Overwhelm is a Choice

So, I’ve been in overwhelm these past few days and when I sat down to write about it, I heard Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics to Feelin’ Groovy (yes, in my head).  “Slow down, you move too fast…”  When I’m in this mode, everywhere I turn, there is more to do. It’s all I see and it is like the walls are closing in around me.

I’m no stranger to the “Overwhelm Train,” the only difference is that now I recognize it when it’s coming. Many years ago, this was not the case…I’d take a seat on the train and get comfy for months at a time.  These days, I realize when I’m on it and I choose to get off, quickly.

There’s a school of thought out there that says that overwhelm is a choice and I agree, except for one thing. When I’m in overwhelm, it doesn’t feel like a choice. 

So here are a few of the signs (they look an awful lot like PMS, so don’t be confused):
• Anger
• Frustration
• Resentment
• Feeling like you’re a victim to your life
• Feeling like you are carrying the world on your shoulders

When it gets really bad:
• Someone makes a request of you and you start to grow green fur and monster-like fangs
• You throw out one-word responses to questions, while talking through gritted teeth

I’ll list some of the steps I’ve used to get out of overwhelm before someone I love gets harmed. I’m being a tad bit over-the-top here, but you get the picture. We can do damage when we’re in this place and the person we do the most damage to is ourselves.

1) Stop!
Stop everything you’re doing that is non-essential – meaning, slow your roll waaaaay down. When I slow down, I get perspective.  When I’m moving at the speed of light, I have very little perspective.

2) Do the Brain Dump.  
Throw all of your To Do’s on one big, fat piece of paper or white space…keep writing until it’s all out…every last item. Come back to this list when you’ve let some of the air out of your tires (when you’re less frustrated), and decide on the priorities. Translation: what really has to get done now and what can be saved for a later date. Another helpful tip? Give any To Do’s that aren’t yours back to the person they belong to. 

3) Breathe.
Take (3) really deep breaths and let them out with all the sighing you can muster. I’m serious, just this exercise can work wonders when you’re running around like a nut ball. Why? Because we forget to breathe when we’re stressed.

4) Bring Joy Back.
Decide you are going to do one small thing for yourself each day for the next week that brings you joy or lights your fire.  It could be taking a walk at lunch or stepping outside to listen to the birds chirp for 10 minutes. Maybe it’s an uninterrupted cup of coffee with your favorite journal or it’s listening to some soul stirring music on your headphones. Hint: this is a great daily practice. The point here is to give to yourself because overwhelm is about giving yourself away. 

Reel it back in. Your life will thank you along with your family, your friends and your co-workers. If overwhelm was really a choice, what would your life be like without it?