Overwhelm is an increasingly common experience but how many of us really understand what it is and how to manage it.
The lockdown months of 2020 seem to have created two polarised experiences for people. Some found it gave respite and reflection from the busyness of their lives and others found it increasingly challenging as health worries, home-schooling and working from home added a new strain to an already hectic life.
Whether you are one or the other, or dance between the two- all of us at some stage have experienced an increase in anxiety or stress and for many this has led to the intense experience of overwhelm.
Let’s look at why this is happening and how we can support ourselves and those we care for in the face of overwhelm.
What is Overwhelm
Overwhelm is an emotional state created by seemingly endless, demands, worries and responsibilities. Typically, a person is more likely to feel overwhelmed by negative emotions (anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt). You feel suppressed by thoughts and emotions that override your ability to feel present, effective and clear.
At it’s worst overwhelm can create a feeling of being frozen, incapable or ‘lost’. It is a lonely place from which it can be hard to communicate your needs or pinpoint the exact source of your stress.
Source and Symptoms of Overwhelm
The intensity of our news has kept a constant thread of tension in the air. Our body and mind are having to deal with a sense of continual threat which means our stress response is always ‘turned on’, stress hormones feed our body with energy that needs to be expressed (fight or flight) or when repressed it can lead to excessive thinking, anxiety, chronic tension and eventual burnout from overwhelm.
Common Causes of Overwhelm
When we look at the common causes of overwhelm, it is no wonder that many of us are experiencing this on a regular basis:
- Significant Life Changes
- Physical and Mental Health Concerns
- Financial Distress and Insecurity
- Relationship Issues
- Stressful Work Conditions
- Time Constraints and Deadlines
- Death of a Loved One
- Lack of Sleep
- Global, National Crisis (I have added this to the list)
How Overwhelm effects Mood and Mindset
When you begin to feel overwhelmed, cortisol surges through your body and leaves you overloaded with intense anxiety. At the same time, your serotonin stores, the chemical that helps our bodies fight off depression and anxiety, start to deplete. This combination causes the intense feeling of total despair associated with being overwhelmed.
Overwhelm can be as uncomfortable as it is uncontrollable and nowadays we may see this take shape as irritability, over-reactions and outbursts in young children but more and more we are seeing this in adults when mental health and self-care is left unaddressed. A difficult consequence of overwhelm can be an increase in self-doubt, lack of motivation and a sense of helplessness.
Here are my top tips to support you to return to a sense of purpose and practicality when facing the deep waters of overwhelm.
Ten Tips to Manage Overwhelm:
#1 Discharge with Movement
As overwhelm is an e-motional response the most effective key to disempowering its force is through movement. Any kind of movement shifts us from a stuck state to one of transition and new awareness.
When you move, you unlock the body and bring respite to the mind. When you give yourself permission to move, dance ‘like no-ones watching’, shake or even punch a few pillows, you literally allow the emotional charge trapped in your body to disperse. These activities are even better than a walk or a jog because emotional release requires a more expressive uninhibited process of ‘letting go’ where the movement overrides the mind and any excessive thinking.
Unfortunately most people have a mental block about “letting loose/ letting go” typically this relates to a fear of losing control. If that is you, then make the parameters of your movement clear- set a timer, move for the duration of a song, or do it when you know your house is empty and no-one is around.
Whatever the action, if you move vigorously with a sense of wild abandon, I guarantee you will feel better! You’ll smile, laugh at yourself and literally have a flood of endorphins returning lightness and joy to your body and mind. What could be better!
#2 Write it down
When the mind is overloaded it is a great support to list our concerns, when you see it on paper, it externalises your concerns and you are able to gather new perspective.
When it is ‘once-removed’ you may even see clearly what items are connected and what can be removed. You may see a pattern emerging and notice the source of your concerns.
#3 Sleep Easy
Insomnia is a symptom of overwhelm. When you don’t sleep well the body and mind have no opportunity to restore balance and detox effectively. Support yourself with a sleep pattern that helps you relax before bed.
As above, the simple act of writing before bed can help unpack your thoughts and help you processed any lingering concerns. Leave it all on the page. See it as an opportunity to empty the contents of your mind so you can enjoy a peaceful night’s rest.
#4 No Screen / TV time before bed
We all know this but how often do we do it. We all have the habit of reaching for the phone to ask google a question or send that one last message.
Decide on a set time that all devices should be switched off at every evening. Throughout the day limit the number of notifications you receive to your phone and silence as much of these updates as possible.
Ensure at least 40-minutes of tech-free time before bed each night. If you sleep by 11pm then aim to be away from devices and preparing for bed from 10:15pm.
Come to enjoy this time as a ritual of washing off the day and emptying the mind before a restorative night’s sleep.
#5 Prioritise One Action
In overwhelm it is hard to be rational. When you are worried it can feel debilitating and you can feel ineffective in your day.
Step back from your to-do list and ask yourself what is a personal priority to you right now. Choose one item. Decide on one action you can do right now to address this concern.
For example- if you are concerned about a deadline, the action of asking for an extension may lessen your relentless worry. If you are procrastinating on something, what one action could you take to start this process.
A good rule of thumb is to do the thing that feels the most appealing in that moment. When you force yourself to do something the effort required will not flow as easily as it would if you worked on the task that appealed to our energy and interest in that moment.
#6 Say No!
Overwhelm is created by too much as you have seen above. Those of us who feel inclined to please, support or be in service to others either through role, profession or up-bringing find this task the hardest. The reason, typically being, that we feel this may negatively impact a person’s opinion of us.
We need to say No, to show others that we value ourself and our energy. When you say No to a child you are showing that No can also be a positive response. Any time you struggle to say No, think, what am I saying Yes to? Yes may equate to more time and less rush, more headspace, more fresh air, more sleep.
A simple no can unlock greater balance, self-regard and a happier you. And the person you said No to would no-doubt be glad for you to have more of that!
#7 Perfect is a Problem
Observe the ideals you hold yourself too, see where perfectionism is creating obsession- draining and distracting your energy and attention from other areas of your life.
Be honest with yourself, see where you might be extending too much energy. Oftentimes a job done is better than a job perfected. If your idea of perfection is based on other people’s requirements then you need to reality check this with them? Whatever the outcome, this conversation will no doubt open new awareness on both sides and a better balance of expectations can be determined.
#8 Appreciate Everything
Acknowledge what is well in your life. When we can find gratitude in even the bleakest moments of life, we create a positive path that will grow brighter and wider with time.
Waiting til everything is perfect means you are never happy with what is, when we scrutinise and critique, we are inviting more of this into our lives and it will be reflected in our opinion of ourselves.
Practice gratitude and see how you will begin to also appreciate yourself more and grow a more positive outlook on life.
#9 Ask for Support
Don’t wait, as soon as you notice a sense of burden or overwhelm pick up the phone to a friend. When you open up to a friend, this gives them permission to do the same and you quickly realise that you are not alone with your worries and how you can be a great support for each other.
If you don’t know who to turn to, please call a support-line to discuss it with a friendly voice who can offer you guidance and encouragement. When in doubt, it is always better to pick up the phone and have a chat. You will come away feeling better.
#10 Nature Everyday!
Whether it is a walk around your local park or time spent in your back garden- time in natural settings exponentially supports your mental health and wellbeing.
In many cultures doctors advocate for patients to increase their time in nature to reduce stress-related symptoms, Forest Bathing is an important therapeutic activity in Japanese culture. Much research has been done into the benefit of being around trees and the grounding and harmonising effect it has on our nervous system.
So no matter the weather- get yourself outdoors, a blustery breeze can help wash the cobwebs of worry away and bring you a fresh perspective from which to view your day!
A change of scene always helps a change of mindset- and shifting outside will always be worth the effort … plus you benefit from some added Vitamin D that supports your immune response, reduces depression, and increases metabolism!
All the tips I have shared are practical, accessible and free! All it takes is giving yourself the time to self-care and support yourself.
Our health is our wealth, in the end, it can be very simple, we just need to prioritise the things that matter most.
Was this article helpful? Did you read this far? I hope so! Send me your thoughts or feedback.
I love sharing guidance based on my personal experience and learning from years working one-to-one with individuals, facilitating weekly classes, transformational retreats, and self-development programs.
I provide a nourishing, uplifting space to support everyone with the skills and education for their empowered self-care.