We need to talk about overwhelm

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"I'm totally in overwhelm right now."

I heard myself thinking this last week, at the end of a week that looked something like this: 5 social events in 4 days, performing in a street festival for which my childcare cancelled, a lot of back and forth with my sister trying to plan a trip to see her, a cat leaving daily morning hairballs for me, and a kitchen sink faucet that broke off its attachment and was listing into the sink. The faucet still worked, and I hadn't had time to call a plumber yet, so I was just washing my dishes sideways.

You know, nothing really so major, and a lot of fun things, actually.

Just a lot of things, all at once.

What is overwhelm?

Maybe overwhelm for you looks like too many people talking to you at once, or having so many things you want to get done and not knowing where to start. It might be just too much noise, if you are sensitive to that. I feel it sometimes - ok, last night - when my daughter hasn't had enough exercise during the day and is bouncing around the kitchen making strange noises while I'm trying to make dinner. That makes me feel like my head is going to explode.

The particulars of what send you into overwhelm may be very specific to you, but probably always encompass a sense of "too much."

The problem is when overwhelm becomes your steady state of being. When you hear yourself saying it all the time. When you are feeling in it more often than out of it.

That's the point when I hear my coaching mentor's voice saying, "Overwhelm is a choice.”

Say what now?

Well, everything you feel is a choice, right? That can be a hard idea to swallow, but hear me out. What I'm talking about here is the difference between what you are and how you feel.

“I am overwhelmed.” <--- That feels stuck and powerless.

“I feel overwhelmed right now.” <---- That feels like I could choose to change the situation.

I can ask my daughter to go bounce in another room. I can cancel a social event. I can brain dump my to-do list and do some prioritizing. I can walk away from the list entirely and recharge a bit.

Here's the other thing about overwhelm.

Sometimes you feel overwhelm because you are stuck. Maybe you're afraid to make a decision you know we need to make. Maybe you haven't yet told that one person you really don't want to do that thing with them, but you really don't want to do that thing.

Sitting in a place of feeling overwhelmed isn't very comfortable, but it is better than whatever it is than you are avoiding doing.

At least it is familiar.

So yeah, that's where you get to choose. Do you want to keep feeling overwhelmed and hearing yourself complain about it? Or do you want to do something else?

Here are some things to try, if you want to let go of overwhelm:

  • Delete the word from your vocabulary. If you can't say "I'm overwhelmed," how will you describe your situation instead? How do you really, truly feel in this moment?

  • Keep track of when you are feeling that sense of overwhelm and if there is a pattern to it. Is it noise? Is it stress or anxiety? Does it happen more around some people than others? More when you haven't slept enough or eaten well? What can you change that will shift the situation to make it less likely to occur?

  • When you are in that feeling of overwhelm, what one small action can you take to step away from it?

  • Consider: How is being overwhelmed serving you? How is it keeping your safe or comfortable?

I'll admit that when Kate said, "Overwhelm is a choice," I kind of wanted to growl at her. But I'm starting to see where she might have been right. I know overwhelm is not a conscious choice I want to make for my life, and I’m practicing making different choices.

What situations make you feel overwhelmed? Leave a comment below and then name one thing you might try to shift out of that uncomfortable place!