Updated: Jan 29
As humans we are under a lot of pressure, we are overloaded, we are on the go constantly jumping from one thing to the next. Social media and phones are penetrating our brains like space invaders.
We always just have so much stuff going on and relatively little downtime.
With obligations with work, partners, friends, perhaps children, and other family, there are always a seemingly infinite set of demands on our time. If we are not careful, we can really get overwhelmed. Which let us be honest with this backdrop of demands is not that surprising.
Our personal awareness of how we feel and of our behaviour is important as is what we can do about it.
This way we might become more aware of our habits.
And how well we are looking after ourselves
Is it a good idea for example to push through and wait until you hit a wall and then reaching overwhelm or can we take action before that happens?
When I was walking down our road the other day, I SAW A MUM who had picked her kids up from school ….CHUCKING THE CAR SETS ONTO THE PAVEMENT
Clearly the kids had pushed her buttons one too many times! Was it good parenting?
No! Can you judge that behaviour, well I wouldn’t…. because we all have our boiling over point and you know… it was just the car seats and not the kids she was throwing out!
An interesting question we might ask ourselves could be what could we choose to think in a scenario like this. What might we try and put into our minds which could mean we might choose to laugh instead of cry or scream?
I have three kids.
I came into the lounge the other day and our youngest had done a poo in the potty. Then the dog came in and started taking and interest in the potty and he stood there and along with the other kids they all just sat watching TV. I rushed into the room but before I could shoo her away the dog had eaten the poo.
Disgusting right and I could have got really cross with my zombie kids in front of the tv not stopping the dog but I think I just might be getting better at laughing.
Let’s have a look at what overwhelm is.
When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, we can become more prone to hitting a limit.
We feel like we can’t cope.
The impact of this can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or a reduced ability to solve problems. We might be more easily distracted and our thinking less effective.
In relation to the topic of overwhelm I’d like to do a bit of personal disclosure
I have had several periods in my life when I was not coping well.
The first came ten years ago when three things went wrong at the same time. I was doing a challenging work project, a production challenge happened with a business I was trying to start, and our first baby had just been born and was struggling to feed.
I thought I was invincible before the panic hit me.
..but I hit a wall. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t cope.
The power of three things I didn’t know how to solve which all came at once totally floored me.
The most unfortunate thing for me in this moment was that I felt embarrassed, I felt shameful and I didn’t share with anyone how I was feeling about my not coping and my being overwhelmed. That was mistake. That made it harder to move beyond it. I don’t think I appreciated how normal it was.
I did ultimate sort myself out though and figure out how to cope with these challenges and my anxiety.
Then I was fine for quite a while maybe 5 years and then our third child was born. Ozzie had lots of challenges, he had a genetic condition with epilepsy and a cleft palate. He was in the special care baby unit from day three. We had many unknowns and again I was not coping.
I was working as a contractor at the time so I was not able to take much time off. After a full working day of holding myself together and getting on with work the façade took its toll. I would get into the car to drive home and just shake for a while from all the pent-up adrenalin and worry.
More recently I have struggled with the mental and physical impact of long covid which has brought fatigue and a range of symptoms. This condition is particularly impactful for those suffering from it because it is so new, we do not know how ling it is likely to affect us.
When we consider our physical reaction to stress it is quite informative and can actually help us to take stock and rationalise the appropriateness of our response.
Often the reptile brain or brain stem in the lower rear area of the head takes over as we jump into fight, flight or freeze mode. The rational thinking frontal neo-cortex part of the brain switches off.
We are not in physical danger at this point, we’ve probably just got a difficult email from someone and yet our body tell us we are in danger. Our software from thousands of years ago is yet to be re-programmed. We are reacting like we are hiding in a cave from a sabre-toothed tiger. Our anxiety and fear and stress creates an exaggerated response to the real level of threat we are facing.
It’s normal – its ok - it human
We have a chance to make some changes but by preventing overload and overwhelm ahead of time.
We have may have developed some bad habits.
Like saying yes too often.
Like tasking switching all the time.
Like constantly looking at our phones and screens, constantly receiving information or thinking about things that you have to do
Maybe we can set boundaries
Perhaps we can give ourselves a break and challenge our perfectionism.
A lot of coached like myself work closely with thinking behaviours and work with the relationship between our thoughts our feelings and our actions.
One a key bit of this is to focus on thinking about our thinking. If there is one message to take away from this post this could be it.
Our Thoughts create our feelings which lead to our actions and our results.
Our thoughts really do impact how we feel and what we do next.
I was picking my son up from school a couple of terms back and at the gate he said hi to this girl, let’s call her Alice, one of his friends. Anyway, there my lovely boy is cheerily saying hi Alice in a friendly voice. And she completely ignores him. I am thinking, that’s unfriendly that’s rude. Anyway, I start walking to the car lost in my assumptions. I am turning over in my head how she is a bad person, how I had heard she was a bit of a troublemaker in class and how dare she be mean to my little boy. And while I was really digging into this negative thought and corresponding feeling. I say to Woody why did she ignore you. He just answers “Oh I don’t think she saw me.” (Role model for positivity). Then we get back to the car and Alice’s mum is parked nearby. She immediately turns to Woody with a big smile and grin and says Hi Woody in a nice happy sing song voice. And I am like Oh, so she didn’t see him before after all. There I was making assumptions, telling myself a negative story, when it was all a crazy mixed-up brain mess of negative emotion.
When we think about our thinking, we get to challenge our assumptions and try to veers ourselves away from any negative thinking. For both what we think about ourselves and what we think about others.
If we choose to have better thoughts which better support us, more optimistically, more positively more resourcefully. We will feel better, do things better and our outcomes and situation in our lives will improve.
I want to impress on you that if we do set boundaries, get help, give ourselves a break, and work on our self-supporting thinking we can definitely reduce the frequency and depth of overwhelm we might experience.
In practise if we are regularly stressed, as well as it being hard work for our minds to process, it is no good for our bodies.
One example of this is that if we are in a stress response mode the body takes resources away from areas like our immune system and sends it to our limbs so we can respond quicker, in this way we are more vulnerable to disease or illness.
So being regularly stressed is really bad for our health
With reducing this overwhelm and stress as a goal I’d like to introduce you to a series of areas to consider.
3 Wellbeing ideas – as we go through this, I’d like to invite you make a note of anything strikes a chord or comes up for you.
They all begin with R to help you remember them!
Firstly, let’s look at the idea of REGULAR SELF CARE
I passionately believe we all need to look after ourselves better. As mentioned, when we looked at the pressured of our present-day reality.
WE CANNOT EXIST IN A PERMANENTLY SWITCHED-ON STATE.
This state will lead to racing thoughts and rapid breathing.
It’s helpful to remind our brains and bodies that it is ok and safe to slow down and have some balance.
Maybe that is quiet time to read, to listen to gentle music, do yoga, slow our breathing, use mindfulness app, or a short meditation. Seeing friends is great but we might not think of it as truly active self-care. If we are building time to do some form of nothing then it’s even better. Something funny about me and meditation.
Next we can REVITALISE (less booze, eat better, exercise more, get fresh air).
A key new habit I am going to offer you if you are not currently in the habit of it is about getting outside in the fresh air. Before we even mention the numerous benefits of exercise on health and mindset simply being outside offers multiple benefits too. Research proves it makes you happier and helps you sleep better. It supports long term health.
Walking outside increases brain function because we get more oxygen.
It also improves concentration; it gives us vitamin D which is required for brain and nerve growth. Also, if we are under pressure, it releases happy hormones which offset stress and balance our mood.
Can you build a daily outdoor walk into your life?
REACH OUT - connection social togetherness, – Connecting with other humans is a basic psychological need and a part of social wellbeing, be it at work, or at home with friends, partners and family.
Outsource or delegate. People like to be useful and they like to be asked for help even if you are just asking them to pick your kids up from school.
When it comes to sharing and getting help being heard out and talking through how we feel matters. Putting the world to rights, listening to one another and having someone hear how you’re doing is a big part of asking for help.
So, we have looked at :
1. Regular self-care
2. Revitalising lifestyle
3. Reaching out
…as 3 things to focus on for reducing overwhelm
We have explored our stressful, modern world
We have looked at how we can choose more deliberately about how we interact with it and what barriers we put up to defend ourselves and our time from invaders.
We can give ourselves some critical “Me time” during an outside walk and vastly improve our stress, brain function, overall health and mindset.
Getting overwhelmed by life Isn’t shameful it is not a sign of weakness
but it is a normal part of being human.
It is normal
It is ok to seek help, make changes and above all
IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK and to tell others you need to talk.
There are things you can work on and some of those we have explored are relatively straightforward to start doing now.
If you want to make a note to yourself at some point today around something you want to start doing and something you want to stop doing find a quiet moment and do just that.
Perhaps put a little note on your phone.
Then tell a friend about your plans.