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How to Deal with Overwhelm!

Overwhelm has been described as 20-foot wave crashing into you. We all have those moments when it all gets to be too much. Too much pressure, too much intensity of anger, sadness, fear, or worry can all provoke either an outburst, a state of paralysis, or even panic.  Waves are never static though, they come and go. What if you had more ways to surf the wave, and bring you back to yourself? Here are some reminders that you CAN take agency in your life. Let’s go!


1. Be aware of what you are feeling.

As Dr. Dan Siegel says, “When you name it , you can tame it.” When you deny what you’re feeling, that feeling gets buried. In fact, the word, overwhelm means “to overpower” or “to cover or bury.” Instead, you want it to be safe enough to accept how you are feeling. What can help is non-judgment. This is not the time to beat yourself up for not being able to cope, but rather be proud of your self that you have the courage to recognize what’s showing up for you. Each and every one of your emotions is there to guide you and give you clues. When you know how to decode them, you have a huge advantage. If this resonates with you, there are resources to help you go deeper. Awareness is key.


2. What’s the source, what’s the trigger?

What causes that feeling of overwhelm to arise? Is it a situation at work, a person, or a social dynamic that makes it literally feel like you have no breathing room? Some suggestions from the Harvard Business Review, “If it’s a big project that’s almost done, finish it. Or, if it’s the sheer size of the task or project that is overwhelming you, break it down into more manageable components, ask for additional resources or renegotiate the deadline.”

Talk yourself into a better place, as if you're the wisest part of you.  "We’ve been here before. You know if you chunk it down to smaller tasks, it will go much better.” Or “That person is toxic to you – don’t engage.”  Try to be your own coach, and not a mean-spirited one, but an encourager.


3. Be a detective to discern your core beliefs

Look at what is the belief that is keeping you feeling stuck.

  • Do you believe that working harder than others demonstrates that you are indispensable, and it's safer to do that even at the risk of burning out?
  • Do you believe, “If I lose this job or relationship, I’ll never find another one as good?”
  • Do you believe “If I don’t do it, everything will collapse?”

 This gives you valuable clues to the story you are telling yourself, and the narrative that's playing out in your life.


4. Ask yourself if your thinking is really spot on

If you really had to think about your situation as if you were watching a person (You!) in a film (that sometimes helps you see things from a bigger perspective), can you detect if they are catastrophizing,  overgeneralizing (it’s always, you never.) Are they practicing "all or nothing thinking?" Are they stuck in "should" statements, like "I should be able to handle it?" Are they discounting the positive, constantly blaming themselves… These are just a few examples of distorted thinking to be aware of.

Then challenge yourself by asking: is this really truly 100% true, or is this just a pattern of thinking that you’ve been practicing for years, and ... right now, it’s just making things harder?


 5. Practice saying No

For people-pleasers everywhere, it’s so important to practice saying No! Even if your mind feels obligated or that it would be the strategic/”smart” thing to do, do a check-in with your body. Does the thought of taking on yet another duty make you exhale and relax, or do you feel your self getting tighter inside, contracting, getting more even more? 

Ask yourself, “If I say no to this, how will I feel today, and how will I feel in 5 years?


 6. Come Back to the Now

it’s so easy to be caught up in the future that you’re worried about, or the past that caused you pain, that you miss the opportunities right here in the moment. Take a few breaths, and use the 5-4-3-2-1- coping technique. Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch around you, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you taste. Ask yourself, am I safe? Am I Ok in this moment? Breathe. You can revisit your worries later in the day.


 7. Take One Messy Action

This can be something you like to do like talking to a friend, listening to music you love, or taking a walk. Connection and movement are all good calls. Or if you feel inclined, do one small thing from your to-do list. Notice I said small. This is not an excuse to be hard on yourself. Be on the lookout for perfectionism, and consider that no one is perfect; if something falls through the cracks, you can course-correct later.


Overwhelm can be a signal that your ecosystem needs to be tweaked. You may have to realign with what is most important to you and let go of the “shoulds” that had you feeling chained. Use these ideas to help find your freedom, and if you are interested in a deeper dive into managing overwhelm, and becoming aware of the forces that drive you, I have something to support your journey. A 7-day online course called Break out of Overwhelm. It gives you a step by step way to get to know your emotions, and use their energy, instead of them hijacking your life! They have a lot to tell you if you know how to decode their message. With awareness, all is possible.




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