That feeling where it feels like everything is scratching away at you, life becomes a constant firefight, and you long to just “unwind”. What would that even take, these days? The idea seems ever-elusive, because you’re overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed is a word which crept into my vocabulary more and more over the past few years. Just to be clear – I mean the negative kind of overwhelmed, not overwhelmed because you’re so damn happy.
Some days, I just feel overwhelmed without any real reason. I’m not particularly tired, not anxious, not depressed, not even really stressed.
But I am overwhelmed.
When I tried to describe the feeling to myself, to get a hold of it and do something about it, I realised that it was yet another consequence of feelings of shame.
I’ll share my little thought-journey, which you may or not agree with, in which case do offer your feedback.
When I get overwhelmed, there’s normally lots going on at once. A few things I have to do for people, a few things happening which I’m somehow involved in, waiting to hear about other things that don’t require any action at the moment, vague notions of things I could be doing if these other things weren’t going on.
Except, when I’m overwhelmed, its not just “stuff”.
It isn’t just about routines, tasks, errands.
There’s an energy too it, and a negative one at that. Its a feeling that these things are sucking out energy, like little leeches that I can’t scratch off. Even if I could, they would leave a wound.
Its the same kind of energy drain that the mind uses up in repressing conflicts, keeping feelings of shame at bay, protecting you from awareness, triggers and threats.
Then I got to thinking maybe its the exact same kind of energy drain. Because its the same thing entirely, the same process.
I realised that things I do to try and help with overwhelm – a long hot bath, a glass of wine, a walk, some escapism into a game for an hour perhaps – just delays it. The energy drain is still going on.
Buried among the more neutral routines, tasks and errands are the key offenders – shame triggers basically, that the mind is doing its best to emotionally shield away.
Its the things that pile up in a day that threaten to expose you for not being good enough. The things that threaten disconnection, rejection.
It totally makes sense.
I have to get back to someone about something, and the longer it takes, the more I might let them down and feel disapproval. Same with having to call someone back about something. Somewhere I have to go, something I have to do – and if I don’t, someone will be let down and I’ll risk rejection and disconnection.
So many little moments are minor shame triggers.
In an of themselves, its no big deal, but the accumulative effect of all those little energy drains is one big energy drain.
There’s no specific thing to point it on, so it becomes just a residual feeling instead – one of feeling overwhelmed.
Whilst on this little thought journey, a few things came to light.
The Pareto Rule
Its likely that its only a few of the things which are really causing the majority of the overwhelmed feeling.
If you can find those few things, and deal with them first, you might have a greater chance at being able to unwind sooner.
Finding the causes might be difficult
I have a nagging suspicion that the real causes might not even be in the tasks at hand. When I’ve whinged about chronic feelings of overwhelm to people, I’ve sometimes heard “Make a list!” Now, I do love lists, and their instant mind-cleansing power. Putting things on paper gets them out of your head, where they seem to already feel half taken care of.
But when trying to make a list, I feel like there are huge underlying issues that can’t be reduced to a simple task for a list.
Things like the threatening fast passage of time, and not being good enough to keep up with where I think I should be. Whether I’m prioritising properly to make the most of time, or wasting too much time on stupid little things. Whether I’m maintaining relationships properly (the fear of disconnection). Whether I’m doing the right thing.
These underlying, more constant issues are the kind of repressed shame issues which take a general toll on energy levels.
But they’re more baseline energy drainers. I think its when the spikes of other, shame-trigger stuff happens on top, that the feeling of overwhelm kicks in.
There are a few easy mantras to remind yourself of, to try to alleviate the feeling of overwhelm. Here are a few:
Fuck it. In the spirit of the book by John C Parkin, fuck it. Nothing really matters like we think it does, when feeling overwhelmed.
No one else really considers your existence, in the way that you think they do. Sometimes I worry in trying to reply to a customers email as soon as I can, to please them and not let them down. They probably couldn’t give a shit! I frequently get replies saying “Wow, thanks so much for the quick reply!” which makes me feel good, but is that a good thing? In seeking that kind of short-term approval, I’m probably reinforcing my need for it, rather than just relaxing more and letting things go a little. People are all wrapped up in their own immediate needs, tasks and stresses – they have zero fucks to give about what you’re up to.
Overwhelm itself, as a feeling, is worse than any individual task. Its like adding salt to the wound. The feeling emerges from all the bitty bullshit things that are going on. Without overwhelm, you’d probably be able to focus on the tasks for efficiently, and prioritise better. I know, this isn’t so much a fix, but it is something to remember as a motivator.
Meditate. I know you probably won’t, as who does after reading such things on the internet? But I can’t recommend it enough. I think I even figured out why I think it helps so much. If you sit with your eyes closed, and focus on just your breathing (or saying “deeper and deeper” to yourself in your mind, taking steps back out of yourself until you feel ridiculously relaxed), then your mind just doesn’t care about things like clutter, shame-triggers, feelings of threat or whatever. It all just becomes distance and silly sounding. In those moments, you can remember what it feels like to feel lighter. You don’t have to really think about anything (if you’re doing it right then you won’t be anyway), but things will just emerge in your mind. Sudden ideas, priorities, motives… after even just ten minutes I bet you behave totally differently than before you had a bash at meditating. Honestly, for a 10 minute experiment, there’s not much to lose but a helluva lot to gain!
I know its no big deal
Reading this kind of stuff, you’d be forgiven for thinking “Chill! Just get on with it! Yeah, its called Life!” and that kind of thing.
I do get that. I don’t mean to make a mound out of a molehill, although that mole is probably pretty overwhelmed too.
But its just one piece of the overall puzzle, of the bigger picture. Recognising when your emotional mind is taking control, when and where you’re losing mental energy, and becoming better at recognising your shame triggers.
I think its certainly important enough to think about.
Share your story!
How often do you feel overwhelmed, and what do you think causes it? Do you have any tips that help alleviate it?