Overcoming Overwhelm Part 1: I’m Overwhelmed! What Does That Mean?

How many things are there on your to do list today?  Do you feel like you’re bombarded with information, multiple priorities and competing demands? If you’re like me, your to do list could be written on a roll of toilet paper. It’s ohhhverrr whelmmmm-ing!!!

It feels like you’ll never get it all done.  Overwhelm is an all too familiar feeling, it starts in your mind and, then in your body.  The sensations I start to notice are shallow breathing; I might also experience heart palpitations; and surely, tension in the shoulders. Then, it moves to tiredness and exhaustion, perhaps even to headaches and stomach issues.

A fascinating fact about overwhelm is that it does not discriminate between mundane tasks and responsibilities and stressful or important ones. All circumstances have an equal opportunity to become overwhelming in our lives. Here are some of the ways it shows up for me:

  • I can’t cross many items off on my to do list and more keep coming on the list.
  • I have to do stuff that I don’t want or know how to do.
  • I have to face circumstances that I don’t want or know how to face.
  • I’m really excited about a new project and there are way too many things to do.
  • I don’t know where to begin.

Sometimes, it seems like our world is moving so fast and we can’t keep up with all the competing demands.  It feels like there is a lack of time and resources.  You might be on a committee and no one is helping you or you are working on a project and have no time to complete it.  You’re up against a deadline that feels unrealistic.  It seems like you’re working longer and harder, but you’re still not making the progress you’d like to be making.  To make matters worse, it seems like no one is willing to help you.

We are going to get overwhelmed, that’s a part of life, but when overwhelm saps your energy, erodes your self esteem, creates depression, makes you feel like numbing out or procrastinating, you can’t afford to allow the feeling of overwhelm to have that kind of power in your life any longer.  Overcoming overwhelm is required not only to survive but to thrive

So, how do you overcome overwhelm?  Ultimately, it’s a conscious decision to be here, now, and take your power back from feeling overwhelmed by recognizing and redesigning your relationship to overwhelm in your life.

You begin by realizing:

Overwhelm has something to teach you.  Overwhelm is a signal that you’ve given your personal power to a project or job, a family member’s schedule, or circumstances, etc. The moment you begin to feel overwhelmed you can realize, that this reaction is a habit that you can change. You are responsible for recognizing and redesigning your relationship with overwhelm.

Overwhelm is a subjective idea rooted in fear and it affects everyone differently. However, you get to decide how to respond to the events that appear to be overwhelming. You must stand up to your stories, put them in their place and take your power back.  Here’s how to begin reprogramming your responses.

Your first step in overcoming overwhelm is to recognize it for what it is.  Without judgement, simply begin to notice:

  • How does it feel in your body?
  • Where do you feel it?
  • Can you recognize the feeling of fear that occurs in your body?
  • Are there thoughts that repeat in your mind when you’re feeling this fear?
  • Can you name those feelings?
  • Are those feelings of fear rooted in events or circumstances of your past?
  • Are your reactions based on your thoughts about what may or may  not happen?

One of the most important things you can do is to have some compassion for the part of you that has created meaning for events and circumstances that are now  encroaching on your time and energy in a negative way. You are allowing this part of you so much power that your mind and body have succumbed to that perceived stress.  The process I have developed for having compassion for this part of you is The wHolyShift.

The wHolyShift process helps you to navigate the what’s now, what’s new, and what’s next in the midst of your feeling of overwhelm.  As you begin the practice of noticing how your body is reacting to your current stress, offer yourself calm, steady breaths.  Kind and gentle self talk is also a tool that will help you come back to the present moment and be able to rethink about what’s happening in a way that can help alleviate your stress.

This blog post is part 1 in a 3-part series dedicated to helping you overcome overwhelm. In part 2 of this series, find out how to reprogram your responses to overwhelm by using The wHolyShift.

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