Chaos reigns for everyone when things start to spin out of control; feeling overwhelmed does not feel like a simple emotion to manage. Feeling overwhelmed can make the future feel like something we are reacting to or even running from, instead of creating for ourselves. At times like this, we need to learn how to put the brakes on, slowing down the world to identify what we or our service users need.
Recognising the warning signs of feeling overwhelmed
Do you ever get that ‘stop the world, I want to get off’ moment? You might notice that feeling overwhelmed only occurs when you have more than enough to deal with. Things start to hit a critical mass with every little task seeming harder and harder, and things that have their place are no longer where they should be. It could be that your car needs attention, your colleagues are sick, deadlines that have been politely moving up the queue are now breaking the cordon of catastrophe.
Living life on life’s terms gets harder to manage when life leaves you feeling overwhelmed. It is at these times it would be great if a simple tool existed that you can apply to make life easier for you and everyone around you, halting the world so you have space and time to make a better choice. It’s easy to look in on others when they are feeling overwhelmed and wonder why they are not making good choices or effective actions. However, we all know we are only human, and in those moments of vulnerability, all too human.
The emotional response of feeling overwhelmed kicks in when we feel under pressure. It’s normal to have this response when we are doing something that is challenging, such as going to interviews, making complaints or asserting boundaries with peers. Every identifiable thought leading to feeling overwhelmed is centred around crisis and reacting to it. When you or your service users are in this frame, you will have low expectations and very short term, recover limiting strategies; it’s vital that you’re rapidly brought out of this thinking pattern in order to manage situations rationally.
Feeling overwhelmed as a practitioner
I get to meet some very effective and professionally powerful people in my practice, and yet they are struggling due to feeling overwhelmed emotionally. Practitioners suffering from feeling overwhelmed are typically effective throughout their day, but at some point will go through a loss of self. Sometimes it is solely away from the office, whilst at other times this sense of feeling overwhelmed slowly seeps across all sectors of their life, and they end up with me having been signed off, typically with anxiety, depression, stress and any number of related conditions. In order to make space in a fast-paced world, they have lost sight of a simple skill; the ability to find space for themselves as they go about engaging in the world.
As I share this with many practitioners I point out that their job roles mean they engage in their worlds all day long. Businesses cannot function if the needs of the business are not put first. Despite this, when people step away from their roles they actively abandon this strategy, neglecting themselves as they try to meet the competing needs of everyone around them. This ultimately leads to practitioners feeling overwhelmed, resulting in eventual burnout.
Taking a step back from feeling overwhelmed
Firstly with any action or offer that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, buy time. This is exactly what high functioning people do; they do not decide anything until they have created space to identify what works for them, and what the implications could be. You can do this simply by asking ‘can I think about this?’
In reality, most of the people who find it hard to express what is important to them are either not connecting with their true values, or they are focused so much on the people around them that they lose sight of their own needs in the rush to be considerate.
Challenging the emotions behind overwhelm
1: Buying time
Making the world stop even for a second stops these emotions from leaving you feeling overwhelmed. Buying time allows you the time you need to step back, reflect and identify what you really need. This simple step creates a foundation of taking responsibility for yourself. As you buy yourself time, you will notice the world slowing down, with people consulting you, considering what you want even if they are not always in a position to deliver it. The more people are aware of your needs, the more likely it is that these needs will be able to be accommodated; decisions will be taken at the rate you need, giving you the time frame you need to stop yourself from feeling overwhelmed.
2: Take a breath
Taking a deep slow breath is a simple, but very effective approach to reducing those intense feelings that come with feeling overwhelmed. By taking a series of slow measured breaths in, and then breathing slowly out, you stimulate the vagus nerve. This, in turn, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the whole physical and psychological mechanism that makes us feel relaxed.
3: Step out of the moment
To stop the intensity of feeling overwhelmed, step away from the situation that you are in. Pop outside, take a walk and focus on the gentle distractions of nature. This connection will take you away from the intensity of your feeling – even if you step out for five minutes, you will be calmer, connected and more able to focus clearly. Connecting in this way is great for overwhelm because it takes little effort or creates a ‘cognitive quiet.’ Nature has been described as a soft fascination, it takes some of our attention but with little real effort and so allows us to restore ourselves.
Making sense of the world around you helps you re-engage without feeling overwhelmed. If you’d like to learn more about taking positive steps to manage situations rationally, don’t hesitate to get in touch.