When overwhelm shows up in my life, my energy drops. My tolerance for stress decreases. I feel less connected in my relationships. It feels increasingly hard to make things happen in my life. I become convinced that there is less or no time available for fun. I spend more time surfing the internet and do far more doing than being. And you know what else happens every single time?! My mind not only searches for but successfully finds more and more reasons for overwhelm to be here.
Overwhelm is a universal human experience, and it’s not a surprise that it’s been on the rise in the last few years. Whether it’s the daily demands at home, work, or in our relationships or it’s the political or environmental dysfunction or chaos in our cities, countries, and world, it’s easy to become disoriented and untrusting of what is steady and sure. Why wouldn’t overwhelm come to visit during times like these?
Well, I’ve got some great news! Below are three simple tools that, when practiced, begin to create a different experience with overwhelm when she visits. Try them on and see what you find:
Step #1: TURN TOWARDS OVERWHELM RATHER THAN TRYING TO ESCAPE FROM IT.
I know, I know. This sounds crazy! But before you entirely nix this tool, hear me out. You see, our relationship with overwhelm can change when we recognize that it’s a visitor. Before we know this, it can feel like it owns us. It can feel like we are IN an overwhelm tornado. But when we shift into noticing that overwhelm is merely a visitor showing up, we suddenly turn from feeling like we are IN overwhelm to being WITH overwhelm, and there is a BIG difference between the two.
I’m not talking about staring intensely into the eyes of overwhelm and singing kumbaya! Instead, I invite you to drop below the surface of all the thinking about what is causing your overwhelm. Tune in to the sensations that you experience in your body during it. Observe these sensations in your body for a few seconds at a time and do this throughout the day. This is the act of turning towards overwhelm in an embodied way. It innately invites us home and begins to tap us back into a place within where peace and wisdom reside, and new possibilities are born.
Step #2: TUNE INTO THE DELIGHTS AND WINS AROUND YOU.
Do you notice that when overwhelm visits, you’re often convinced that there’s nothing around you to take delight in because all you can see is what’s wrong? Our sense of possibilities becomes limited as the mind searches for anything and everything in our lives and the world that isn’t going ideally. We also start future tripping to focus on things that we MIGHT not want to happen in the future! Our perspective naturally becomes distorted when we’re in the depths of overwhelm.
When we purposefully LOOK for tiny signs of things around us that are going well or invoke delight in us, this invites a new perspective. This requires that we come back home to the present moment we are in, even for a few seconds at a time. Those little wins we experience such as when a glass drops, but doesn’t shatter or when we’re late to work, and the light turns green or when we haven’t done laundry in a couple of weeks, and we discover a clean shirt in the back of a drawer or when we escape a near fender bender. Or what about the tiny delights like the smell of the air, the changing leaves, the color of the sky, the smile that stranger gave, the greeting our dog provides us with every time we come home, the hug a child offers, the taste of a meal? You get my drift.
While your mind will not initially be convinced that these small wins or delights are worth much, they are incredibly powerful, especially when we purposefully take note of them throughout our day. They enable us to shift the glasses we are wearing to ones that offer a broader, more empowering perspective. And they remind us that there is life beyond overwhelm.
Step #3: ASK YOURSELF HOW YOU DO WANT TO FEEL.
When overwhelm visits, we automatically begin to focus on how we don’t want to feel. We analyze all the reasons we’re justified in feeling this and commiserate endlessly with others about it. This results in us believing there are very few solutions to our overwhelm, and these solutions usually feel pretty darn crappy!
What happens when we ask ourselves how we DO want to feel in our relationships, jobs, health, and lives? This shift immediately begins to tap us back into the feeling of possibility, which is a game-changer when overwhelm is visiting. If you’re not sure about this, try it out right now!
Do you notice that all three tools involve how we harness our focus? Focus is one of those quiet little habits we can easily misjudge. Practicing these simple shifts in focus throughout the day begins to create new neural pathways in our brains. Isn’t that amazing?
Our brains are hardwired to look for what’s wrong in our lives, focus on how we don’t want to feel, and urgently search for ways to fix or eliminate uncomfortable feelings like overwhelm. Yet when we practice these three tools I mention, we actively foster neuroplasticity in the brain. This means the brain begins to form NEW responses to overwhelm that create a different experience for us. The more we practice these new tools, the stronger these new pathways become.
When I recently realized that overwhelm was again paying me a visit, my response was, “Oh, hey. It’s you. We’ve met before.” and I immediately felt relief because I knew harnessing my focus in a more purposeful way would change our visit together. It might just do the same for you. Give these tools a try and let me know what you find!
Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND
P.S. This article was published on Thrive Global:
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Beautifully presented, Emily. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my relationship with being overwhelmed these days. Turns out, getting myself into situations that overwhelm me is a deeply ingrained habit. But even my imperfect, new relationship with Overwhelm has brought me more peace, gives me more headroom for dealing with whatever it is that’s overwhelming me.
Hiya Lola! Thanks for your comment:-) And yes, isn’t it wild to discover our ingrained patterns? The beautiful thing about those discoveries is how empowering it becomes to see them, huh? SO YAYYYY for imperfect, new relationships with overwhelm! I wonder what other ways we may come to experience overwhelm when it comes to visit?