Why Do You Feel Overwhelmed?
Why do you feel overwhelmed?
It might not be what you think. Or then again it might be exactly what you think….
I have been reflecting on when and why I feel overwhelmed sometimes. Maybe you can relate?
I get overwhelmed when my calendar – my schedule – feels too full, too packed in, too tight. That there are too many things one after the other with no space in between.
That’s not actually why I get overwhelmed. It’s when I THINK about my schedule being too full that I feel stressed.
My thoughts might go something like this if I don’t catch on quickly enough:
“Oh no, I have such a packed schedule today. I’m never going to be able to get it all done. When will I get a break. I’ll be a mess. I’ll go mad if I don’t have any time for myself. I’ll be a wreck. If that appointment runs late my whole day will be ruined. I can’t cancel anything. It’s all so important. I can’t let anyone down….”
If, however, I am simply engaged with one task at a time, without thinking – worrying – about the rest, I am fine. It’s the thinking about it that causes me stress and leads to the overwhelm.
Of course, this is not to say I can’t take charge of my schedule and make sure, as much as possible, that I don’t “over-book” myself. I most definitely DO this.
Yet, when the inevitable does happen, it is the thinking – the worrying about not having enough time, about not having any “breathing space” – that causes the stress.
Another time I can get overwhelmed is when lots of people are making various demands of me, or asking me to do things for which I don’t quite feel qualified or prepared.
Is this true?
I feel overwhelmed when I THINK about people making demands of me, or asking me to do things. I make the judgements about it in my head. It’s my self-talk that causes the stress.
How about some other situations?
I get stressed when I have a lot of meetings with new people in new places and situations. I guess that’s the introvert in me.
I get stressed when I have to drive places I don’t know, especially if it requires driving on the interstate a long way from home.
In both situations, it’s how I think about them that causes me stress. And some, if not the majority, of the thinking is BEFORE either of these things happen. I may “stress” about it and the drive is fine. Or I “stress” about it and the people end up being lovely.
It’s all in the mind!
For sure, being in traffic can be stressful. BUT it is always my response to it that causes the actual stress. It is how I’m THINKING about it – either ahead or in the moment that makes it so.
Most stress – and the cause of overwhelm – happens BEFORE the situation in question when we’re thinking about all the potential problems, things we don’t like about it, and so forth.
We can also feel stress DURING a situation, but again it’s what is going on in our mind that is really the culprit.
And, we can even prolong the stress further by how we think about something AFTERWARDS. We can go on beating ourselves up, or complaining, long after the situation is over with, reliving it in our minds over and over again.
All the things that cause us to feel stressed and overwhelmed are absolutely real. It is, however, ALWAYS how we respond to these things – HOW we THINK about them – which causes the stress itself.
Of course, there are measures we can take to prevent or plan for situations we dislike, and we can take steps to familiarize ourselves with situations so they are not so scary anymore. This is itself can turn around how we respond in different situations – how we THINK about them.
AWARENESS of what and how we’re thinking is the first step in the BodyIntelligence approach to managing overwhelm. We learn to notice our thoughts with acceptance and non-judgement (please don’t pile one stressor on top of another!). We learn alternative ways to think that help lower our stress responses and shift our perspective and attention in the moment.
This has been INVALUABLE to me personally and to many of my clients.
And it is a practice. It is not something you learn once and that’s it. It is something we bump up against over and over again.
The great thing is, it is always available to us in the moment. With practice we notice sooner and sooner when our thoughts are taking us into stress and overwhelm, and with that awareness we have the opportunity to choose something different for ourselves.
What causes you stress? When do you feel overwhelmed? Are you aware of the role your thoughts play in this? Please feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
Photograph © shefkate / 123RF Stock Photo
Our mind scripts really can create and increase stress. I love the practice of pausing and confronting both the script and what feelings I’m experiencing. It definitely takes practice and more practice and being non-judgemental. Mindfulness work and studying Buddhism offer good practices BUT I thank you, Imogen, and the Alexander Technique for reinforcing the practice of “pause” and “Take a breath”. Namaste.
Beautiful. You are free to pause. xo
I like this a lot Imogen – it helps me on my own trip into the unknown depths of my own personality. What you see is not always what you get! I’m in a bad place just now, but that doesn’t mean I must rush off to other people for help, just call on the tool kit to help me to resolve it myself, to STOP and look at all of the triggers with a bit of detachment, if that makes any sense.
And when you stop and look, you may reason that you need help from others. But it won’t be a pure reaction at that point. I don’t want you to rule out help if you need it! Glad the post resonated with you, James.
Imogen, this is excellent stuff.
I know that for a few days after I’ve been on retreat I can spot the stressor thoughts popping up, and sidestep them (or as you say notice and accept – which is a really good way of putting it). I wish I could hold onto that clear mind, but it clogs up very quickly.
I used to be a project manager, having too many tasks and not enough time was a fact of life, and every morning (and weekly on a Sunday morning) I would re-prioritise – bin/defer/delegate. In a way, this made it a bit easier as I could be dispassionate about the tasks.
Now I’m retired it’s a different kind of stressor, for the first 6 months or so I felt stressed by not having enough to do and feeling like I SHOULD be doing something. And it’s too easy to get wound up by trivia – calling the bank and speaking to someone who hasn’t got a clue.
That’s so interesting about getting stressed about “not having enough to do” or feeling like you “should be doing something else.” Again, it comes right back to the thoughts we are somehow believing and making true. Like with tension (actually it is a tension) it’s about noticing without judgment, and then having the option to choose a different path. It’s a practice for sure. AND much easier, as you say, when you’ve been on retreat or in a workshop or class where everyone is practicing too.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.