The first definition that comes up when you google overwhelm is to bury or drown beneath a huge mass, which made me laugh and is not far off from what it feels like when you are overwhelmed. It’s like we are caught in a flood and we are doing everything we can to keep our heads above water.
Overwhelm comes up a lot on my group calls and one on one sessions. Honestly, it comes up a lot in my own life. This week it came up so many times and I was in the thick of it myself that I decided to take a deeper look. Everyone that puts themselves in an accountability process is trying to accomplish something, and usually that something is pretty big. That can easily bring up feelings of overwhelm. Especially a few weeks in, when the initial optimism has given way to the reality of the task ahead. How do we push through it? I realized that I have a methodology for dealing with my own overwhelm and I’ve learned a lot from watching my clients dealing with theirs.
The first thing I do when I’m in overwhelm is try to get grounded. I have several practices that are part of my life. I meditate, journal, and read spiritual books. The first step for me is always to close my eyes and come to my breath. I’m not the type of meditator that can clear their thoughts just like that, but I can focus on my breath, watch my thoughts, get lost in them, realize it, and then go back to the breath. Sometimes a space of total stillness opens up, that’s nice, but if not I’m okay with that too, because just going back to the breath is enough. Sometimes my mind is such a crazy frazzled mess that doing that is actually even more overwhelming so out comes the journal to get all the thoughts out, that helps but sometimes my thoughts are so nasty I don’t want to look at them on paper and make them real. My last resort is then to read what someone else has written. These days I’m turning to the Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. If none of these things resonate with you, think about how you get grounded. Is it to take a walk in nature or perhaps talk with a friend? Maybe it’s music. Find what grounds you and get to it.
The second thing I do is try to figure out what is actually bothering me. Once I’m grounded, and by that I mean I’ve gained some perspective and I’m back in my body realizing that this thing is not my life, it’s just an aspect of my life that is happening right now so things don’t feel quite as big. The flood becomes more of a rushing river. I still don’t feel great but now I’m looking for the pain point, the place where I don’t want to tell the truth, the thing I’m creating all this chaos in my life to avoid looking at, the reason I’ve let this get so big. I realize overwhelm is not because of what needs to get done, it’s the feeling we have about what needs to get it. That’s why we can have some huge task and handle it with grace and confidence and then have another huge undertaking that we feel too overwhelmed to tackle. In those feelings of overwhelm there is something that we are telling ourselves or believe that is making everything really hard and that’s what we need to listen for and identify. I come up with all sorts of good ones. I’m afraid to fail, I’m afraid to be seen, I’m afraid I won’t be love, I’m afraid I’ll succeed and my life will change too much, I’m afraid I’ll be alone. So many fears are running around us all the time, figuring out which fears or beliefs are creating the chaos doesn’t make them go away but it does take away some of the power they have over you.
The third thing to do, and this is what my very wise client said this week that sounded a buzzer in my head, is let go of the result and just do a little bit, something to point yourself in the right direction. It doesn’t have to be big. Are you moving? Clean out a closet. Are you looking to make a career change? Meet with one recruiter. Are you facing a health challenge? Make one positive change in your lifestyle. Are you having problems in your relationship? Talk to someone you trust. Are you struggling with your business? Do one thing on your to-do list. Start with something easy and then you can take another step and then another. You will feel better.
So that’s it, get grounded, get honest about what’s bothering you, and take action.
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