What is causing you to feel overwhelmed?

Uncategorized Mar 13, 2018

It seems quite ironic that just days before writing this blog I personally experienced feeling very overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure initially whether to mention this although it was a useful reminder of experiencing these feelings. Would people think I was some sort of failure for not being completely sorted myself and thus not equipped to support others? Yet on the other hand I always want to be completely authentic and empathetic in my work. So here is just a quick indication of what happened. Some of these experiences may resonate with you.

I woke up quite early having not slept well, which can easily set the tone for the day. Immediately my head flooded with a huge list of things I needed to do. Although it was Sunday and Mother’s Day my list included some business actions to try to complete for an imminent deadline. Those tasks hadn’t been completed during the working part of the week due to attending a conference. Sometimes time pressure can help with focus but I felt like I had thick brain fog. I desperately wanted to be accountable to my coach and peers and didn’t want to let anyone down. I had enjoyed spending time with all my children on the previous weekend, so I had the joy of cards and flowers but the day wasn’t going to be full of activities with them. I wanted to visit my elderly Mum and take her some flowers. I remembered that sadly my Mother-in-Law was no longer alive this Mother’s Day. Part of my mind also recognised that I wanted to enjoy a restful day spending time with my husband, enjoying a walk in nature and a visit to the gym, reading a useful book; but these somehow felt wrong when I had so much else to do. Then I started to notice clutter – a pile of clothes in the bedroom and papers and books everywhere in my home office. There were also chores to do like the washing. Notifications popped up on my phone reminding me that I needed to post certain things for a personal challenge starting the next day. I looked at my calendar and saw a medical appointment that I was a bit anxious about and appointments in the days ahead. My brain kept adding more and more things and my emotions became very over sensitive. I tried to explain to my husband and became tearful. This sense of chaos and scattered thoughts is typical of feeling overwhelmed and stuck in a state of either paralysis or frantic action. I managed to do a few easy things like tidying and washing, and that sense of some small progress was helpful.

Sometimes we can realise what is going on for ourselves and start to put in place emergency plans to return to calm and then be in a place where we can take appropriate action. But at other times we need someone to act as a mirror and help us see the reality of our situation, whether a partner, friend, coach or colleague. My husband suggested that we sat outside in the garden to enjoy our coffee together. At first I thought he was crazy and it would be far too cold, then my next thought was I haven’t got time to do this. But he insisted and was a calming presence because he wasn’t joining me in my state of overwhelm. Surprisingly it was actually almost warm, the sun was shining, there were signs of Spring growth in our plants and birdsong. Sitting quietly, noticing and appreciating all the beauty around me in the present moment was the first key step to getting out of overwhelm. I could then prioritise what was really most important and choose to let go of many things for today. I went to visit my Mum first ☺.

My example indicates that overwhelm can come from a variety of sources and is often quite complex. There may be one initial trigger than starts the process off and then it’s like a snowball rushing downhill, gathering more snow and getting bigger and out of control. It is an experience that encompasses your thoughts, feelings, responses in your physical body, your life and people around you. I’m going to use the Wellness wheel to explain some of the key types. Overwhelm can both arise from one of these factors or contribute to their development.

Lifestyle & Pace
In our 24/7 world the pace of life and expectations placed on us by others or ourselves can start to get too much to cope with and this is a very common area of overwhelm, particularly in the area of work and business . We feel time has become constricted even though we all have the same 168 hours each week as we start to recognise that we don’t have enough time to complete everything. We may grow never- ending To-Do lists that never get done. It may be difficult to say no to the demands of others when we like to please people and be responsible, or accept that our self-expectations are unrealistic when we are driven ,determined and perhaps perfectionist. We are normally trying to achieve a reasonable balance between work and life but sometimes one becomes a higher priority and creates tension. Unexpected events can throw us into chaos and feeling out of control.

Many people are emotionally sensitive and empathetic. That is their lens of interpreting the world and so it may not always be fullyunderstood by others around them. So reactions to life events such as comments, feedback, connections with other people, situations may be magnified and felt at a much deeper emotional level. If experiences are perceived as stressful then cumulatively they may become overwhelming. Also if it is difficult to express your true emotions to those around you they can become stuck and more powerful.

Certain relationships may be difficult or even toxic, so that any interaction becomes a trigger point. Many have challenges with close family members that started in childhood experiences. Or work relationships with someone who has a dominant personality and lack to sensitivity to their impact on other people. Typically it is difficult to get away from these people and protect personal boundaries. Some people are very isolated and lacking the support of close relationships. We all want to feel loved and connected but often have a mix of poor and great relationships in our lives.

The feel of our environment does influence how we experience life and we all have preferences that we may not be able to control. Some may be very sensitive to noise and busyness, so working in an open plan office, meeting at a crowded coffee shop or restaurant, being with people who are loud & outspoken, TV /loud music/ phones/constant conversations can create overwhelm. Some like tidiness and order so struggle with mess and clutter. Many dislike constricted spaces, lack of natural light, lack of solitude. Others may love the buzz of being with other people. Environment is often a secondary factor in overwhelm.

Life Purpose
We like to feel that our actions have a clear purpose to improve our own experience of life and ripple out to those around us. Some want to make a bigger impact and create a lasting legacy in the world. If our work in particular feels off track then we can develop an overwhelming sense of frustration and disappointment. We ask ourselves “What is the point of all our efforts and why are we not making progress?” We may be comparing ourselves to an idealised goal and just noticing how far we are away from achieving it, unable to see the solution and creating a negative spiral.

Finance and work
We all need to be able to afford our chosen lifestyle and responsibilities and want to feel secure. Yet finance is often one of those areas that people avoid, don’t fully understand and feel fearful about discussing or sharing with others. It is often an unspoken indicator of self-worth and an area of conflict in relationships. There may be unexpected events that impact finances and natural fluctuations in income and expenses that cause fear to return and grow to overwhelm if a solution can’t be found. This can sometimes be a hidden underlying factor that drives our pace of life and purpose.

Normally your conscious brain likes to feel in control of your life and able to focus attention on processing and completing tasks. It helps to be able to concentrate on one thing only and complete that before moving onto the next, and to minimise interruptions and distractions. But we often end up trying to multi-task and are usually less effective as a result. Processing capacity may be impaired when there is just so much going on in our heads and we just run out of space. The mind becomes slow, foggy, unable to complete focus or complete tasks, make decisions or work out solutions. If you begin to describe yourself as overwhelmed the brain will look for further evidence to support this belief. The subconscious brain will start joining in with more tasks, experiences and the snowball of thoughts typical of overwhelm.

Physical Body
The body is like a barometer of what is going on in your life, yet often we can take health for granted until something starts to go wrong. It could be something small like feeling tired and low in energy after a busy day, poor sleep , missing a meal, certain times of your hormonal cycle. Or you could start to develop more persistent and severe health problems. The body can be something that makes you more susceptible to one of the other overwhelm factors, such as tiredness impacting your mental capacity, coping with the pace of life, and abilty to do self-care practices such as exercise. Or physical symptoms can arise from overwhelm in other areas creating stress responses and a domino effect on body systems.

Having a sense of awareness of the sources of overwhelm can help identify the best strategies to restore calm and then be able to tackle the underlying causes rather than allowing patterns to keep repeating. I've realised that writing long blogs is potentially overwhelming but I'm working on it getting easier with practice !

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