"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Overcoming Overwhelm: Learning How To Do It All, One Thing At A Time

Image of sea waves breaking as the meet the shore with text: roll with one wave, rather than be engulfed by them all. Do you have days where you struggle to keep your mind on the task at hand?

Are you always thinking about the next thing you have to do?

Do you feel exhausted at the end of the day but feel you haven’t do anything?

Feeling overwhelmed is common in today’s world. We live busy lives, trying to achieve a lot in a small amount of time. We juggle several things at once, like a job, raising a family, managing a home, and all that that entails.

Being overwhelmed often shows up in a physical form under the header of Stress. It manifests to varying degrees in a number of symptoms, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, insomnia, even depression.

It is particularly prevalent in those of us with busy or ‘noisy’ minds, who struggle to stop thinking about all the things we feel must get done today! Or who have overactive imaginations that insist on playing out all the ‘what if’ scenarios.

“There is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own mind.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

When I moved to a foreign country to be with my husband, I suffered insomnia every night for six months prior to the move date. I would wake up at 3am and not be able to get back to sleep. Once my mind was awake and thinking about what was ahead of me, I couldn’t get it to rest again. The only thing I could do was get up, have a drink of water and sit and watch telly until I felt tired enough to fall asleep again. I was so overwhelmed by the thoughts of living in a foreign language and culture, and wondering how I would survive there, as well as being a city girl moving to a village. And after moving, the struggles and frustrations I went through trying to settle here continued to overwhelm me, despite trying to appear happy and satisfying everyone’s expectations of me – including my own.

Overwhelm can be a reaction to feelings that we aren’t able to express properly, either because we don’t have the time, or because we don’t want to feel them. If we don’t give ourselves proper time to process something, or take on more than we are capable of we can become overwhelmed. We continue pushing ourselves to do more, to be more, and tell ourselves we are fine, when often we aren’t.

For me it resulted in a breakdown. My inability to express myself and share my feelings without fear of upsetting or disappointing those around me, coupled with feeling completely unsupported, meant I became lost in a negative spiral of thoughts and emotions which eventually shut me down. I felt powerless to change my feelings or my situation, and disappeared into a black hole in my head.

Fortunately though, I had enough clarity to seek help in the form of a therapist.

Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place. – Robin Lee

I learnt to deal with one thing at a time, rather than tackle everything together. I learnt how to break my feelings down and look at them separately, identifying those that I needed to work with more than others.

I learnt to not look too far ahead and focus on the short term instead, to look at what I could do today, or this year, and deal with situations as they arose, rather than try and anticipate them all in advance.

I learnt how I could look at the things I struggled with differently, from a new perspective, and find a way that would help me accept and see that I still had power in the form of choices. And step by step I managed to start moving forward again, reassessing my priorities and focusing on one thing at a time, one feeling at a time, and one task at a time.

I slowed everything down.

I learnt to stop focusing so much on the big picture, and potential future outcome, and focus on the here and now.

“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.” – Thich Naht Hanh

I still have times that I find myself overwhelmed, and in those moments I ask myself what things I want to achieve today. I prioritise them, often by writing a list with the most important thing first. Then I strike everything below the top one and focus on that. I set aside specific time for it rather than try and squash it in between everything else. And when I focus on that one step I reduce the anxiety, and in turn the feeling of being overwhelmed. And often I then feel like I have achieved something and taken a step forward.  

“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” – Timber Hawkeye

Do you experience overwhelm? How do you deal with it, what works for you? I’d love to hear.

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