Overwhelm can affect anybody at any point. You don’t have to be ‘stressy person’ to become overwhelmed but overwhelm is caused by stress and stressful situations.
Overwhelm presents itself in many different. These can include feeling stuck, seeing no-way out of a situation, trapped and unsure of which is the right decision to make. People often describe overwhelm as ‘feeling paralysed’ or ‘feeling like I’m drowning’.
So how can you deal with overwhelm?
The first thing to do is to notice what you’re feeling and then naming it. Like many things in life, if you don’t notice it, or know what it is, you cannot begin to deal with it.
Noticing overwhelm becomes easier once you recognise your own signs. Normally people notice the signs of overwhelm when it’s passed – isn’t hindsight wonderful! Once you realise that you were overwhelmed, stop and spend a little time reviewing and reflecting on how you were feeling.
Find the emotions and the feelings in your body that happened when you were in the middle of the overwhelm. Writing these down can help you to notice them in the future and once you recognise them, you are more likely to notice them WHEN they are happening rather than after they have happened. If you notice them when they are happening, you can act to reduce the feelings and thus the overwhelm.
Once you can notice that you’re being overwhelmed, you can then act.
Accepting that you feel overwhelmed is a great start. Saying that you feel overwhelmed out loud to yourself a number of times can help you to start to bring yourself down. Breathing techniques such as box breathing or the long exhale breath (a longer exhale than your inhale) can also calm down your body which in turn will help to calm your mind.
Finally, ground yourself. Plant both feet firmly on the floor (ideally with your shoes off) and concentrate on the feelings of your feet being rooted to the floor. Close your eyes if you can, to enhance the effect. This combined with the breathing techniques will help to pull you out of your overwhelmed feeling and back into the here and now.
When you’re able to reduce your feeling of overwhelm, this is when you can start to think about how to stop it happening in the future. But before you do this… take a little time to unwind a bit further. Go for a walk. Have a chat with a friend. Whatever works for you. It only needs 5-minutes but it will make the next stage so much easier.
Once you’re calmer, reflect on what caused the overwhelm to start in the first place. It can just be a single item that caused you to feel overwhelmed. If that’s the case, it’s worth looking at how you felt before this single item landed on your shoulders. Is there more stress hiding behind the scenes that you maybe didn’t recognise?
By reflecting on the causes of your stress and overwhelm, you’ll start to be able to see patterns in your behaviour, or your responses to the behaviour of others.