little less.
This is the plan that you figure out to help you achieve the lasting results in your health and mood that you want!
Also this is where it’s really helpful for you to be aware of your body and the physical symptoms that you get with anxiety and overwhelm.
For me, it’s a really tight knot in my stomach accompanied with very slow and shallow breathing. For others, it shows up more as a heaviness to the chest, or muscle tension in the back. For some, it’s more shallow breathing or they feel their heart racing.
This awareness of yourself and your body is key when figuring out the next best step to regain a sense of peace and control.
Let me give you an example! When I feel overwhelmed, I consider as many options as I can think of (even the crazy ones get put on the table). Then as I go down the list of options (yes, I have actually written them down), I see which ones make my stomach feel just a little less tight.
Of the options that made my stomach feel a little less tight, I review which one would be most easily employed, making sure it would not stress me out financially or is too far off in the future.
Once I have a plan that has made my stomach feel a little less tight, I feel myself take a deep breath. If I have been in overwhelm for a long time, it’s very noticeable when my body naturally takes a deep breath for the first time in a long time.
This is how having a plan and giving yourself some control can combat overwhelm and anxiety! It’s amazing to me how this works every time, and being aware and connected enough to my body is such an important and useful tool!
Control Over Your Life Rather Than Other People
Getting a sense of control can have such a negative connotation!
After all, trying to control other people will never go well!
Having a sense of control over one’s life can be seen by Christianity and other religions as not having faith or not having fully surrendered to God.
This isn’t the type of control that you want, because if this is what you’re looking for, your anxiety and overwhelm will increase!
The control you’re seeking to achieve is self-control, not control of other people or circumstances, which you really have no control.
Common reasons for overwhelm and anxiety attacks are often caused by you trying to control other people, places, and things!
Part of the normal process of maturing is developing what is called a “Internal Locus of Control.”This is where a child learns that they have control over their own actions. They can choose to obey or disobey, to walk or to run, to sing or to talk.
This is the control that we’re talking about regaining! The central locus of control is where we have choices, and thus have control over our own actions, not someone else’s.
In fact, when I’m feeling irritated at other people and what they’re doing bugs me, I’m usually stressed and approaching overwhelm.
When I’m trying to control other people, it’s because I don’t feel in control of myself or my life due to feeling overwhelmed.
Figure Out a Plan B
When we’re in overwhelm, we’re in a place where we can’t take anymore out of life. We already have too much going on, or have too little support and resources. If one more thing goes wrong, or if we lose the one last thing we’re holding, we’re going to lose it!
If our plan for how to make things just a little better for ourselves goes wrong or doesn’t happen, we’re at risk of losing it!
We gave ourselves the hope and the idea that things could be different, coaxed ourselves out of our shut-down and numb mode, only to reinforce that life will never be different.
How to Figure Out a Plan
Knowing that you need a plan is the easy part! We all know we need to do something, but what?!
When we’re in overwhelm or close to it, our minds can feel like a hamster on a wheel, frantically racing but going in circles.
Somehow we have to slow this hamster down and be able to think calmly enough to actually get to a reasonable conclusion!
There are actions that you can take that’ll help that hamster slow down and think calmly.
- Get out in nature:
Nature has a very calming effect on the mind. Serene or expansive views help organize the mind, which allows thoughts to become clearer.
What was confusing before, now becomes evident. Solutions to the problem that baffled you before, now become clear.
Even just going to a park, a lake, or climbing a hill to look at the view will help calm the mind’s hamster, slow down those thoughts, and get you in a state of mind where you can more easily figure out a plan and what the next best thing to do is.
- Journal to find the cause of the overwhelm:
Like I’ve said, it’s common to feel so overwhelmed by “everything,” that you actually don’t know what’s really causing the stress or the bulk of it.
If you don’t know this, it’ll be harder to figure out a plan on how to bring down that stress!
Journaling through words or art is an age old way to help yourself figure out what’s really stressing you out. An art journal is a great way to process things, especially when words won’t come or are too disorganized!
Journaling also helps you organize the stressors so that figuring out a plan is more targeted.
There are many things that could be stressing you out, but that one thing that has pushed you into overwhelm is easier to see when journaling. If you can address that one thing, you can handle the rest easier.
If you aren’t clear on what’s causing the overwhelm, any plan will be like a shotgun approach, meaning you fire and hope you hit it.
What you want is a rifle approach where you see the target, can clearly aim, fire, and hit it straight on!
- Make a list of options:
Another great and easy option that can help you to figure things out is to make a list of options.
This can be very helpful, because overwhelm is an emotional state where you don’t feel like you have any good options and are stuck and overburdened.
When my mind is stuck and I don’t see any options, I start writing down crazy options. Crazy options that I would never actually do, but it breaks me out of my thinking that I have No Options.
“I could run away!”
“I could make a huge scene and throw a tantrum right in the middle of the floor at work.”
“I could pick my nose and make people laugh!”
“I could sit in the middle of the freeway until I get the media’s attention and then tell them my side of the story.”
Once I’ve had a good laugh and gotten out of my “I am helpless and have no options” rut, then I get more serious about my options! These are specific questions that have helped me brainstorm different options for my plan and next best step:
- What would make me feel more secure?
- Where have I gone before that helps me naturally breathe deep?
- When was the last time/place that I felt happy and calm?
- If money is a stressor… What would make me feel more financially stable?
- If the physical space is a stressor… Where can I go where that feels safe right now?
I’m sure by now, you’re thinking of answers and maybe even your own questions that will lead you to your plan of action for loosening that knot in your stomach.
Overwhelm is such a common place for the average child and adult to be, so much so we don’t even recognize it anymore!
Yet, overwhelm has such a negative impact on our health, especially conditions like fatigue and chronic pain.
For those of us who’ve been in a chronic state of overwhelm for years, you’ll start to see the effects on your health that’ll take time to reverse.
I believe it’s the work of a lifetime to get to know yourself and your body better so that you recognize sooner when you’re overwhelmed.
As we put more time into getting to know ourselves and not just shutting down or numbing out, we can begin to feel our unique physical symptoms of anxiety, and be able to use our tools to change this before we get to overwhelm.
Wherever you’re at on this journey, you’ll continue to see benefits in your mood, energy, life, and likely in the lives of those around you as you start to reduce your overwhelm.