O-ver-whelm: To overcome completely in mind or feeling; to cover or bury beneath a mass of something; to overthrow.
For me, I had a recent bout of overwhelm creating my first public speaking event. I had spent a month and a half trying to write it with very little progress. I was just over a week away from presenting it, and although I had been writing daily, I still didn’t have an angle that I was satisfied with. I was also taking a business course, working on 2 workshops, planning a retreat, and managing my regular teaching and coaching schedule. I was paralysed in overwhelm and it was blocking my creativity. I was really starting to panic.
Then, I was up at 5am to teach my early classes on Thursday morning, and it dawned on me to ask myself some important questions. I mean, I have led many workshops and retreats. I speak all the time as I lead my students, I’m usually totally fine in this field. So what’s so different this time? I asked myself: what am I believing? And guess what? The story I had created about this event was that it had to be “perfect”, and my past events I took on the attitude of “let’s see what happens”. “Let’s see what happens” feels more like more of an experiment, takes the pressure off, and has space for creativity. But perfect! Who can do that? I sure can’t! The other big problem with “perfect” is that it implies only one thing, one way. “Let’s see what happens,” could have multiple creative solutions.
As soon as I figured out the story there was BIG freedom and I was incredibly inspired! I couldn’t wait to get back from teaching to get writing. The outline, story and message became clear, and the whole 2 hour talk was written and edited within days. Magic happened. So why do I tell you this story? Because we don’t see our own stories when we are in the midst of it. Below is the process I use when I’m in the thick of it, and it works every time. My hope is that this will empower you too!
1) Notice that it’s here.
This is the first step to working with overwhelm is to recognize that there is overwhelm. Open to it. Feel it in your body, notice the tension, the heaviness, and that this feeling of overwhelm is here while holding it with some curiosity rather than needing to fix it. You might experience it as a headache, fatigue (I get personally get tired as a way of dissociating), tension, busy mind, hopelessness, paralysis, or any number of ways. What you want to do is actually notice that this is here without getting your panties knotted up all over it, and making it a problem. Make it not so personal. It’s just what’s happening right now.
2) What’s the story?
Ask yourself: What am I believing right now that is creating this feeling? Once you’re able to see the story for what it is, you have power to do something about it. If you are believing the story blindly you’re already sunk. You’ve decided to believe that this is the way it is. However, if you make space to look at it, you might see something deeper, more interesting, and meaningful there. One of the greatest gifts yoga and meditation have given me is the ability to look at my own mind without getting caught up in all the BS it produces. When you can see the story for what it is, you can work with that.
3) Get it out of your head and make it real.
Write down everything that you are believing needs to be done. Once we get into a place of overwhelm, one of the things our mind does is grab onto everything that it can to support the story it has created to prove its case, and the mind can amass a lot of stuff! When you write it down you make it real. The overwhelm is no longer a looming undertaking created by the imagination, but something concrete that you can take a better look at and then you can evaluate what needs to be prioritized and what to let go of.
4) Focus on the 1 or 2 things that will make the biggest impact.
Take off most of what’s on your To-Do-List. The most effective people have very small To-Do-Lists, because they are focused on what they need to do to get their desired result. Most of us are guilty of creating To-Do-Lists that don’t serve anything but being busy. Managing overwhelm is about getting crystal clear on the 1 or 2 things that are impactful and meaningful and making them happen. Take everything else off, and if that feels too scary, tell yourself that it’s just off the list for now. The most important thing here is to get you moving towards what’s going to make the biggest difference without getting bogged down by the little things that really don’t matter.
5) Visit your worst case scenario.
I personally like looking at what my fear is telling me. When my fear is making a lot of noise, I choose to view it that I should take a look closer and see what the big hairy deal is all about anyways. The fear of looking at it is often the more overwhelming than the actual scenarios your fear will express. Especially, when the likelihood of the worst case scenario is usually pretty slim. Fear is asking for your attention because it has something important to tell you. You don’t have to do anything about it, but you should honor it. Fear is actually a good thing because it’s trying to look out for you and keep you safe.
6) Take action.
If there’s one thing that you can do to make a dent in overwhelm, it’s to do something. Anything. Move forward. Staying stuck makes it worse, reinforces the story, and gives it your precious power. Remember the definition of overwhelm is: “To overcome completely in mind or feeling.” Action will dig you out and set you free.
“Through the doing, thy will be done” – Tina Hnatiuk
Now, I want to hear from you: Do you agree? Do you have anything else that should be on this list? What is your best method for moving through overwhelm?
If you liked this article, please share it! Forward it to a friend who might need it, share it on Facebook or Twitter. We all need every bit of support we can get, and you might be the one to get that message across to someone who really needs these tips today. After all, we’re all in this together!
Much love to you my dear friend, I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Love and Light,