Many clients come to coaching with the unpleasant feeling of overwhelm. When I tell some of these clients that it seems like they are overwhelmed, some of them couldn’t wait to agree with enthusiasm that they finally found a word to describe what they were going through, “Yes!”, and they add, “I don’t know what to do about it. I just wish that I didn’t feel overwhelmed.”
Overwhelm feels like there is a big wave heading towards you that you could neither stop nor deal with to come out of it with style. You feel helpless in front of the giant you are facing. You might even feel alone with insufficient support and no way out. You might want to cry just a little.
Sometimes it shows up in our lives as disorganization, and difficulty starting or following through with you-know-what-should-be-done.
Chances are that you have probably been overwhelmed by the feelings of overwhelm. At least once in your life so far.
So what is this feeling of overwhelm?
Why is it there and how does it serve us?
And what can we do about it so that it will work FOR us, instead of it eating us alive?
Now, let me ask you a question.
What do you notice when you feel overwhelmed?
This question has a few components:
Where in your body do you feel overwhelmed?
How does it manifest in your body?
How does it manifest in your work, relationships, and personal life?
How are you being to yourself and others when you are overwhelmed?
What factors add to that feeling of overwhelm?
These are some of the questions that would give you a lot of information, about yourself, about the feeling of overwhelm, and how you can best support yourself when it happens. They can also point you towards what to do next.
I tend to believe that if something is there, it is there for a reason.
Just like the burning sensation on your hand when you put your hand on the stove on fire. That sensation is definitely unpleasant. It is there not to make your life miserable, but to tell you that something is off and you gotta take action. AKA take your hand off that burning stove!
In the book The Science of Stuck, Britt Frank explains that your brain is always trying to do either one of the following two things: either to make decisions, or to protect you. When you are overwhelmed, you are paralyzed with the feeling of not being able to make decisions. You can say that the overwhelm is your brain’s attempt to protect you. It is trying to protect you from burning out by putting off the decision making (e.g. what to do first for the huge project) for later, and do something that doesn’t require any decision making or any overwhelm-inducing tasks (e.g. watch Netflix).
It is telling you that you’ve had enough. It is time for you to take a step back, rest, reboot, or do something unrelated for a bit. To recharge your energy, creativity, motivation, and to gain clarity.
When you have so many tabs, windows, and apps open on your computer for some time without shutting them off, it works for a while but sooner or later it slows down or shuts off itself. If neither, it could shorten your computer’s life due to consistent overuse.
KNOW & SUPPORT YOURSELF
The feeling of overwhelm is trying to protect you from having your brain work slower than optimal, shutting off, breaking down, or incurring other damages.
When you feel overwhelmed, it is important to meet you where you are! Your body and brain are trying to get your attention, to tell you something.
So ask yourself:
Where do I feel the overwhelm in my body?
What do I need more than anything in this moment?
What can I do right now to support myself?
Have you noticed that all three questions point towards putting the attention toward you.
Most importantly, it is super valuable to get in the habit of getting to know yourself.
What makes you tick? What makes you stressed? What makes you de-stress? What can you do to support yourself when you feel off?
Check out the Know-Me-Better Journal under Tools & Resources.
Spend some time getting to know yourself, ideally in the space and time where you are less stressed and less overwhelmed. By putting in the effort in doing so, you will be better prepared for the next time you do feel a little low on resources and need your own help.
And remember, whenever you feel like you need help, before looking elsewhere, look inside to see if there is anything you need that you can do for yourself!
Besides giving yourself priority over the overwhelming to-do list and supporting yourself in the way that you need in the moment of feeling overwhelmed, getting clarity in what your priorities are this year, this week, and today would help you not only cure but also prevent overwhelm.
When you are overwhelmed and feel like the world is about to swallow you with the amount of things that need to be done in comparison to the time you have, the instinct is to keep trying to knock things out of your to-do list, keep swinging your ax at the tree.
But all that effort and energy do not translate into the result you want because your ax has been worn out and it needs sharpening. Without spending some time to recalibrate, prepare, be away from the tree to sharpen the ax, you are signing up for a highly inefficient energy draining downward spiral.
Yes, you might be able to get that tree to fall to the ground with the dull ax, but at the cost of having to spend much more energy, effort and time than you would have needed with a sharp ax.
Yes, you can get all the things done off your to-do list but at the cost of exhaustion or a burnout; maybe even at the cost of your relationships, sleep, hobbies and exercise to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy. This is to say you are prioritizing your to-do list over the quality of your life. You are prioritizing getting things done over yourself.
Needless to say it is super important to avoid getting you to this point, but to keep you a well-oiled, well-sharpened, well-rested, well-maintained, well-taken-care-of instrument. So that you are not only able to do the same things with a better attitude, mindset, energy, and resources, but also you would be able to enjoy your life better.
We can talk all day long about how important self care is, but how many of us are likely to practice it when we already feel like we are running out of time with all the responsibilities and to-do’s? I personally can’t even make my way to the shower to get ready for bed when I feel overwhelmed. And I am well aware of the importance of sleep in my life for me to function and show up as my best self in the world. Sleep absolutely needs to be prioritized for me to show up healthy and well, and feel like I can concur all of my to-do’s.
But if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
We should be able to let ourselves know at any point in our day:
What our top 3 priorities are for the year.
What our top 3 priorities are for the week.
If you are clear on those with yourself for the year and for the week, it will make it whole lot easier for you to decide on what needs to be dropped so that you have more mental space to get the priorities done. Not the priorities decided with the cluttered mind in an overwhelmed state, but the predetermined priorities you have decided for yourself with a clearer and more objective mind before the onset of overwhelm. A promise with yourself, your year and your week.
Get your priority worksheet today.
So that you can see more clearly for yourself what you need to focus on this year, this week, and today.
It will help you drop some things that need to take a back seat until later.
Sometimes it helps to drop just one thing. It can create a lot more space and peace of mind.
I hope this helps!
Remember that you can always book a session with me (or any other coach of your choice) if you are overwhelmed and need someone to help you support yourself through the tough, confusing, or overwhelming times.
All the best, and with lots of love,