Overwhelm

overwhelm

Overwhelm is a word I hear a lot. In fact, I hear it often enough that I decided to explore it more in depth. If you look up overwhelm in the dictionary you will find 1) to affect (someone) very strongly, 2) to cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with, and 3) to defeat (someone or something) completely. Usually it involves all three of these meanings for most people I talk to.

When I ask what symptoms people associate with overwhelm, I hear decreased sleep, increased worry, fatigue, tearfulness, irritability, and intrusive thoughts. Those symptoms can be associated with many different feelings so they don’t set overwhelm apart from other emotions very well.

Factors that often contribute to this feeling can include having too many tasks. Excessively high standards, poor time mangement, inadequate mindfulness skills, or focus on another person’s evaluation of you can also contribute. This certainly suggests definitions 1 and 2.

Expectations of one’s self also may play into the feeling of overwhelm. The high standards or expectations mentioned above fit in this category too. I find that the words “should” and “shouldn’t” are the biggest contibutors. When these evaluations are present they really can drain a person’s resources and limit problem-solving skills. Many people have pretty rigid beliefs about how things should or shouldn’t be without being really clear about why. In fact, it is often just a preference.

Having weak boundaries can also contribute to feelings of overwhelm. People who self-identify as people-pleasers often have too many things to do and not enough time to do them because they haven’t learned to say no. They are also afraid to engage in the self-care that would increase their energy for tasks and overall resilience. Difficulty with prioritizing can also be a factor. If you look at your task list and see everything on it as the highest possible priority it would feel overwhelming.

Possibility List

When all of these things are considered it seems clear that the feeling comes from the inside but there may be outside factors. If the boss wants something NOW it likely impacts overwhelm. But if there is a confidence in one’s own ability to prioritize, set boundaries, and complete tasks it probably won’t be nearly as uncomfortable.

Other words people use to describe overwhelm include swamped, buried, flooded, saturated, overloaded, and engulfed. I was drawn to the words saturated and overloaded. Interestingly, saturated seemed to be from outside forces (although I acknowledge I have some control on what I let in). Overloaded seemed to be more internal for me. It is sometimes quite difficult for me to choose from the many things I like to do. I often take on more activities (because I really like them) than fit easily into my day.

When considering difficult to manage feelings it can be helpful to consider where you feel them in your body. This can be a great way to monitor how your coping skills are working since it makes the feeling more tangible. Does overwhelm feel like a knot in your shoulders? Maybe a pressure in your chest? Does it feel hot or cold? For those of you who know about tapping, it also is useful to use the bodily sensation as a focus for your tapping.

I Can and I Will affirmation

When you get down to it, the thoughts in your head that are associated with overwhelm generally are some variation of “I’m not enough” or that “I can’t handle it.” Those belief patterns come from so many different places. For me there is a childhood statement from a parent of “why can’t you be more like Lori.” Then there was a question about whether I deserved to be valedictorian since I was in chorus instead of advanced math. The media also perpetuates those feelings of not being enough for many people.

I would argue that for most of us the truth is really more like “I don’t want to handle this” or “I shouldn’t have to handle it.” This is an important thought pattern to explore and it can lead to solutions.

Speaking of solutions, here is a brief list of solutions you may want to try:

  1. Planning – Break tasks into the smallest possible pieces and assign a time to do them.
  2. Values clarification – Decide whether the competing tasks share a similar value for you. Do the things that are congruent with your highest values. (This isn’t always easy to figure out and it is ok to get professional help with any of these.)
  3. Mindfulness – Practice your mindfulness skills. Then you can stay in the here and now rather than ruminating on the past or catastrophizing about the future.
  4. Affirmations – Make statements of affirmation about your own ability to problem-solve, self worth, and intellect.
  5. Tapping – Tapping is a great way to manage the feeling of overwhelm.
  6. Self care – Set aside time (even a few minutes) to rest, relax, and renew. It will help you be more productive when there is an onslaught of activities.
  7. Language-monitoring – Watch your language for should, shouldn’t, ought to, have to, etc. These are energy drainers and not helpful.
  8. Choose your battles – There really will be times when it is not possible to do everything. You also might not be able to do everthing at your highest level.

I Am Uptight, Anxious, and Overwhelmed

girl on log relaxingThe words uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed describe me all too often.  Life can be going well most of the time, but when something happens that is unexpected (good or bad) it can throw me off my game.  Tapping helps me to recover.

Say that statement out loud, “I am uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed.”  Rate the intensity or truth of that statement on a 0-10 scale (10=very intense or very true). Write down your rating.

illustration for karate chop pointBegin tapping on the karate chop point.  Even though I am uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. Even though I can do uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed better than almost anybody I know, I choose to substitute calm and confidence whenever possible.  Even though uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed come very easily to me, I choose to manifest other feelings that are more comfortable and will help me to reach my goals.

diagram of the tapping pointsEyebrow…I am uptight

Side of Eye…And I choose to release it now

Under the Eye…Bit by bit

Under the Nose…Until I am no longer feeling uptight

Chin…I am anxious

Collarbone…And I choose to release it now

Under the Arm…Bit by bit

Top of Head…Until I am no longer feeling anxious

Eyebrow…I am overwhelmed

Side of Eye…And I choose to release it now

Under the Eye…Bit by bit

Under the Nose…Until I am no longer overwhelmed

Chin…Even though I was feeling uptight before

Collarbone…I released it

Under the Arm…Bit by bit

Top of Head…And I choose to feel calm instead

Eyebrow…Even though I was feeling anxious before

Side of Eye…I released it

Under the Eye…Bit by bit

Nose…And I choose to feel confident instead

Chin…Even though I was feeling overwhelmed before

Collarbone…I released it

Under the Arm…Bit by bit

Top of Head…And I choose to feel calm and confident instead

Eyebrow…I used to feel uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed

Side of Eye…I choose to feel calm and confident instead

Under the Eye…I relase the uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed feeling from every cell in my body

Under the Nose…I release the uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed feeling from every muscle in my body

Chin…I release the uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed feeling from every fluid in my body

Collarbone…I choose to accept calmness

Under the Arm…I choose to acknowledge confidence

Top of Head…I choose to accept health and wellness into my body

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Say the original statement again,  “I am uptight, anxious, and overwhelmed.”  Rate the intensity or truth of that statement now on the 0-10 scale.  Continue tapping with these or other more personal statements until your rating is very low.  If other thoughts popped up, or specific circumstances came to mind, be sure to tap on those at some point to help you maintain the calm and confident feeling.

Tapping Exercise – Feeling Overwhelmed

Its embarrassing to admit this, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I forget to tap.  I hate it when I suddenly, after way too much angst, think about tapping.  Here is a short tapping exercise to get you started when you find yourself doing the same thing.

Say this statement aloud, “I feel overwhelmed.”  Rate the intensity or truth of the statement on a 0-10 scale where 10 is very true.  Write the number down for later.

Repeat this setup statement three times while tapping on the karate chop point.  “Even though I feel overwhelmed right now, and that’s my excuse for not tapping, I deeply and completely love and accept myself and all of my feelings — even my excuses.

Begin tapping, using a different reminder phrase at each of the tapping points.

Eyebrow…I feel overwhelmed

Side of Eye…So I can’t tap

Under the Eye…I feel overwhelmed

Under the Nose…I feel so overhwhelmed that I can’t even do anything

Chin…I can’t even tap because I’m so overwhelmed

Collarbone…I feel overwhelmed

Under the Arm…I AM overwhelmed

Top of Head…You would be too if you were me

Eyebrow…I have good reasons to feel overwhelmed

Side of Eye…I am overwhelmed

Under the Eye…So it’s okay if I’m stuck

Under the Nose…Well, maybe its not ok with me

Chin…Tapping is pretty easy

Collarbone…I could probably tap, even though I’m so overwhelmed

Under the Arm…And I feel pretty good after I tap

Top of Head…It just might work

 

Take a deep breath and say the original statement again, “I feel overwhelmed.”  Rate it on the 0-10 scale.  Was there any change?  If your new rating is above a 3, continue tapping with the statements above or use your own words about what you are feeling until the intensity or truth of the statement comes down.