Just the mention of the word “overwhelmed” can fill us with a sense of anxiety. While causes are different for everyone, we’ve all felt overwhelmed at some point and can relate to the feeling.
Since we have little control over the universe and can’t foresee the future, chances are we all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed is a result of something as simple as over-committing ourselves (i.e., although our calendar next month seemed wide open, as the time draws near, we realize we said “yes” to too many activities).
Even if we’re experts at maintaining a balanced schedule, fender benders, unanticipated home repairs, and work challenges are impossible to predict and often tip the scale into feeling overwhelmed. Once stress kicks in, we risk losing sleep due to increased anxiety or an attempt to squeeze more activity into each day. We may skip workouts, make poor food choices, and ultimately get sick, which only leads to further stress.
While we all experience the feeling of being overwhelmed, we can use the knowledge that we’ve survived before to help us through (and prevent us from making it worse.).
When you begin to feel that familiar stress creeping up, here are things you can do to ride the wave and prevent it from escalating:
- Recognize and name the feeling so you can deal with it consciously. When overwhelmed, we start to spin and anxiety builds as we think about everything on our plate. We may tell ourselves its hopeless or impossible, which only increases the stress. Identifying anxiety for what it is and reminding ourselves we will come through it causes it to lose power over us. Try it.
- When we experience multiple instances of bad luck, we often forget there are still positive things in our lives. It isn’t unusual to say phrases such as, “When it rains, it pours”, or “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” These phrases create a pity party, which zaps our energy and power. Instead, pause and list out 10 things you’re grateful for right now. While bad things may be happening, good things still exist.
- When flying, I’ve always loved the line in the safety instructions where the Flight Attendant reminds us to “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” We can’t support those who rely on us if we’re not practicing effective self-care. Recognize when overwhelm starts to kick in so you can catch it in the early stages and head it off at the past. What are the signs? Mood changes? Being late? Cravings sweets?
- Let go of your superhero identity. Perhaps we’re known as the person who can “do it all”. While backing out of commitments is not in our nature, there are times when it’s the wise decision. Regardless of the identity you hold with others, rigidity is not helpful when overwhelmed, but rather agility.
- Write a list and prioritize. There are likely items you can save for later (Is it critical to take Fido for his grooming or drop off the donation at Good Will this week?) or you can delegate to others (perhaps your neighbor can do an extra week of carpooling to soccer practice).
It’s not realistic to expect to completely avoid feeling overwhelmed periodically. The more experience we have recognizing the signs and taking the steps to prevent the feeling from escalating, the better we get at effectively managing the stress and regaining a sense of harmony.