Overwhelm is an unpleasant feeling.
Often, when we become overwhelmed we do not even realize it until it is too late.
This is specifically about being personally overwhelmed, as opposed to the overwhelm of negative information in the world. Personal overwhelm is not negative in and of itself but tends to lead to negative feelings.
What is personal overwhelm? Personal overwhelm is when you are thinking, feeling, and doing many things all at once. It involves any combination of thoughts, feelings, and actions in various proportions. Initially, you just feel as if you are busy and getting busier. Often, overwhelm hits very suddenly and without warning.
Let’s say you are planning a major life event. The details, the people involved, the coordination and anything else associated with it. On top of that, working a job. Additionally, you have things which you take on as your responsibility for friends and family. Further, you desire time for yourself.
That’s a lot right there. Let’s say on top of it you also add an illness, car problems, arguments with people, unhelpful salespeople, weather, appointments to be kept, and you need to think about your next meal, and getting the dog to the groomers, and mailing that irritating payment out, and, and, and…
Reading that make you start to feel overwhelmed? Is it any surprise overwhelm comes on suddenly?
You may be an excellent multitasker, but even still, there is only so much that any one person can do before they overdo it.
How do you avoid overwhelm?
The truth is, you may be unable to avoid it. When you get into the zone and you are working on something, you may not recognize when you cross the lines from enough to too much to overwhelm. However, one thing that can help is mindfulness.
Mindfulness involves you being more aware of your thoughts and feelings, which in turn influences your actions. When you practice being mindful of this, you may be able to better recognize the onset of overwhelm.
Everyone has different triggers that lead them to feel overwhelmed. And just to add another twist to this convoluted concept, overwhelm from one situation may be very different from overwhelm in another.
How does that work? Rather than the massive list I wrote above getting you from point ‘a’ to overwhelm, the single activity such as planning a major life event might do it. Breaking things down to the nitty-gritty, niggling details can make something already huge seem even larger.
Chunking down a large goal to smaller details can help you prevent and overcome being overwhelmed. However, if you keep adding on more and more details and chunking it down so far that you lose sight of the overall goal, you can make yourself feel overwhelmed.
Finding balance is not always easy, and different in every situation. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings will help you be more in touch with yourself, and from there make it at least somewhat easier to avoid getting overwhelmed.
Keep this in mind — you are not alone in this struggle. Everyone at one time or another experiences personal overwhelm. After you experience it, the key is to learn from it, so that you might have more awareness of what it feels like coming on in the future.
What happens next?
This is entirely up to you. What’s important is taking responsibility for getting overwhelmed. It can be super-easy to blame other people, situations, and circumstances for overwhelming you. However, since this is an emotional experience you are thinking and feeling about, the accountability for it happening is on you.
Be mindful not to blame yourself, because the recrimination of blame is not the same as an acknowledgment of the happening itself. Taking responsibility for becoming overwhelmed means you accept that you can take control of it, and move forward both in the existing matter and in future matters.
There is nobody inside your head but you. The thoughts, feelings, and actions that led to you becoming overwhelmed are yours. That’s not such a bad thing. Why? Because since they were created by you, they can be changed by you, too.
When you accept that you have been overwhelmed, you will be better able to recognize it if it happens again. Also, you gain invaluable insight into where an important breaking point for you and your actions exists.
Finally, knowing the nature of feeling overwhelmed can temper how you handle it when it comes on. Recognizing overwhelm is a part of mindfulness, and when you are mindful you are more aware of what you are thinking and feeling in the first place. As such, you can calm yourself, make necessary changes with greater ease, and step away from being overwhelmed more naturally when and if it occurs.
This can be frustrating and distressing, but it can also be an opportunity to grow. Being mindful and aware empowers you to roll with it. You can do it.
How do you handle getting overwhelmed?