The Overwhelm Tailspin
It’s relatively easy to get overwhelmed these days when the demands on us are never-ending, and the supply of what we have to give seems to be shrinking in proportion.
We feel overwhelmed when there are too many stressors on us, when we’re handling too much for too long, and when we fear on some level, that we’re going to lose control and everything’s going to come tumbling down.
With each added task or obligation, things we can easily do, and might even enjoy if we only had to do that one thing, we become more impaired, drained, irritable, anxious, intolerant, upset, even sad or hopeless.
When you feel like you’re about to burst into tears because one more thing needs your attention and energy, or you lash out in vehement anger at someone or something that isn’t going your way, you know you’re in overwhelm.
You need to know, and you probably do on some level, that this state cannot go on for long without drastic consequences to your health, well-being, your relationships, your career and your future. You’re heading down a negative, downward spiral and from within this state of being, almost everything you do and how you do it, carries with it a negative charge. You don’t perform as well as you normally could, your relationships are tainted and people are put off by your mood or attitude, you’re liable to self-sabotage and the results you get from this place make you feel even worse.
Sorry to be such a downer and throw some more fuel into the overwhelm inferno but you have to realize and accept that if you keep going this way, things are just going to get worse. Your survival brain, or ego, doesn’t want to hear that. I know. It wants to keep pushing you to handle everything, the way you always do, but you need to tell yourself to STOP THIS RIGHT NOW! Stop this cycle and downward spiral.
“But I can’t”, you say. “Nothing will get done. Things will fall apart. Who’s going to do it if I don’t? Everyone needs me and no one can help me. I have to do it all. I have no choice! F-you!”
Right. I understand. What you need isn’t one more imposition on you.
Let’s get to the point – you need some love and care. (Uggghhh. Did I just lose you? If love and care are too fluffy, warm and fuzzy for you, then let’s call it something more scientific if that will help you take better care of yourself – how about ‘you need to deactivate your Sympathetic Nervous System and activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System for a while.)
Be Good to Yourself
Love and care will help you come back to yourself – renew you, relax you, recharge you and help you feel better about yourself. As a result, your thinking will be clearer, your mind will be more open, creative and resourceful, and your body will be more relaxed, at peace and energized.
But who’s going to give it to you?
Once you do, to a great enough degree, your mind will be in a better position to consider changing your approach to managing stress within you and to making some radical changes in your lifestyle so that you don’t get in this position again.
There are many layers and facets to stress and overwhelm. So much to explore and come to understand about our psychology and physiology but you probably don’t have time or energy for that right now. Here are some questions that would be good to explore and come to understand (at some later point) for your own sake:
- What is stress? What are stressors? What’s a stress reaction? How do continuous stress reactions lead to overwhelm?
- What do we believe about the stressors in our life? How do we handle/manage the stress reactions within us?
- How have we trained our brains and bodies to store tension as a way of life?
- What are our strongest triggers? Why do we take on so much? Why do we believe we have to keep doing it?
- What are our deep beliefs around setting boundaries, being assertive, compassionate to ourselves and saying NO?
For today, we’ll only be looking at one facet, in the least technical/academic way – stopping the feelings of overwhelm for long enough to resource (re-source) yourself, find an opening (a bright spot in a dark cloud) and make a commitment to add one healthy/positive discipline and eliminate one unhealthy/negative pattern from your life for the next 30 days.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice…
Ideally, you’d go on a long vacation or a personal retreat. You’d get plenty of healthy rest each night and you’d have a nap during the day. You’d eat the most nutritious, life replenishing foods. You’d get massages and Reiki and other mind/body work to help your body, mind and spirit. You’d do work with a therapist and/or a coach to help you release all the negativity, uncover self-defeating beliefs and patterns that have been running your life, and you’d develop positive strategies, structures and disciplines for re-entering your life in a new and more empowered and positive way. And you’d set up a follow-up retreat 2-3 months later and who knows what you’d do after that – you’d probably change so much about your life, the choices you make, the way you manage your needs, your schedule and everybody else’s needs and demands, that we’d be looking at your situation from a completely different perspective. It probably would be more about creating a powerful and inspiring life vision, cultivating your greatest gifts and strengths, and living a life of purpose and meaning, than it would be about reducing stress and overwhelm.
But ideal isn’t always real and practical. For some, that idea above may just be the thing they’re going to do because they’ve had enough. They’re going to live their own Eat/Pray/Love. For others, they just can’t do that right now (but I won’t say they can’t ever do that).
Let’s start with something easier.
Can you take one day off?
Can you take one day to yourself? If you need to get yourself so sick that you’ll end up in a hospital or asylum (or conveniently break your leg, or get into an accident, or lose your job, or fill-in-the-blank with the mysterious effects of the subconscious) in order to allow yourself to take a break, please reconsider. The costs are increasing and the payoff is decreasing from living this way. You must stop and take at least one day to yourself. Depending on your level of overwhelm, that may not be nearly enough but it is what it is. If you can at least take one day, then you’re doing something healthy and positive for yourself.
You’ll need uninterrupted rest, nourishing food, plenty of water and some practices to help you clear negative and toxic emotions and their chemical/hormonal counterparts from your body. It’s only a start and a small dose but once again, it is what it is, and it’s better than continuing to feed overwhelm.
9 Ideas for Releasing Overwhelm for One Day
Do them all, do a combination of just a few. Do what you can. I share these ideas with you from my own personal collection of positive practices. There have been days that I’ve done them all and really felt like I came back to myself after being in an overwhelm tailspin. Some seem so obvious, and you’ve likely done them or do them but perhaps never realized how important and helpful they are for your well-being. You can scrutinize or criticize but they’re all scientifically sound, if that matters to you, and help calm the nervous system so you can overcome overwhelm.
Soothing and Comforting Yourself – Instead of being your own slave driver or worst critic, give yourself any form of loving comfort that you can: soothe yourself and reassure yourself as if you were talking to a child, “Everything’s going to be ok. You’re just tired and stressed. You need some rest. You’re doing something good for yourself today and you’ll feel better soon.” Give yourself a hug or simply put your hands over your heart, breathe calmly and soothe yourself for a while.
Rhythmic Breathing (Pranayama) – There are many, perhaps countless, forms of controlled or regulated breathing techniques to help soothe and calm the nervous system and thus your mind and emotions. Under stress, our breath is shallow and short. This is caused by our fight or flight response. Take control of your state of mind and body by intentionally and mindfully shifting your breathing to long, deep and slow breaths (full belly breathing like a baby), which will begin to calm your nervous system down. Once you’ve slowed things down, try to focus on your heart and one thing you appreciate or are grateful for, one thing that makes you feel good (if you let it) and enjoy that for a while.
Yoga – Good for mind, body & spirit. Though it’s gained much popularity as a form of exercise in recent years, Yoga is much more than just physical exercise. It is a practice to help one mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It can be seen as a form of meditation, becoming present to oneself and all that’s going on inside of us that we’re normally not aware of. By focusing all your efforts on the intention, the pose, the breath and the one moment you’re in, you free yourself for a while by uniting yourself. Try a slow but challenging Yin Yoga routine where poses are held for long periods of time and you will help yourself release stored emotion and loosen much tightness and constriction caused by the body under stress.
Guided Meditations – Instead of putting up with the voices in your head for one more minute, listen to someone else’s calm, soothing voice, guiding you to a more relaxed and healthy state of being. They will guide you to regulate your breathing, and systematically relax your entire body, and will invite you to consider positive and nurturing thoughts, ideas or images. Time well spent.
A Walk (in Nature in possible) – A simple brisk walk is enough to help calm the nerves. Make it a mindful one, regulating your breathing and bringing your focus to the world around you (the sights, the sounds, the smells) instead of thinking about all the stressors in your life, will activate soothing neurons in the brain. If you can, take your walk in nature and near water, to let it boost your well-being.
Quiet – Get some quiet time, which can be surprisingly difficult these days. No loud noises, no traffic, no loud TV, no phones, no tech. If you wish, you can try putting in some ear plugs for a short period of time. It may be a bit strange at first, something might feel wrong but give it a few minutes and it will help your brain and body relax.
Epsom Salt Bath with Baking Powder & Scented Essence and possibly some relaxing music. I may not need to say more but I will. Such a bath will ease stress, promote relaxation, help detoxify, help the body get magnesium, help relieve pain and inflammation and more. Add some baking powder, which helps mineral absorption and counterbalances chlorine if that’s in your water. Choose an essential oil you like, light a candle, put on some soft relaxation music, and soak for at least 20 minutes. Then hydrate with plenty of water.
Watch a Funny &/or Feel-Good Movie – If you’re going to have screen-time on your day off, take it easy and be exposed to something positive, uplifting and nurturing. Comedies, that give you full-on belly laughs, can reduce stress hormones, lower your blood pressure and help your immune system. You’ll have a fresh perspective after the movie and they’re even proven to help reduce anxiety, fear and aggression. A perfect remedy for overwhelm.
Cultivate Appreciation – When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, it can be tough to see how much we actually have in our life to appreciate or be grateful for. We’ll discuss appreciation and nurturing positive emotions much more in a future article but for now, give yourself 20 minutes to reflect on one thought after another of anything in your life that you appreciate or are grateful for. Anything. Be selfish here and give yourself the permission to like what you like, to appreciate what deserves appreciation, to have a sense of gratitude for anything you experienced or have in your life right now. It’s possible that in less than 5 minutes, your heart will be full and you may even be moved to tears, which brings us to one final bonus idea, which if it hasn’t already happened, perhaps you could let it happen.
Have a Good Cry – Some people may not need any encouragement to cry but others might resist it with all their might. It’s not only men who resist shedding tears, many find it a sign of weakness to cry their eyes out. The emotional release may be just the thing you need and the endorphins released may help you feel so much better. They may even help you eliminate stress hormones from your body. If you’re on the verge of tears, be kind and loving to yourself and give yourself permission to cry.
Hopefully, this day served you and you feel your Overwhelm Meter went from a 10/10 to at least a 4/10 or lower, and your Well-Being/Found-Myself-Again meter went from a 0/10 to at least a 6/10 (or even higher).
What Will You Commit To?
Perhaps you will have some fresh perspectives on how to care for yourself moving forward, and you might do so on a more consistent basis. There might also be things you’ve noticed that you want to stop or say no to in your life, and that will likely take a bit more work.
Learning how to say NO in the first place, creating healthy boundaries, knowing your limits, recognizing your own reasons for letting yourself take on way too much, too much of the time, are all important and valuable personal well-being skills to master but they take time. If you’re like most people, you might not be able to learn that on your own, so I want you to know that I’m here to help you and support you in nurturing the most important relationship in your life – the one with yourself. If you want to talk about this with me, please reach out.
For now, are you willing to make one loving and compassionate commitment to yourself (not a forced or pressured choice) to add one healthy/positive discipline to your routine and eliminate one unhealthy/negative aspect from your long need-to-do-or-die list for the next 30 days?
Perhaps as a sign of your commitment to yourself, you could share that in the comments section below. I’d love to support and encourage your commitment!