In Case Of Emergency : Overwhelm
My definition of overwhelm: shit-spiral in the head.
Now before we continue I'm going to assume that if you are reading this you in the thick of a full-blown overwhelming shit-spiral, just like I was very recently. These are the exact steps I followed to get myself out of it so I could think clearly enough to regain control and clarity in my life.
Step 1: Eat a solid meal
Step 2: Make a list - brain-dump everything that is clogging you up and making you feel overwhelmed onto a big sheet of paper so you can get it out of your head and can physically see it to organise it later.
Step 3: Pick one (small, easy to do) thing and do it to completion right now.
Step 4: Rest - up to 3 hours of doing whatever makes you feel completely relaxed and at ease e.g. hot bath, funny movie, reading a book, sunbathing etc. Do not engage in thinking at all during this time.
Step 5: Go back and organise the brain-dump. Categorise the contents into 4 categories -
2. Important (but not urgent)
3. Unavoidable Commitments
Also Look for the 1 thing that will have the biggest impact if you can get it sorted out.
Step 6: Lay out the steps you can take to sort out that 1 thing
Step 7: Commit to action - Every single day, do one of the things from your lists, and one step from the outline you created in Step 6.
If you want to know more and want the reasons behind each step, read on. If that's all you can handle right now, follow each step carefully and you should be in a much better position to overcome your feeling of overwhelm. Sometimes, just shifting from "I can't do this!" to "How can I do this?" is all it takes.
The Reasons 'Why'
You want so much to keep on top of things, so you try to think your way around your problems. But our thoughts are such powerful attractors, that within 16 seconds of thinking of one thing you need to do that stresses you out, another thought just like it arrives. And then another, and another.
And so, down you sink into a pit of desperation and fear, your pulse speeding up and your armpits tingling. And you can't even remember the first thing you thought about that so needs to be sorted out. You can't really even make a list of things to do, because in overwhelm your mind is racing and yet oddly blank at the same time.
But here's the thing. Overwhelm is a thoughts-based problem.
You perceive with your mind that what you are facing is too much to handle, or there are too many moving parts to keep track of, and that generates more thoughts of similar things and a snow-ball effect ensues - bringing attention to more of the things that make you feel overwhelmed.
You need to take control of your thoughts. You are the THINKER of your thoughts, you ARE not the thoughts themselves. Do you see the distinction? You ARE a human BEING thinking overwhelming thoughts - does this make sense?
There is a common analogy floating around, that our thoughts are like the snowflakes in a snow-globe - and if you image we're inside the globe, the more we run around to try to catch the snowflakes and organise them, the more snow we kick up and the more our little globe clouds up around us. This is the basis for our need for meditation - which allows the snow to settle so we can think clearly.
To overcome overwhelm, you first must accept that you are able to control your thoughts, but I know how incredibly hard that is in the moment. But if you were to switch mode from BEING your thoughts, to THINKING your thoughts, that is the most fundamental, life-altering thing you can ever do.
When you take control of your thoughts, you control how you perceive something. You can choose to change how you are thinking about a certain situation.
For instance, if you get angry because your child is throwing ANOTHER tantrum about brushing his teeth, you can choose in that moment to acknowledge that you are thinking angry thoughts and that you can choose to think patient thoughts instead. "He just doesn't like being told what to do, nobody really likes that. Maybe I should let him choose which (toothpaste/cup/whatever) to use to help him feel more empowered..."
See what I mean?
You can shift your attitude from overwhelm to problem-solving just the same way - by acknowledging that you are thinking overwhelming thoughts. And then through your actions that come from more productive thinking, you remedy the overwhelm that paralysed you, by getting more done, taking things off your plate, and having less to feel overwhelmed by.
And something very important to ask yourself is:
Who told me I have to do / deal with / take care of this?
Because I find so often that my overwhelm is self-induced. It's like going to a buffet and putting a spoonful of everything on your plate - by the time you get to the end of the long table your plate is so full you don't know what you started with. If you tend to take on too much, but don't know how you got to this point, it's time to start paying attention to how often you say "Yes" when you should be saying "No".
Taking responsibility for whatever overwhelming to-do's you have created for yourself is very important. Because you have the control to knock some of those straight off the list altogether. Yes, I just said that. Don't deal with them at all - make your apologies if you must to whomever you made promises to, and then just strike it off.
You then also have the control to re-prioritise what's left, and put it in a much more realistic time-frame. But alas, I'm getting ahead of myself - more on that in Step 5.
Step 1: Eat a solid meal
If you are anything like me, when you are stressed out and overwhelmed, you don't eat properly - you eat infrequently and not very much at a time, or even skip meals altogether because you can't stomach food. But here's the thing - you need a good solid meal to help balance your brain chemistry and give you energy on a physical level, but equally importantly - it's the simple act of putting your needs first for just a moment that nourishes you enough on a soul-level to cope with what's in front of you.
You know best what is a balanced and healthy meal for you - but I'm not a fan of vegan diets (from a physiological perspective) because under stress your body is in a catabolic state - you are pretty much being eaten from the inside by your stress hormones. You need to replace those proteins with animal proteins - plant proteins just don't cut it because they have a totally different molecular structure to animal proteins, and your body has to work very hard to convert them into the correct amino acids. Not helpful when it's under duress as it is.
But whatever you do, eat a meal that you know will make you feel stable, above all else. This means starchy carbs, plenty of veggies, good quality protein and generous helpings of good fats, especially coconut oil which is digested very quickly to provide nearly instant energy that keeps your blood-sugar stable.
And unless it's really hot where you are, make it a warm meal - cook your food well because stress reduces your digestive capabilities - now is not the time for a raw beetroot salad with coleslaw on the side, it may well repeat on you for hours.
It's also definitely not a time for huge quantities of sugar which harms your immune system, which will be under stress as it is.
Finally, when you eat your meal, sit at the table, take one bite at a time and put your cutlery down between each bite. Be totally present and grateful for the nourishment you are consuming, as well as appreciating yourself for taking this action. Do not pick up your cutlery again until your mouth is empty.
By eating slowly and mindfully, avoiding all thoughts about anything that is not comforting or by listening to soothing music, you will reset your nervous system back into the "rest-and-digest" parasympathetic mode. You'll be more able to think clearer.
Step 2: Make a list
Do what I call a "mega brain dump" - just take a big sheet of paper and write down every single little (and big) thing that is making you feel like you can't cope, as well as things that suck your time. Social media should definitely be on this list if you spend any length of time on it each day. Along with this write down all your commitments, your daily chores, worries about anything such as health or money, and physical factors such as feeling fatigued.
Do not censor anything, do not correct as you go, and do not try to organise your thoughts into categories. Just get it ALL out of your system and onto paper. Like grabbing each snowflake and chucking it out of the gorram globe! This is a way for you to be able to physically see all your thoughts and concerns and commitments, rather than having them swirling round in your head making you crazy.
Step 3: Pick one thing and do it to completion right now
This will preferably be something relatively small but impactful for your state of mind - for me it was the simple act of straining the water kefir I ferment at home. I'd been meaning to do it for nearly 2 weeks (and they should be changed every 2-3 days in the quantity I do them) so for them to be left that long wasn't healthy for the culture nor did it result in a great tasting drink. But with everything going on in my life, it was put to the back of my mind where it accumulated weight with each passing day.
Doing that one small thing made me feel lighter and meant I could focus on the rest without that sense of urgency about it. Find something on your brain-dump page that falls into a similar camp - urgent but quick and easy to actually do.
When in overwhelm we so often overthink every little thing - believing it will be much harder and way more time consuming to do than it actually is. In fact, often if we just did them when we first notice / remember them, it would use up a lot less energy than overthinking and getting overwhelmed because we don't do it in favour of "more pressing things". Am I right?
The other reason for doing this is that it brings a little bit of confidence back - you CAN do it. There's one less thing to be overwhelmed about and it kicks off a little momentum if you want to then go ahead and do another small one - but no more than 3 small tasks before you follow step 4.
Step 4: Rest
Properly relax for as long as you can humanly get away with - up to about 3hrs. Do whatever truly relaxes you - I took an hour long salt-water bath with 7 drops of eucalyptus essential oil (resets and cleanses your chakras and energy field) while I listened to Abraham Hicks recordings on YouTube.
Avoid thinking at all costs during your relaxation time - remember thinking = attracting. So avoid thinking in favour of just letting go and totally relaxing.
Step 5: Go back and organise the brain-dump
Now you can go ahead and put each thing under one of the following 4 categories:
2. Important (but not urgent)
3. Unavoidable Commitments
For anything that seems more amorphous - like fatigue or health issues - you may add it to the important but not urgent list and add a suggestion of what to do next - e.g. "Read Tam's PDF's". Or for something like money stress, you could suggest "study accounts to see where cash is leaking out".
As for culling - you already know what you don't want to be doing - you probably just haven't given yourself the permission to accept it yet.
Tune into your heart and ask why you feel you "should" do it. If there are any thoughts about being selfish if you don't, then that's a big clue right there that you are doing it out of obligation and not because you want to. Precious little can make us motivated to continue doing something we aren't enjoying, no matter how "important" it is (and just WHO is it important to anyway?? You...Or them?).
Choose yourself. No one else will if you don't.
Make the commitment to stop doing these things right away and do whatever you need to finalise it RIGHT NOW - don't wait or you'll allow the momentum to subside and you may lose the courage to do it. Make your apologies if apologies are needed - even by text if you really can't face anything else - and then cross it off for good.
And for everything else, if it absolutely has to have a time-limit on it, then fine, but if it doesn't then just put it on the list in order and allow yourself to be the tortoise, not the hare.
Next, you need to identify the number 1 thing that, if you sorted it out, would have a knock-on effect on the rest of your life. Usually there is one big, overarching thing that if you tackled just that it would have a huge impact on the rest of it.
For me it was communication between my husband and I. With a lack of consistent communication about everything from money to how we feel about issues affecting the kids, it essentially made for us living apart, together. It was the long-developing crux of all of our problems.
But I realised that if we worked on our communication, it would affect not only our financial situation, but it would improve our relationship to each other and to our kids, it would reduce my overwhelm with my commitments such as the kids' homeschooling, the housework and my blog and so many more.
Look for the 1 thing that will have the biggest impact if you can get it sorted out.
Step 6: Lay out the steps
Lay out the basic steps you need to take to overcome this number 1 big issue in your life. This was not all that easy for me, because restarting communication is a bit like learning to talk - there is only one instruction ("restart communication") but with such a complex system of interconnected, unnameable parts to making it actually happen.
So I focused on what I knew would start the process - avoiding too much TV in favour of conversations over a glass of wine; remembering to be honest and admit to my faults, or at least try to avoid slinging insults during a fight; talking through things we usually just glossed over because we didn't want to "go there", making an effort to really hear and understand each other when we would usually just get pissed off and avoid the argument, etc.
The process actually kicked off some massive fights, which I was not expecting. There was a lot of buried frustration and anger and resentment there from both sides. But with each fight came an apology round and recognition of our parts in the play - which led to much more open communication about things we haven't discussed since BC (Before Children). They were also the biggest opportunities for us to realise how devoted we are to each other (and to remind the other one as well) as we haven't really done that since we said our vows.
So while it may seem that something cannot be broken down into actionable chunks, bear in mind the small shifts you can make to how you show up in those situations.
Step 7: Commit to action
Every single day, do one of the things from your lists, and one step from the outline you created in Step 6.
Remember, that while some things may be urgent, the important things are just that. Don't put them last just because you fear you won't get the urgent things done - you will, because they will demand it. If there's one productivity hack I learned that stuck with me is to work on the IMPORTANT things first, and then do the urgent things afterwards. Otherwise you fill up your day with urgent matters and never get round to the important stuff.
Here's a distinguishing example -
Urgent: Helping your kid finish his science project.
Important: Meditating first so you don't strangle him in the process.
Get my drift?
I really hope this was/is helpful to you - and if you are feeling overwhelmed and you find this too much please let me know. This is the way that I do things but I'm well aware that for others it may not be right and I want to refine my offerings to make them as useful as possible. Email me here if you have any thoughts around it. Thanks so much :)
I wish you a joy-filled and harmonious life!