Submerged. That’s the best word I can think of to describe what overwhelm feels like in my body. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never make it to the top. Yet, as uncomfortable as that sounds, I thought I had to live that way. Until I found a better way. Come walk with me a bit so I can share with you why overwhelm is not required.
I have a vivid picture in my mind of what overwhelm looks like inside of me. It’s a memory of one time, when at the beach I decided to venture into a very rough surf. In no time at all, I found myself pummeled over and over by waves. Waves so rough they knocked me under the water and I couldn’t stand up. After what seemed an endless struggle, I staggered to my feet and out of the water. Are you like me, thinking somehow you won’t get anywhere unless you go through overwhelm?
the overwhelm myth
I’m not sure why, but most women that I talk to, think overwhelm is something they have no control over. They think if you’re busy, getting things done, of course you will have overwhelm. Or more often it seems they feel they have no other choice. That’s why I want to take some time to explain why overwhelm is not required to successfully accomplish goals, personal growth or the demands of each day. In fact, if you slow down, seek some quiet time to look objectively at things, you’ll actually accomplish more. Check out my “Calming Techniques Guide” at the end of the post for tips to help with this; you may be surprised how well they work!
Let me debunk one popular myth; overwhelm is not caused by anything outside of you. That’s right, no one nor anything “makes” you overwhelmed. Overwhelm is caused by your thoughts about your situation. You create overwhelm by your thought patterns. For example, I wake up, immediately thinking about my schedule for the day, and my first thought pops up, “I have so much to do”. That leads to another thought, “I’ll never get it all done.” How do you think those thoughts will impact me for the day? Will I feel empowered to face the day, or “overwhelmed”?
overwhelm is the enemy of productivity
When I allow these thoughts to run through my mind, they create overwhelm. Ultimately I end up less able to organize, plan or accomplish anything. Overwhelm causes me to feel paralyzed; unable to move in any specific direction. This results in more overwhelm, because nothing is getting done! The responsibilities and commitments I’ve made pile up until I feel completely buried.
When controlled by overwhelm, are you laser focused? How about organization skills, what do they look like? Do you really get anything done? Most likely none of these things are going well. You may still get things done while overwhelmed, but you’ll still be overwhelmed afterwards. When you allow overwhelm to either paralyze you or drive you, you compromise creative problem solving, productivity and your own peace of mind.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”Albert Einstein
change your thinking change your life
I have some good news for you, overwhelm is not a situation; it’s an emotion. That’s good news because we seldom can control our situations, but we can control our emotions. As I mentioned previously, thoughts about our situations create our emotions about that same situation. This article does a great job of explaining how this works. Realizing this changed everything for me; I started to see why overwhelm is not required to accomplish my goals.
I used to think if I worked really hard, checked everything off my “To-Do” list, then I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. But guess what? I still felt overwhelmed! Why? Because even though I managed to push to get things done, my thoughts had not changed. If you want more ease and peace; along with productivity, you need to change your thoughts.
begin eliminating overwhelm
As a recovering “overwhelm-a holic” I’ve learn a trick or two. Awareness makes a great starting point; acknowledge the truth about overwhelm and your part in it. Then it becomes a bit of cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain and break old habits. To do this, you need to take a step back, and consider your big picture. I compiled a “Calming Techniques” Guide, with great tips for reducing anxiety and settling down to get a new perspective on a situation. It’s in my private Resource Library which is available to everyone. You can get the password for the library and download the guide at the end of the post.
Take some time to see if you recognize any of your own bad habits described below. As you determine areas of struggle, you will also learn why overwhelm is not required. Begin to make some gentle shifts and changes to experience more freedom in your life.
common causes of overwhelm and how to fix them
Speaking the Right Language
- Talk that trips you up. How often do you say things like, “I have to go to work”, I have to do all this laundry”, or “I have to get all my cooking done.” Saying “I have to” creates overwhelm. I try really hard to stop saying things like that. Because truthfully, we don’t “have to” do anything. These are all choices we make. You may say, but, I do have to work, I can’t pay my bills. It’s still a choice, you could choose not to work. That may mean some changes, but it’s still a choice. When you realize that you have a choice, it removes the victim mentality.
- Manage your mouth. What if instead of saying “I have to”, you said “I get to, or I choose to”? When I started saying “I get to go to work”, I felt thankful, I have a job! Or “I choose to do the laundry”, (Yay I have clothes!) “I get to cook dinner.” (Wow food!) These things suddenly felt like an honor to do. I became full of gratitude instead of overwhelm. Then I no longer feel trapped by my situations.
- Thoughts that trip you up. As I mentioned already, thoughts like “I’m crazy busy”, and “I’ll never get everything done” create the emotion of overwhelm. Check your thoughts; when you get on this merry-go-round it’s hard to break the cycle. Also, when you allow these thoughts to take up space, you stifle creativity that may actually be able to solve a current problem or free up your schedule in a way you didn’t see before. Thoughts like these will only hold you captive.
- Manage your mind. the best way to do this is through mindfulness. Take the time to recognize the thoughts that cause overwhelm for you. Make subtle changes to your limiting thoughts. For example, I began saying “How can I manage my schedule to eliminate too many commitments?” When you ask a question, your brain begins to supply answers, and you begin to see creative solutions.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”William James
Taking Care of Yourself
A huge pitfall of the overwhelm cycle often shows up as a lack of self care. Many times my brain convinces me that I don’t have time to focus on my needs. I know from experience, putting everyone else’s needs before my own compromises my well-being. When you eat well, exercise, rest and make time for nourishing your mind, body and soul, you show up differently. You feel better, have more energy, patience and creativity resulting in clear-headed decisions. You make better choices, reducing overwhelm.
Why Overwhelm is not required
As you begin to zero in on the things that cause you overwhelm, you realize just how much control you actually have over each situation in your life. Paying attention to talk that trips you up, and limiting thought processes, while making subtle shifts in managing these areas will begin to change your perspective. Making self-care a priority, nourishing your mind, body and soul will help you feel better and show up better in your life.
Managing overwhelm takes time and effort to change the way you’ve always done things. But I promise, you will not regret taking these first steps to take back your life. Overwhelm is not required to live an extraordinary life, in fact it can keep us from the life we want.