When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
How do you take back your power when everything is overwhelming you?
When we are overwhelmed, we are sucked into this swirl of situations and when you are in the thick of it, it is very difficult to do anything but stay in that swirl. The swirl is a miserable place to be. The swirl is when we’re stressed, strung out, and not thinking our best. When we are stuck in that place, we are not being proactive. We are being reactive to the next thing that’s happening, and it feels miserable.
What do we do about it?
I have coached countless clients through this space including myself a time or two and through those experiences, I have learned some fundamental tools on how to deal with being overwhelmed.
Three Fundamental Tools to Deal with Being Overwhelmed
The most important thing to do when you find yourself overwhelmed is to deconstruct and understand what is happening. Overwhelmed feelings often come from being out of alignment. It’s like the confluence of the trifecta, the straw that broke the camel’s back. We need to ask ourselves, “What is causing me to feel like this situation is breaking the camel’s back?”
There is always a reason. When you can think about it in that way you can identify the reason why you feel overwhelmed. Once you identify it you can step out of the feeling of being overwhelmed, and deal with the problem or circumstances at hand. Once you do that you can navigate the situation better.
Do you have the knowledge, tools, and strategies to deal with this problem?
Do you believe you can deal with this and understand what is holding you back?
Do you have clarity about what needs to happen?
What are the limiting beliefs that you may have that you are not even aware of and that are relevant to what you are going through right now?
It’s tools and strategy, clarity, mindset, limiting patterns, and beliefs that may be impacting this. Let’s talk through what this looks like.
For me, overwhelm usually comes when multiple things are hitting multiple pieces of my life that have hit high-stress points. It’s not just work, but work and something going on at home, or maybe with myself. It’s multiple things happening at once.
I can recall this one time when I was dealing with my Mom who was very sick and dying. It was over the holidays. There was so much happening, and there was so much that fell on my shoulders. To be honest, I say “fell” but I took those things on willingly and put those burdens on myself.
The holidays were my mom’s favorite season and I allowed myself to feel the pressure of trying to make it as pleasant a time as possible for her. Because she was sick, I felt the need to make the best of it. I was trying to deal with the holidays, while also trying to deal with the emotional pieces of my mom being sick and dying. I was also trying to be the supportive person for everyone else in my world and it was so hard. I was in the swirl and feeling very overwhelmed.
That first stage of overwhelm is when many of us are in the “Coping Superwoman Stage of Life” and we suppress every emotion that we have. We feel like we must keep going. “I have to do this. I have to do that.” We just keep going and pushing until we think we almost got it all managed. This is the space where we ignore how we are doing physically, mentally, and emotionally and just do what needs to be done. I was there once and when I get there I feel like I can’t stop because if I do everything will break down. All hell would break loose. That’s where I was at first and it was just too much. When I finally got out of the swirl and allowed myself to feel the overwhelm, I found myself walking this tight rope and I was afraid that it was going to break at any point.
Let’s take the situation I just described and apply it to the 3 Fundamental Tools. First, ask yourself:
Do I have the tools and strategies to deal with this?
Do I have the strategy and structure to be able to deal with this?
Do I have the knowledge of the things I need?
In this example, my mom was in hospice, and I had no previous experience with that so I had no idea what to expect or what was needed from me. I didn’t have the answers and that was the first big contributor to feeling overwhelmed. Not to mention the fact that at any point my mom could pass away. I was still trying to figure out how to cope with that.
We, as black women, have learned to control the one thing we can control and that is our knowledge. We are smart, talented women but when we are thrust into a place or a position where we don’t know what to do, we can get very uncomfortable.
It’s one thing having too much to do and just needing to go do it, it’s a whole nothing thing dealing with the fear of the unknown.
If I had the clarity back then of what I know now I would have stopped and said, “Okay, what is it that I don’t know, that I need to know, that will help me navigate this? What is it that I don’t know about navigating the hospice situation?”
When I realized that I was scared because I just didn’t know, I started asking questions and having conversations with people. I didn’t even have time or the wherewithal to think about it. Were there support groups at the hospice that could have helped me? Of course, but I was not great at asking for help back then. So, I missed out on that resource. Then there was the question, “How do I prepare for this? How do I prepare myself emotionally? How do I prepare myself for all the different things I have to navigate?”
The first step to pulling yourself out of your overwhelmed state is to figure out what you don’t know. Figure out what tools you are going to need to get through it. Once you realize that part of the overwhelmed feeling is from not having all the tools you need to deal with the situation, you can start to take control and take a breath and work on the actual problem.
My main problem was dealing with my mom being sick and dying, but my subproblem was not knowing what was needed from me to make it as painless as possible.
The second thing is mindset and clarity around how you deal with it. Ask yourself:
Do I believe it?
Do I believe I can deal with it?
Do I believe it’s possible to create a solution, to understand what is happening in this situation?
For me, this was a tough place to be. My mind, at that point, was overwhelmed with this impending doom of something bad coming, which was my mother passing away. And at first, I felt like I was just going to have to deal with it. In retrospect, what I realize now, is that I had more control over how I had to deal with it than I thought I did. I could have asked myself, “Is there a way to build better clarity on what my intentions are for how I want to show up for my mom? What are my intentions on how I want to show up for myself and my family?”
Half the time just showing up is a win. All the other stuff and all the navigating, if you’re doing this in alignment with your intentions of who you are, and how you want to be then that is great. That can relieve a lot of pressure that we have on ourselves.
We often ask ourselves, “Am I doing it right? Why am I doing this? Am I going to fail?”.
When you build clarity around what your intention is and not what the result will be, it can bring more clarity. Ask yourself:
How do I want to move through this?
What do I value?
What is important to me in this situation?
Example: If you are dealing with something at work, is coming to a resolution at any cost important? Or is it knowing you are doing your best without compromising your values like being there for your family and for yourself.
When you get clear on what’s important to you it helps align all the different pieces.
What’s important to you? If it’s, “I’m going to still stay healthy and take care of myself through this” then that becomes a filter for how you make your decisions.
No, I’m not going to make a decision that requires me to stay up till 2 in the morning. No, I’m not going to make a decision that will require me to take on extra responsibilities. Is that worth it to me and my health? No.
When you frame your decisions around what’s important to you it builds clarity and not only allows you to take the power back for yourself, but it also creates a framework for a decision structure.
What is important?
What is not important?
You’ve got to create that vision and clarity for yourself.
Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash
Whatever you are going through ask yourself:
What is the result you want to achieve?
How do you want to show up for yourself and others?
What are your intentions around that? How will you allow yourself to do it?
This last piece is often the hardest to work around. This is where we really must face ourselves. What are your limiting patterns and beliefs that are holding you back, slowing you down, and sabotaging you?
When it comes to this step, one of my limiting beliefs that I had at that time was that I had to do it all myself. That, tied with the thought that no one else is there to help me were some challenging beliefs I had to break free from. Those beliefs were deep and old-rooted. I realized that because of my limiting beliefs I was not asking for help.
Our limiting patterns and beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies.
There may have been times when I may have asked for help once before and the person said no. So I would tell myself that it doesn’t work and that I’ve just got to do it all myself. Maybe that person said no because they just weren’t available or they weren’t in a place to help. They aren’t the only person you can ask. There is someone else. There is always a way you can delegate.
Put yourself in check and recognize whether or not you are doing it all because you are making yourself do it all.
We can get deep on that in terms of what you are getting out of the story. But more importantly, think about how this belief is holding you back. How is it keeping you from being a successful navigator?
Those negative beliefs that we tell ourselves are part of what is feeding the swirl and becoming overwhelmed.
Negative things we tell ourselves:
I’ll never figure this out.
I’m not going to be successful.
I’m going to fail, and everything is going to fall apart.
Are all these different things true? How can you actually know? And are you willing to let that go? Are you willing to set down that story?
Guess what, none of us tell the future, none of us know the future. Truth be told, the stories we tell ourselves are just conditioning results of our past that either other people told to us or that we told ourselves because of data points from the past.
Those data points, those beliefs, are in the past. You do not need to carry them into the future.
When we carry those limiting beliefs we give them the power to determine how we show up and what we’re doing. That, in turn, drives us to create a future that we don’t want based on those old beliefs.
How do we break that cycle? We tell a new story!
I invite you to let it go, tell a new story, and change an old belief.
Situations become overwhelming because of the old negative beliefs we carry that promotes a lack of clarity and makes it feel impossible to navigate. We drown ourselves in negative thoughts like, “We’re failing, we’re screwing up, or we can’t do it all.” Let go of the negative thoughts and just breathe.
What if, instead, you told yourself:
You’re doing the best you can.
You’re rocking it.
You’re doing a good job.
One way or another you are getting through this.
This too shall pass.
There’s a purpose in this.
There’s a gift in this.
You are getting stronger.
You are getting better.
You will get through this.
Imagine if you were telling yourself positive things, how would that situation shift? Would you feel as overwhelmed?
When you take back your power and allow yourself to step out so that you give yourself the tools that you need, you figure out what it is you’re creating. You figure out what mindset you need to shift.
What are the intentions?
What is the clarity of what I do want?
Remember…understand where the overwhelming feelings come from.
Is it because you don’t have the tools, strategies, structure, and knowledge to deal with it?
Is it because you don’t have the clarity, beliefs, and mindset of how you want to get through it?
How do you want to show up?
What does that look like for how you navigate it?
Or is it because of the limiting patterns and beliefs that you’re telling yourself- those bullshit stories- that are making it so miserable?
When you deconstruct and understand where and why the overwhelm is coming from it will get so much easier to deal with and navigate.
I hope this helps you get through your next overwhelming period. Comment and let me know any areas that really resonate for you or that you’re going through yourself.
Sending you BIG love.