Tips for Dealing with Overwhelm

March 3, 2021

Have you ever felt overwhelmed? How did you experience it and what happened next? Consider that for a moment please, would you?

Let’s begin today’s thinking by offering a definition of overwhelm. Keeping it simple, as we like simple, overwhelm is when you focus on the big picture and apply the problems and challenges of one thing to everything.

The path from one thing to everything is a largely unconscious one and the conscious result is the feeling of being overwhelmed. Once in the state of overwhelm, your daily functioning is affected because the thought of everything is just too much, your brain chemistry changes and you end up in a kind of ‘mental fog’, through which it is impossible to find focus. So, you end up doing nothing. Overwhelm is a sure-fire route to the sofa and the box sets! Procrastination! Does this sound familiar at all? I remember 3 days of total fog and procrastination during which I binge watched the whole of Downton Abbey lol!!!

What can you do about it? Firstly, you need to be able to identify that what you are feeling is indeed overwhelm. You can do this easily by listening to language. The words we use are the labels we choose to describe our internal experience to the external world. Here’s a couple of everyday examples that I’m sure you will recognise:

Friend: “What’s wrong?”

You: “Everything, nothing is going right for me at the moment.”

Friend: “What’s wrong?”

You: “Everyone is against me at the moment, nobody wants to help.”

Friend: “What’s wrong?”

You: “I can’t possibly do everything, my life is a mess.”

Friend: “What’s wrong?”

You: “I want everything to be perfect and I’m just not capable of getting there, I’m not good enough.”

If any of these conversations resonate with you, then you have been overwhelmed. When you apply one problem to your whole life experience, you create panic, anxiety and emotional storms which end up in total paralysis and zero action. Emotional storms are made up of meta emotions (a piece of NLP jargon). Simply put, these are feelings about feelings. Here’s an example of how an emotional storm can bubble up at the unconscious level:

You experience something and you feel frustrated by it, then you get angry at yourself for feeling frustrated, then you feel guilty that you feel angry, then you feel sad about feeling guilty and you get overwhelmed. Some storms can circle around for days, like a hurricane sucking up every part of life!

Overwhelm occurs when your thinking becomes too ‘chunked up’. You apply one thing to everything, you think about everything that needs to be done. The solution is therefore really easy. To get out of overwhelm the answer is to ‘chunk down’. Ask yourself, “what specifically?” or “who specifically?” or “what specifically is important here?” and move your thinking from everything to one thing and then that one thing becomes the focal point of your thinking and you can take action towards a solution.

Make a simple list of ‘everything’ and then prioritise it. Deal with one item at a time and forget about the rest until it’s time to think about them again. You can work easily to solve the small chunks of life which make up the big chunks without having to get stuck in the big picture.

So, next time you get overwhelmed, think about chunking down and deal with the mole hill rather than the mountain!

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