Articles/Personal Empowerment/Overwhelm: It’s a Killer

Wednesday, 09 March 2022

Linda-maree Conyard

It was the second last year of my Masters, at one of the study group days, followed by lectures, that I noticed how exhausted I was feeling. I knew that I had been pushing myself quite hard, and I hadn’t really stopped for long enough to feel the effects of that. When I did stop, I recognized how massive the last few years had been. It was tough fitting everything in; the study and assignment writing, family, rescue animals, and a husband diagnosed with cancer (he is well and fully recovered).

The thing was that once I stopped and really paid attention to my exhaustion, I noticed a feeling of being overwhelmed. The first response was the idea of crawling into my bed and staying there forever, which was very appealing at that moment. Instead, I stayed present to that sensation of what I named overwhelm. I could feel my brain was foggy, and it felt flat, I know, weird, right! I was also aware of a collapsed feeling in the middle of my torso as well as an overall heavy feeling. Never before had I fully leaned into the sensations of a named experience (overwhelm).

It was pretty amazing, and I love this about Gestalt, the exploration and curiosity of an experience. What also became clear is that when I leaned into the sensations without focusing on the name I gave the experience, I was able to let the feelings move through me. This was very different from my usual way of dealing with overwhelm in the past.

I am aware that when we name something, there is usually a whole enormous story of what that means that comes with it. All of that doesn’t exist when you sit with only the sensation; all of that doesn’t exist.

Like many others who experience overwhelm, there is a constant pushing through and getting things done, totally unconscious of what’s happening in the body. Honestly, this conscious experience, as opposed to the unconscious experience, is like chalk and cheese.

One of the most common ways people solve overwhelm is by making a to-do list (or another to-do list). Another way for people to get some respite from this nervous system exhaustion is to use alcohol or other addictive substances or activities to make it go away.

The thing is, we all know that another to-do list will just highlight your never-ending list of things you have to do and only confirms and compounds the sense of overwhelm. It could even define your life if you let it. Any addictive substance or action will only give relief for a short time.

I have a few questions you could try out on yourself!

  • ​What am I trying to achieve?
  • Am I trying to achieve the right thing?
  • What does overwhelm do for me?

The last question may seem a little strange. Most people just think overwhelm is a bad thing. When you learn to listen to your body, the so-called bad thing turns into an opportunity.

“On a physiological level, experience changes brain structure.” —Judith Hanson Lasater

Underlying the answers to these questions will be a need you are trying to meet. More than likely, it will be in your subconscious. This process of being present to the sensations in your body will make them conscious.

You will be pleased to know there is only one answer to overwhelm, and that is to STOP! Stop doing, stop working, just stop! And I know you will feel like that’s absolutely impossible. You are talking to the recovered overwhelm Queen here! I know that feeling! You have so much to do, right!

The fact is that when you are operating in overwhelm, you are not effective and not productive. Your actions of ‘doing’ will never meet the need that has not been recognized. The only way to find out what you need is by stopping and giving space for it to become clear to you by listening to the sensations of your body…not your mind chatter.

We are so programmed to get the hell out of any discomfort. Amazing things happen when you stop fighting something like overwhelm and start to lean into it. You are providing yourself with the opportunity to grow, heal and learn a little more about yourself. It’s another step closer to you connecting with your own inner wisdom. Here are some ways you can move through and learn from overwhelm:

  • ​Recognise your symptoms; pay attention to the early warning signs or sensations of what you know as overwhelm. These could be:
  • ​having trouble thinking straight,
  • forgetting things or losing your words,
  • fatigue or exhaustion,
  • little things that generally wouldn’t bother you are irritating you,
  • having difficulty sleeping,
  • addictive behaviours or increase in addictive behaviours.
  • ​STOP – This is so important, and key to being able to listen to what overwhelm is telling you. Remove yourself to a quiet space so you are not looking at what may be causing the overwhelm – like your desk at work! I also imagine this will be the most challenging step to take.
  • Identify your need – Imagine if you had finished everything you needed to finish; what would that provide for you? What is it telling you about your need? Lean in and feel the sensations of overwhelm, and listen to your body. For example, several clients who have explored this exact thing found overwhelm created a learned behaviour. When they were children in their household, they were never allowed to sit around; they always had to be doing something. Now that’s a good thing to find out because, as an adult, you can make different choices. The trick is to find what is underlying your action and then find the remedy.
  • Stay with your need – most of us are not used to allowing our needs because we see it as selfish. Or we have learned that it’s not ok to relax and unwind, as per the example above. If we don’t meet our needs and recharge, it is tough to meet the needs of others, including within our workplace.
  • Ask for what you need – Whoa!!!! This can be super challenging for many people. It’s bad enough to recognise that they have a need and then… ask for support! I’ll let you off the hook a little…it doesn’t have to be a person you ask for support from! Whew! You may like to take yourself off into nature, either the bush or the beach. Take in the beauty and calming energy in these places and see how you feel afterward. You may need to get your hands into the dirt in the garden. Or sit on the deck with your pet and have a cup of tea in peace. It doesn’t have to be a big deal…a little often is nice.

Ok, after connecting and listening to your body and exploring what may be at the root cause of the overwhelm, now it’s time for the to-do list. I’ve created a little e-book, 3 Ways to Stop the #1 Business Killer, which has a relatively quick process to shift out of overwhelm and into a more settled state. You can use it in conjunction with the questions and the tips above. Don’t worry if you don’t have a business; you can still use this and have your workplace in mind or any part of your life that is causing overwhelm when you work through it.

Remember to be gentle with yourself and know that you don’t need to stay in the overwhelm place. You only have a choice when you bring into your awareness, through the sensations in your body, what your subconscious has been holding. Then you can make a conscious decision of what you do next.

May you be well, may you be happy, and may you have inner peace

Linda ♡

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