Who does not feel overwhelmed at times? I certainly do, more often than I would like to. Today, I have achieved a higher level of insight on the recipe that leads to a number of my overwhelming moments, which I would like to share with you. Have a think about what aspects of this recipe might also apply to you and you might shift it for tomorrow!
I am feeling so overwhelmed!
In many cases, [Tweet “a feeling of overwhelm is a safety mechanism that keeps you from running yourself down”] or from experiencing feelings that you do not like. It also keeps you from achieving things that you really would like to but entail some uncomfortable steps or to get things done that are clogging up your energy because they remain on the ‘to do’ list.
What creates overwhelm?
If you are like me, then too many visual or auditory (or other senses) stimuli will overwhelm you. My 2 year old daughter talking like a chatter box and repeating the same questions like “Mum, scissors, mum, want to cut, mum, mum, mummy, scissors… ” or imagining a task like creating a photo album from the last 2 years of her life with literally thousands of photos stored somewhere on my computer. It can also be a task, which has too many unknown components or steps, or one that needs to be finished in too short a time frame. In your case you might find some loosely related topics that create your overwhelm.
Response and result
A not analyzed or automatic response to overwhelm is something like stress, impatience or thinking ‘this is too much for me’ or ‘I cannot handle this anymore. This may lead to avoiding the task, becoming emotional (angry, annoyed, impatient), suddenly feeling sleepy or finding yourself doing other things (like watching a movie) or turning to food.
Thinking pattern creating havoc
Often, our thinking patterns or ‘cognitive distortions’ are forming a big part of the problem. If you are an ‘all-or-nothing’ thinker you will already have one ingredient for the overwhelm recipe. Another one is being overly ‘other-reverenced’.
What does this mean?
Let me show you how I have done it in the past (until today): information (visual, verbal stimuli) comes into my system. My ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking says: “I always have to respond” and my ‘other-reference’ adds: “… to my daughter” (for example). If I would add another distortion of time, I might add “now” and/or “immediately”. Given my daughter is only 2 year old this might seem very reasonable but thinking about her latest pleasure of cutting anything into small pieces it is not really an emergency to get the scissors now and always.
What and how to change?
First of all, make a list of the stimuli that lead to your overwhelm. Find your personal response and result pattern. Then ask yourself: What would I prefer to have instead? What would I like to feel instead?
In my case, the new desired response was to feel relaxed. I also needed to get clear on HOW to get relaxed because it seemed too impossible to even imagine.
I inserted a ‘self’ check: ‘Do I have enough to give right now?’ If not, and it wasn’t an emergency, I would be allowed to set boundaries and take time to look after myself. This is the antidote to being overly ‘other-referenced’ and it is called being ‘self-referenced with an outside check’. ‘Do I have enough energy?’ is the ‘self’ check and ‘is it an emergency?’ is the ‘outside’ check.
The second step was to ask myself whether I had to or needed to respond to everything she wanted at any given moment.
Often, with an ‘all-or-nothing’ frame we also look at the whole picture, which might become overwhelming, rather than looking for incremental steps to the end result.
It is important to always try on the changes that you envisage and see whether it fits for you. If not, or not yet, you might have to include another step or make some adjustments to the process. Then, when you think it fits, it is time to practice it in real life and get feedback from there.
Give it a try and let me know in the comments how you are going.
Photo credit: Young Woman Thinking — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis