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!
1. What am I trying to achieve?
2. Am I trying to achieve the right thing?
3. 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.