Have you ever experienced overwhelm? I sure have. In fact, I'd say that most of us have likely experienced it at some point in our lives, to varying degrees. For some, it's a relatively minor hiccup in an otherwise productive day; they get stuck for a few moments, but then move along. For many, it can be a state that borders on debilitating. I wouldn't say that I ever felt that strongly about overwhelm, but at times it was close. So what kinds of situations produce overwhelm, and how can we work on conquering it? Continue on, dear reader, and we'll take a look at it together!
My overwhelm, like many others, often has come about as a result of stress. Whether it be school, work, or relationships, stress made overwhelm seem very real and very difficult to deal with. I would feel almost lost -- as if there were no "good" options or decisions, if I perceived any whatsoever. I would feel embattled, stuck, helpless, and crushed by everything going on inside my mind; much like the fellow in the image above.
Stress can have a very bizarre impact on our brains. They perceive that stress as pain or a state of potential harm, and put us into a 'protective' mode. One strategy to deal with potential pain is to avoid it entirely, and that is a major outcome of overwhelm. Instead of working through the difficulties and stresses, we shut down completely in order to avoid dealing with the potential hurt. Avoidance became one of my favoured means of coping with stress and overwhelm; I'd put things off as long as possible, in order to avoid thinking about or dealing with them. It fed a great deal into my habit of procrastination, and certainly didn't serve me whatsoever.
Stress isn't the only way we experience overwhelm -- at least not stress in the sense I've already been looking at. When we're presented with a myriad of options, choice itself can be overwhelming. Our brains crave a great deal of certainty in order to comfortably function; they abhor uncertainty to the point where they will look for any 'reasonable' amount of information to plug into the unknown holes, whether that information is relevant and useful or not. When presented with too much information, though, our brains also have a tendency to become overwhelmed and shut down. I experienced this a great deal as well -- often in the form of analysis paralysis. I would become overwhelmed with making the "right" or "perfect" choice, and ultimately end up taking forever to simply choose in the first place. When we allow ourselves to become bogged down in choice, placing the pressure and expectation that we must make the "perfect" one in order to proceed, we're inviting overwhelm to consume our entire thought process.
So how have I been able to work through my overwhelm? I've discovered a few techniques and tips that have significantly reduced the amount of overwhelm I experience, and how to reduce its impact when I'm in it. Because don't get me wrong -- I've not conquered it by any means. I still experience overwhelm in my life; the frequency and severity of it, however, have dramatically decreased. Here's a few of the techniques I made reference to:
As silly as it may sound, simply breathing has made an enormous difference. And when I say 'breathe', I mean slow, intentional, and controlled breaths. When we get into a stressed and overwhelmed state, our breath tends to become rapid and shallow; this perpetuates the stress reaction in a biological sense. It's been proven that taking slow, deep, and intentional breaths actually calms the nervous system, and allows your thought patterns to become more under control. When I begin to feel overwhelmed, focusing on my breathing is one of the first techniques I employ to calm and correct myself.
A Mindset of Opportunity and Possibility
I used to be a person who didn't look for possibility. In fact, I seemed to do my damnedest to eliminate possibilities and opportunities. That kind of mindset only perpetuates the feeling of having no way out, no choice, or, well, no opportunities available. When you paint yourself into a corner, you really only have yourself to blame. And I found myself in a lot of corners. When I chose to look at opportunity and possibility as always existing around me, and that I only needed reach out and take action in order to bring them into being, I felt... lighter. Knowing that I have choices, options, and possibilities is an empowering feeling that has helped me overcome spurts of overwhelm.
Trusting My Gut
I've never considered myself to be particularly intuitive. Right there before us all -- a limiting belief! Our inner voices may not be as loud as others who are very naturally intuitive, but that doesn't mean we don't possess the ability! Sometimes, we need to tune in and listen a little more closely, because that inner voice is there, and our gut instinct -- more often than not -- is a wise choice. For myself, I think a lack of confidence and trust in my own abilities made me tune down that inner voice, and put a lot of stock into the amount of logical musings I could come up with. And I could come up with tons, so that made analysis paralysis very viable. Silly me. Now, I've begun training myself to tune up the volume on that inner voice; to really listen to my gut instinct and use that as a major factor in my decision-making. I've run into far fewer circumstances when I've been left, stuck, trying to figure out which pen to buy because of its point type, grip feel, balance, colour, etc. -- I just choose a damned pen!
These are only a few techniques to help with overwhelm, but ones that have proven very beneficial in my life. Feel free to share yours, because the more help we can offer, the better for everyone around us!