I once had a friend say to me, “I have eliminated the word overwhelm from my vocabulary.” I smiled and nodded and tilted my head a little bit, and thought: “Wow! She must be in utter denial!” But over time, her words still stick, which is something I tend to pay attention to.
For many people, overwhelm is an essentially constant feeling. The laundry list of daily life can sometimes feel like more than we can handle, but perhaps only if we try to take everything that life is asking of us in one big bite. As I watch my own life and thoughts, I have come to see over time that the feeling of overwhelm usually has a future orientation. Very rarely is the sensation of the current moment more than I can handle. I’ll repeat that. Very rarely is the sensation of the current moment more than I can handle. So, being present, in the body, reduced the feeling of overwhelm tremendously!
However, we tend to heap on all the possible outcomes of the next twenty-four or forty-eight hours to our here-and-now nervous system. And that, friends, is a recipe for a meltdown, jittery, “don’t anybody dare call me right now,” nail-biting, caffeine gulping kind of day. I see it all too often.
For most people with depression that I work with, overwhelm is one of the main complaints. The two seem intrinsically linked. Both depression and overwhelm have mental patterns that exist along with them, making the sensations and impact more difficult.
Here are some of my tips for reducing the feeling that life is crashing down on you, and you are not strong enough to handle it:
1. Ask for help. Or even just communicate for a few minutes with someone who loves you. This is number one because from what I have seen, people in overwhelming states mixed with depression also have an intimate relationship with shame, which whispers in their ear to hide out, face it alone. And frankly, it’s not true. Everyone needs a support system. Use yours.
2. Increase connection and bonding. Both depression and overwhelm are isolating forces, which reduce the feeling that you are actually connected to yourself, to others, to the universe. Take a moment in your panic to pause, look around, breathe. Pick the one of those three I mentioned (self, other, universe) and make a small effort to let yourself be connected to the one that feels the most comfortable to you. This brings you back to the present moment, in which overwhelm, remember, doesn’t exist with such ferocity.
3. Let some things go. If you are truly over scheduled and overloaded, as many are, it is difficult to get to a relaxed state of mind and being. If you are consciously doing the deep work of healing yourself, you really do need some breathing room. Many people that I work with feel a deep relief when they let themselves even consider slowing things down a little. Look over your list of activities and responsibilities. Is there one small errand that could be replaced with a cup of tea, a walk in the park, a short meditation?
4. Notice the difference between positive and negative release. Notice when what you do to “relax” actually has a draining or numbing effect. Watching television (or some other screen), shopping online, eating, sleeping in late, and other default ways of releasing tension might be actually compounding your stress and self-worth issues. After you binge-watch that series on Netflix, how do you feel about yourself? If the answer is negative, begin to replace that behavior with something that boosts your sense of self but is still relaxing. In this way, you can become aware of your energy drains.
5. Try my friend’s slogan, and erase overwhelm from your vocabulary. I often repeat to myself the saying that the universe only dishes out to you what you can truly handle. Perhaps stretching our image of ourself and what we are capable of, is all that it takes to feel ok about the challenges in our current circumstances.
*A note of caution: To reduce overwhelm, pick one of these tips to focus on at a time!