Overwhelm and What To Do About It

Overwhelm…we have all felt it….do feel it, will feel it. It is a unifying experience of humanity. It occurs when we feel we are unable to respond effectively to the challenges at hand.

Sometimes overwhelm comes with the long list of to do’s at home or work. Overwhelm can come to us with the tremendous sense of responsibility for someone else. For some of us it can be the bombardment of sensation in the environment….or being exposed to so much information that we have trouble processing it as it comes (that would have been trigonometry in high school for me). Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by our own emotions…. anger, worry, shame, fear, sadness….grief.

Some synonyms for overwhelmed are “engulfed” “drowning” “defeated”. When we are in that place it can be difficult to find a way out. What I have discovered over the years is that in every instance of overwhelm any of us can experience, there is always a path to peace. Depending on the circumstances, the degree of overwhelm, the motivation, skill set and internal resources of the person in overwhelm, and the support received, the time it takes to find and walk the path will vary.

When we are in overwhelm we automatically go into a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. Depending on how we are wired, one person may become irritable, angry, aggressive, another may go into frenetic action, while yet another may shut down and withdraw. All of these reactions are responses to feeling threatened. Overwhelm, remember, is a time when we feel pushed beyond our ability to respond effectively to the challenges at hand.

To find our path to peace and follow it, the steps are essentially the same for all of us.

  1. Take a moment to breathe….literally….. deep breaths help your nervous system regulate and this allows you to think more clearly and less reactively.
  2. Take an inventory. What do you have control over and what to do you not? What are your energy gains and what are your energy drains? Are you willing to let go of activities thoughts, behaviors that contribute to your overwhelm?
  3. Get in touch with your needs. What do you really want? Take some time alone to figure this out. You may also want to process this with trusted support figures in your life.
  4. Prioritize. Which needs need to be addressed first? How will you do this?
  5. Stay focused and true to course. If you have made a list and prioritized, stick to it. You’ve done the leg work to get here. Be aware of distractions that can pull you off your path. Trust the system you’ve put in place. If, for example, you’ve listed that time to yourself is a high priority need, and you have come up with a plan for taking four hours to yourself on Wednesday, then stay true to you plan. Treat this appointment time with the same importance you would an appointment with a doctor. It is as important…maybe more so.
  6. Utilize support. Support can come in many forms from friendship, spiritual practices, mentors, therapists, ect. None of us is an island and we all need some level of interconnectedness. If we are to thrive we must make certain that our support systems have more energy gains than drains.

Overwhelm is a natural part of modern life. There is nothing unusual about becoming overwhelmed from time to time. If you find however, that your life is more overwhelm than joy, you may want to evaluate choices you are making. You can utilize these steps in your exploration and in finding your own unique path to peace.

Written by: Laurie Patrice, LPC, BCPC, CPCS