We all feel overwhelmed at some point in our lives. The constant demands, mixed with the unpredictability of life, can be too much sometimes. And we've all been there, at the verge of a breakdown: “I can’t do this anymore”, “this is too much”, “I can’t go on like this”.
You feel pressured, in panic, uncertain, and helpless. You can’t quite wrap your head around things, and when you try, you’re head feels like it’s going to explode!
OK, take a deep breath. Help is on it's way! This blog will help you snap out of your current state of stress and help you build resilience to future misfortunes. Why not develop the skills to overcome overwhelm faster when it happens? Become more resilient to future events? And be more in control of the outcome of your life? Let's take back control!
Do things really suck right now?
Maybe you have a long list of things you need to get done. Maybe you’re fresh out of college trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. Maybe you have a job and working your ass off every day, but still, it’s not enough to pay the bills. Are you struggling to balance work and family? Or maybe things are going downhill in your relationship/marriage, or worse, you’re about to lose your job and your marriage!
No matter what the circumstance is, there are probably reasons that you’re overwhelmed. Things are going wrong and they might get even worse! You could potentially lose important things or people in your life. And there's nothing worse than feeling like you're losing control to fix them. So... you have every reason to be ripping out your hair and crying over the miserable life you have. Right?
Most people are surprised to hear that although there are seemingly “valid” reasons to get overwhelmed, circumstances DO NOT CAUSE you to feel overwhelmed, and justifying your overwhelm will only HURT you, and maybe even the people around you. This is why I really want to discourage you from focusing on all the reasons that you’re overwhelmed and get your mind on solution mode. Trust me, I understand things are hard right now, but the focus needs to be on finding a way out. Are you with me on this?
Why you should stay away from justifying your overwhelm
EVERYONE feels overwhelmed at some point. As human beings juggling multiple important domains in our lives (ex: work, relationships, family, etc) we are prone to feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is a normal byproduct of how our brain works in the current lifestyle that we have. But that doesn't mean you have to suffer from it , or because of it!
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is NEVER constructive and only makes your situation WORSE. This is true a 100% of the time, NO exceptions! So whether you’re overwhelmed because you haven’t figured out your life yet and you feel like time is ticking, or whether you’re overwhelmed because you may lose the love of your life and your house, prolonging an overwhelmed state of being will only get you closer to the very ending that you most fear (and trying to avoid).
Making excuses to justify feeling overwhelmed is counterproductive (and even dangerous) when you need to make important decisions and be productive. Some of us face situation where we simply CANNOT afford to be overwhelmed because there are such high stakes.
Overwhelm drains the energy that you need to do what’s important. Reducing your stress will allow you to think more clearly, have more energy to do what you need to do, and get the best possible outcome in your situation.
But what else can you really do but stress?
A better alternative to stress and overwhelm
If you want to stay away from what you fear will happen, need some stress relief, and want to feel in control and happier about your life, then you need to stop the “My life sucks and nothing’s going right” mentality , and shift it to “what can I do to make things better now” kind of thinking. In other words, we're going to move from a passive ("I'm a victim" mentality) to an active state ("what do I need to do to change my situation" mentality). The way that you can do this is to first understand why you’re feeling overwhelmed so that you know how to come out of it.
The REAL Cause of Overwhelm
Circumstances and people can definitely be a source of stress and overwhelm in your life. This is probably what's happening to you right now. But the truth is, circumstances and people only create the conditions for overwhelm to happen; in other words, they are only triggers. The real CAUSE of overwhelm and stress is in your mind. Truly grasping this idea is very empowering.
Overwhelm comes from our inability to handle and manage our mind , which in turn creates the stress.
Look at it this way, I'm sure you have come across people who went through a similar situation as you, but didn't experience the same level of stress and overwhelm. Am I right? But why the difference? Because people who can handle difficulties well have a different mind frame, and have developed some necessary skills. This is why people with similar circumstances often handle their situation much differently: one may break down, one may have little stress, while the other may even thrive. This is one way that you can start to see that the CAUSE of your overwhelm is NOT external. This means that you must make some internal changes if you want to combat your overwhelm.
There are a few things you need to know about how your brain operates, as well as a few easy techniques that will help you come out of feeling overwhelmed faster and avoid overwhelm in the future.
A brief overview of how our brain works:
· Our brain can’t handle too much information at once
· Stress builds up when it’s not addressed
· Our brain does not like contradictory and ambiguous information
· Our brain does not like uncertainty
Overwhelm occurs because of the following information processing errors in your brain:
1) The information is contradictory and creates Internal conflict - There’s conflict between what you need and your ability to deliver/handle the situation. Ex: "I can’t do this, but I need to do this"; "I want him, but he doesn't want me".
2) System overload - Your brain can’t handle all the information you’re trying to process all at once. This is where you experience a sense of confusion and loss of control. This also happens when you have been in a state of stress for too long and any incoming information becomes "too much" for your mind to handle.
3) Problematic thinking - This includes irrational and negative thinking:
a) Irrational thinking- This can happen when you’re trying to control something that you realistically do not have control over. Naturally, because it is out of your control, your efforts are fruitless. Overtime, this becomes frustrating and confusing for your brain to process because your efforts do not compliment the results that you expect.
b) Negative thinking- Thinking negative thoughts and ruminating on them without direction can also lead to overwhelm. Negative thinking, on its own, creates a snowball effect of stress, anxiety, and panic. This is never a good thing. When you focus your attention on the things that are going wrong ("I'm never going to be able to finish all of this", " I'm going to lose my job", "My marriage is over", etc), you are basically sending warning signals to your body, which creates a real neurological and biological response: you’re body gets ready to fight or flight.
The fight or flight response actually makes it more difficult for you to think as it restricts your access to the different parts of your brain. I'm sure you've noticed that it gets harder and harder for you to think positively, and that your focus becomes more and more about what you fear will happen. This is because your brain will give more focus on the source of your stress, and will restrict your access to your positive memories when it feels under threat (regardless whether there is a real threat or not). The stress response is not going to help your situation unless you’re running away from a bear, or need to get out of a burning building.
How to overcome overwhelm and become more resilient
Now that you know what is creating your overwhelm and how it works, we’re going to use that knowledge to overcome it and build resilience.
Truth is that you can stop feeling overwhelmed at anytime you choose once you develop some basic skills. With some essential knowledge and techniques, you will reduce your chances of overwhelm, deal with it better when it happens, shorten the duration, become more productive, and will more likely to get your desired outcome. I have divided what you need to know into 2 categories that I call "internal and external engineering".
Internal and External Engineering
"Internal Engineering" is a term I use to refer to changing the mechanics of your mind: your focus and your thoughts. "External Engineering" is a term I use here to refer to altering your environment: the situation and the people who trigger your stress and overwhelm.
Below I have outlined some internal and external solutions to stress and overwhelm. Inner engineering is by far the best way to overcome stress and overwhelm as it aims to remove the cause. However, changing external circumstances can sometimes be faster or easier, depending on your preference to get fast results, or long-lasting results. Many times, it helps to use both inner and outer engineering.
1) Get clear on the bigger picture- Sit down and really get clear on what it is that you want as an outcome. Align your desired outcome with the choice that you make to avoid sending mixed messages to yourself. This will help us start to detangling the mess in our head. You can read more on that here.
2) Clarify and organize your stress. list everything that's creating stress in your life. The best way to do it is to write it down. Get really clear on why each item is creating you stress and develop an action plan to tackle each area. You can read more of that here.
3) Let go of what you cannot control. Recognize and eliminate the things that you cannot control, and the things that are not worth your energy or time. You are wasting your mental and physical energy on these things. If it's beyond your control, let it go! I understand that these may be very important things to you. But remember, stressing will not change reality. You need your energy for what you can and need to control. Focus on what you can change.
4) Give your brain time to recharge and reboot. You can do this by meditating, deciding to take a specified amount time off from thinking about the task/issue (not as an escape, but with the intention to recharge and get ready to tackle what you need to do). Don’t worry about lost time. You will be significantly more efficient in the process by doing this and will actually end up saving time.
5) Shift your focus to the end result that you want to achieve and onto the solution. This means that you have clarified the problem, you have acknowledged it, and now you’re dealing with it. There is no more need to concentrate on the problem (i.e. stress/complain). Your full focus needs to be on the solution now.
6) Don’t wait for stress to build up. Deal with your problems as they arise. It’s always easier to address your problems before they escalate.
1) Detect the external sources of your stress, ex: a friend, your relationship, your job, your family, etc. This will help you become more aware and ready when confronted with the stress.
2) Stay away from the source of stress if you can. People, who negatively influence your life, should not be in your life. And often, we put ourselves in stressful scenarios. Try to surround yourself with people who make you happy. If you cannot stay away from the source, try other alternatives (ex: taking a break from the sources to recharge, reducing the frequency, etc.).
3) Have a plan- Having a plan to deal with the people or the situations that stress or overwhelm you is a must! Make sure that you have a solution ready if you cannot be away from the external source of your stress. Usually this involves some changes to your internal engineering to change the way that you react to the source.
3) Have a support system. There’s evidence from psychology research that social support reduces the negative effects of stress (biological and psychological) and promotes social bonding. Use this to your advantage!
Now that you have the knowledge and the tools to combat your overwhelm, I want you to put it all to the test! Let me know about your experience in the comments below and share this blog with someone that you know can benefit from less stress and overwhelm.
Copyright© 2013-2019 Leyla Bagheri M.A in Psychology, Certified Life Coach email@example.com 416.770.0462