Overwhelm seems to be a part of everyone’s life.
And it makes sense. There is so much on a mom’s plate.
Who goes where when. Who needs new boots and who hates applesauce. When the dentist appointments, and vet appointments, and school plays are. Who is sneak eating halloween candy and what are we having for dinner tonight.
Overwhelm is a feeling not a situation
When we have all these demands and tasks and things to remember they start to weigh on our brain. It starts to feel like ‘too much’.
And this is where we meet overwhelm. The ripple goes like this:
We have a lot of things in our brains >> we have thoughts like: ‘this is too much’, ‘I can’t handle it’ >> this causes us to feel overwhelmed.
Overwhelm isn’t necessarily a situation, it is the feeling we have and the thoughts we are thinking about the situation. I don’t say this to dismiss the burden of ‘stuff that needs our attention’ – but just to recognize that overwhelm is more a feeling than it is a condition of our life.
Overwhelm changes how we view ourselves and our lives
Because when we FEEL overwhelm, we make it mean something. Maybe we think the presence of overwhelm means we ‘aren’t good enough’, or ‘my life is the hardest’, or we should ‘try harder’. We let this feeling change how we view ourselves and our lives.
So, I want you to let yourself off the hook for feeling normal feelings. If you feel overwhelmed it doesn’t automatically mean you are doing it wrong, or your life is wrong. It means your brain does not like all the choices and the unknown and it is having a little freak out.
Overwhelm causes a stress reaction which causes a stressful environment
It is also important to see what this overwhelm cost us. When we feel overwhelmed, how do we handle it? How do we act?
Maybe it is different depending on the type of overwhelm or the people involved.
We often go into a fight (emotional, reactive, snapping aka don’t make eye contact with the bear),
flight (planning, doing, stressing aka anxiety makes me do things faster with more panic), or
freeze (shutting down our own emotions or the world around us aka I’m gonna sit here and eat this bag of ketchup chips while I binge watch Arrested Development, k BYE!) mode.
And doing these things is putting this emotion into action, but not necessarily a helpful action.
In some cases we disrupt the peace of those around us and leak our overwhelm out onto them too. In some cases we just give ourselves heartburn and hustle harder. And in some cases, nothing gets done. Even no action is still action.
You can manage overwhelm
Overwhelm is a vague sense of having too much and not being calm and clear on what that ‘too much is’ or how to manage it.
It is vague and so it is confusing in a way.
It is like carrying a heavy box of random crap. Your muscles start to ache, you feel burdened by it. The question isn’t if you are strong enough, or if your box is the heaviest. The question is, what will you do with the stuff in the box?
It comes down to decision making
Decision making is what our brain is having trouble with. This is why many of us default back to overwhelm. We need to get better at making decisions.
In order to do that we need to know what our options are, and we need to prioritize what we want, and then we need to own our decision.
As a life coach this is something I help other women through and this is something I need to coach myself through often. From times where I feel overwhelmed in motherhood, in my work life, in my home. I get this!
Four steps to manage the overwhelm
These are four steps to help you manage the overwhelm and move from fight/flight/freeze to taking positive action. And these steps are ones I coach others through, I use myself, and ones I am slowly teaching my kids over time.
1. Calm your nervous system.
Get into a spot where you can be alone for a moment and take some big deep breaths. I know it sounds simple and over-prescribed but it recommended so often for good reason.
Your body and brain think there is danger and your nervous system is flooding your body with stress hormones to help you. So if you feel like you are in fight, flight or freeze mode you are still being run by your stress hormones.
When you take some big breaths, you start to calm your nervous system. And now you are getting in charge of your body. You can start to think more calmly and reasonably.
So take some big breaths and remind yourself: “I can calm down and work through this. I’m not in danger, I can manage this.”
2. Unpack and inventory
My solution to most of life’s predicaments includes ‘make a list’. I often recommend doing a brain dump. (You can read more about how I use them here)
The magic of a list is that it unloads the MENTAL CLUTTER. All of the ideas, and tasks, and worries, and emotions are just bouncing around our brains and this vague sense of mental burden is what causes us to feel overwhelmed.
The presence of mental clutter whether it is one big thing, or a host of tiny little things is weighing on our brains. So, getting it all out on paper is the first step.
I like to think of it like dumping out the contents of that box filled with random stuff. Now we can see exactly what is in there.
I like to categorize my brain dumps into the different categories of my life they pertain to. Like: home, work, errands, personal, kids, etc.
And it is important to be specific with your list. Write down specific tasks, specific thoughts, specific errands. Because this helps us know exactly what we are dealing with.
So often, other women tell me ‘when I wrote it all out I realized it wasn’t as much or as bad as I thought’. When we can separate the FACTS from our FEELINGS we can see the mental clutter for what it is. And when we know what we are dealing with, we are better equipped to know HOW to deal with it.
3. Prioritize like you mean it
If you look at this list and tell yourself ‘I should be doing ALL these things!’ You will feel even worse. And I know we are all piling up the things we are responsible for and the expectations we have for ourselves. But pull back for a minute.
This list isn’t all the things you must make space for in your life. This list is all you could make space for and you are the one who prioritizes what is important.
It is time to shift your mindset on this list from ‘all the things I should be doing’ to ‘all the things I could be doing’.
I know I will get some protest here. I mean, this mental shift alone could be its own life coaching session. We all have different reasons for why we have trouble making this mindset shift.
But, at the end of the day we need to we do need to take ownership for the things we are choosing to do and not to.
We are meant to make choices. Life is full of boundless options for how we can spend our time, money, space, energy – we need to make choices. We can’t do it all. We need to choose what matters most to us.
> Choose three things from your brain dump list that move you closer to living in line with these things.
4. Take action
Making a list is great, when it leads to taking action. Otherwise it is just busy-work.
So, hold yourself accountable and externalize that negative mental energy into positive physical energy. I know this sounds meta and woo woo, but think of it like an energy transfer from the burden of carrying to the motion of moving through and doing.
When you have gone through the steps of unpacking your mental clutter, sorted through what is important, have a couple tasks that are a priority for you – then give yourself the gift of done.
Doing this, even if it is small little steps over time, will help you build up confidence in your ability to truly handle the overwhelm and shift your mental burden into real action.
If overwhelm is something that is affecting your life and something you struggle to manage then you would likely benefit from some formal support. Book a consult session for life coaching with me to learn more about how I can help you with overwhelm and the issues it causes for you.