The Subtle (and not so subtle) Art of Dealing with Overwhelm
Updated: Jan 24
Lately it seems every interaction ends up with confessions of feeling #overwhelmed – both from myself and the person I’m speaking with.
Have you felt this? Why do we end up in overwhelm?
Overwhelm occurs when we feel an abundance of emotions – too many big emotions. It’s like a tidal wave coming over us, emotions are the water piling on all at once and threatening to keep us from our next breath.
To feel emotions is good - we’re alive! But this sense of overwhelm has a profound negative effect on our lives – impedes rational thinking and decision making, blocks us from taking action and robs us of our peace and happiness.
Overwhelm is something I’ve struggled with as part of my #burnout journey. There are many factors that contribute to this condition and emotions can be internally or externally generated, often a mixture of both.
There are big things going on right now and a sense of collective overwhelm that’s almost transmissible. For me external factors are extremely overwhelming right now - empathy for the people of Ukraine, absolute exhaustion with COVID and a deep underlying pessimism around the way forward.
So many of us are feeling overwhelmed right now, so let’s look at how we can manage these strong emotions.
Dealing with Overwhelm
Dealing with overwhelm was an integral part of my burnout journey and I want to share the formula I’ve learnt along the way.
>> Step 1 - Acknowledge your feelings. The first step is to acknowledge these strong emotions you’re feeling. It’s natural to feel empathy with what is happening around us, particularly if empathy is a strength of yours. When we fight these feelings, rail against them, we’re using our precious energy to fight not heal. When I stop fighting those feelings it eases the sense of panic, it allows me to be calmer, more in control, more rational. It may sound difficult at first, but I start by dwelling in my overwhelm for a while, allowing feelings to arise naturally. Take 3 deep breaths! >> Step 2 - Interrogate the cause. Overwhelm is a lot – there’s probably a multitude of emotions and ideas swirling in your brain right now all jumbled up. We can unjumble them by making a list of all the big and small things that are contributing. And let me tell you, some small things are hilarious in hindsight! By cataloguing what’s in my head I can start to see patterns and justification (or non-justification) for what I’m feeling. Take 3 deep breaths! >> Step 3 - What’s in my control? Often what brings on overwhelm is completely outside my control. The heinous things happening in other parts of the world can even make me feel guilty for not being in crisis right now! Whilst this is understandable it also doesn’t help anyone. When I start to ask what is truly in my control I can usually find a number of items to wrap some action around. Whether it be contributing help in some way, scheduling, taking action on quick wins…the minute I get on top of a few of the overwhelm list it seems to lighten the load overall. Phew - Take 3 deep breaths! >> Step 4 - Self-Soothing. A vital concept in our management of burnout, what are the self-soothing behaviours that work for you? We focus on this early in my Stronger Foundations Program as being able to divert your own mind, to focus on the little things that work for you is such as gift. I focus on the little things that work for me - finding comfort in the feel of the sun and grass on my feet, the warmth of a hot drink in my hand, the music I play that’s both uplifting and soothing and the company I keep, even when it’s just me and my little furry companion. These are the soothing balm I need for my soul to thrive! Take 3 deep breaths! So that’s my magic #formula! I’m not saying this is an easy formula to follow – not at the beginning anyway – but I can promise it gets easier!
I find on days when overwhelm is the strongest I need an overnight sleep to fully shake the feeling. One reassuring lesson I’ve taken from burnout is to hang in there and to #TRUST this feeling will pass. The tidal wave of emotions will eventually wash past and I will manage the floods of emotions that ebb and flow in life.
Sarah Vizer is the creator of Beyond Burnout.
As a Leadership and Performance Coach she has dedicated her time to supporting our top professionals reach new levels of high performance, without the burnout.
She offers individual and team support for you and your organisation.
Find out more at: www.sarahvizer.com