What to do when you are stuck in overwhelm
I am feeling plagued by overwhelm today.
Overwhelm is an emotion. I have quite a few thoughts that frequently generate the feeling of overwhelm in me.
For me it’s usually associated with thoughts about having too much to do and not enough time to get it done. These thoughts usually relate to other thoughts that I have about what I ‘should’ get done. I also think that I want to do everything because I tell myself things will be better, in fact ‘I will be better’ if I get everything done the way I want to.
Much of what I want to get done today (Sunday) is preparation for the week ahead. I am also telling myself that if I don’t get do everything I will be ‘behind’ before the week has even started.
So, what’s the problem with feeling overwhelmed? I used to think that feelings of overwhelm, stress or urgency were what drove me to get everything done but now I know that overwhelm doesn’t serve me. It is a wasted emotion like guilt or self-pity.
Being busy has nothing to do with your to-do list. It has to do with how many thoughts you have going on in your brain.
Brooke Castillo, The Life Coach School
The problem is that when I feel overwhelmed, I am scattered in my approach to how I do things. My brain is busy thinking of everything that I should do, rather than focused on the one thing that I am doing at a given time. I am not operating at full capacity because the overwhelm is taking up some of my attention. Overwhelm also doesn’t feel good and it leads me to more critical thinking.
Physically for me overwhelm feels like a tension in my throat, a slightly dry mouth and a heaviness in my chest. It’s not a feeling that I find massively uncomfortable. I am okay with feeling it, but it serves no purpose. And I am also aware that it’s probably creating a physiological stress response which is not good for my body. Stress is aging and contributes to many health problems because it increases the amount of cortisol in your body. Increased cortisol is also associated with over eating weight gain.
So, if I recap what is going on when I am experiencing overwhelm. Firstly, I feel overwhelmed because I have the thought ‘I haven’t got enough time to get everything done’, and then when I feel overwhelmed my approach to what I am doing is more scattered. I don’t focus on one thing at a time, I’m not working with clarity and I am not very supportive of my husband and kids if they ask anything of me. The outcome is that I don’t work as efficiently and effectively as I could. I waste energy, I will likely later be finding myself compensating for the lack of attention I gave my family in the moment. All of which support my original theory and thinking that ‘I haven’t got enough time to get everything done’, and ‘that I am not being enough’.
So, what’s the alternative? The alternative is that I consciously seek thoughts and feelings that will help me achieve what I want to achieve and not hinder me. Today I really want to get myself ready for my week and support my family. If I take a few moments to think what that means and how I can effectively do that, I come up with: take one hour to plan my work week, and another hour to plan my family stuff (Ocado orders, kids picks ups and activities, time to support parents, time for my husband). I’ve also given myself an hour to write this blog post, and I need an hour to do some other coaching work. I then schedule those four hours on my calendar around the other plans for the day. I still feel slightly sceptical as I do this. Not sure I can really achieve what I need in those hour slots, but I decide to go with it.
Next, I ask myself, what I would I need to feel in order to get all that stuff done in the four hours I’ve allocated. I choose ‘competent’, if I was competent at doing this stuff then yes, maybe I could get it done is those time slots. And then I consider, what would I need to think in order to feel competent. And the answer is ‘I know exactly how to get these things done’. Thinking this creates so much more positive energy for me than feeling overwhelmed. It helps me feel compelled to just get started with hour one and get the result that I want.
Whenever we notice that we are feeling overwhelmed it can be helpful to take a moment to stop and notice that it is an opportunity to recalibrate, to consider that we can be purposeful and consider what feeling or emotion would serve us better. Then, once we identify how we want to be feeling we can find the intentional thought that will create that for us. And it should be a thought that feels true to us.
For example, I believe that if I thought ‘I have exactly the right amount of time to do everything that I need to do today’ I would get more done, I would feel totally in control and super capable, and calm and focused. I can see how believing that thought would benefit me, but I wouldn’t quite believe it. So instead I could practice the thought ‘I have enough time to get the important things done today’. This feels true to me and it create the feeling of competent and enables me to move forward with getting things done.