What is Overwhelm?

At some point in our lives, most of us have felt that all-encompassing feeling that everything is “a lot” or too much. Sometimes it feels like your head could just explode, sometimes it feels like you just want to run away, other times you feel like crying because you have been under so much stress (whether that is work, family life, or your health) that you are completely overcome with emotion, but not in a good way.

This is overwhelm.

How Many Things Can We Handle?

Is your closet too full?

No, I’m not talking about decluttering or clearing out your wardrobe; I’m talking about clearing your life. Reducing that sense of overwhelm that’s been paralysing you.

I recently heard a fabulous description of overwhelm: simply having too many hangers in our already full closet. Let me explain. If we put one task from our project or item from our to-do list, for instance, on each hanger, how many hangers can we fill at one time without stressing out or hitting overwhelm?

Well, usually, the answer is about 5-7.

Why? Because that’s commonly how many things our unconscious mind can handle at any one time. If we have a shopping list, a phone number to remember, or some other task, we can usually recall up to 5-7 things. Anything more than that often gets lost or forgotten.

Anything more than 5-7 often stresses us OUT!

Ultimately, if we do this regularly, it can reduce our resilience levels, patience, ability to concentrate, and more over time.

Woman overwhelmed by closet

What Happens When We Have Too Much Going On

 

You know when you have too many programs running on your computer, and it starts to slow down – this is what our body does when we’re overwhelmed.

You may recognise the signs of overwhelm such as:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental slowness
  • A racing mind
  • Impaired ability to problem solve
  • Inability to think logically
  • General irritability

When this overwhelm occurs over a period of time, we can also suffer from cognitive or nervous fatigue, which I spoke about in our last blog.

When this happens, the symptoms of overwhelm are usually heightened and can make us feel even more overwhelmed simply from feeling like we can’t function how we think we should be. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Recognising What Is Causing Your Overwhelm

One of the first keys to dealing with overwhelm is to recognise what is causing it. If you look at what is going on for you, in different areas of your life, you can often pinpoint what the leading cause of your overwhelm is. Some common ones are:

  • Work
  • Family life
  • Financial
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Relationships

It may be one, it may be two, it may be all, but regardless, working out what is causing your overwhelm is where you need to start.

Going back to our coat hanger analogy, it can sometimes look or feel like certain issues or tasks take up more than just one coat hanger. Some things can feel much more significant than others, meaning they leave less space for you to cope with other things. Pain, for example, especially when it’s constant, can be very pervasive. It can feel like it’s taking up several coat hangers at once, leaving only one or two coat hangers available for actual tasks to “hung on” – this is part of why we feel like we have such a short fuse when we’re unwell or in pain.
Taking up lots of hangers

How To Deal with Overwhelm

Now you have identified what is causing your overwhelm, let’s look at what you can do to help reduce the load.

Set Boundaries

Are you taking on too much with work? When you really need to be saying no, do you say yes to everything? Are you staying back late to finish everything off? It’s time to stop and put boundaries in place that allow your work to be done during your work hours and not for hours beyond that. Are you really the only one that can take on ALL the extra work, or can you say, “no, I can’t do that right now”?

Taking on more and more work and not getting adequate downtime will leave you, you guessed it, overwhelmed and essentially unproductive, likely causing you even more overwhelm!

Are You a Perfectionist?

Do you find yourself stressing over things and constantly thinking, “this could be better” or “I could do better”? The problem with this thinking is that you spend so much time analysing and stressing over that one task, that you fall behind in all the other things you still need to do, which causes your overwhelm to grow when things start piling up.

Sometimes you need to step away and say, “this is good enough.”.

 

Have You Tried Delegating?

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be hard to hand over tasks for someone else to complete; however, in doing so, you will free up time for yourself, and you can concentrate on what you specifically need to be doing. Whether than be a project at work that you can delegate tasks out to other team members, a part of your business that you can outsource to outside support, or asking family members to bring a dish at the Christmas or birthday celebration instead of taking on all the cooking yourself.

Imagine how much time you could get back and how much calmer your mind could be if you let a few things go.

Busy brain and time

Are You Catastrophising?

Do you think the worst when things don’t quite go to plan? “If I don’t cover all the tasks myself in this project, it won’t be done right and will fail.”, “Aunty Sue forgot the salad last time, and it completely ruined the day, I can’t let that happen again.”, “If I don’t say yes to all the jobs, they will think I’m not good at my job.”.

Take a deep breath! Will the project really fail if someone else helps out, was the family function indeed ruined, and are you sure they will think you’re not good at your job, or are these all assumptions in your head?

Simply becoming aware of these thoughts can help you let go of them. When they happen, take a minute to take a step back from the situation, catch your breath and then look at it again. Even have a chat with someone else about it for a rational and logical perspective.

Break Down the Tasks

Another element of this clever coat hanger analogy is how we deal with big projects. Chunking them down. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time – and that’s how we get projects completed, especially large ones. When we prioritise tasks, using the 80/20 rule (when 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort) to order them, we get the biggest “bang”, or results, for our “buck” of given energy and focus, and then just choosing one or two things to focus on.

But the first step is to “chunk” or break the project into bite-sized tasks. If we don’t break them down small enough, the tasks end up “hanging” on more than one coat hanger, leading us back to that feeling of overwhelm. Have you ever tried to tackle a step in a project and not known where or how to begin?
Sometimes the first step is not to take the measurements of the wardrobe you want to rebuild the inside of. It’s going to buy the tape measure so that you can take them.

Are You Looking After Your Mind and Body?

Are you taking YOU time? As the saying goes, our body is a temple, and we must treat it accordingly. If you’re going to treat it like a garbage dump, that’s how you’re going to feel, so it’s time to practice some self care!

• Take time each day to move your body, whether that is through exercises, yoga, daily stretches, or even dancing around your kitchen.
• Enjoy some chill-out time – listen to music, meditate, read a book, relax in the bath.
• Practice gratitude – the simple act of taking time to look at what in your life you are grateful for can do wondrous things to calm a racing mind.
• Good posture is important! We have spoken previously about how good and bad posture positively and negatively impacts the body. We must practice good posture to help increase our energy levels and positive feelings.

Blossoming Me can help you with this, address your pain, and get you well on your way to feeling calmer and pain-free.

Based on Sydney’s North Shore, Osteopath, Alexis and, Remedial Massage Therapist, Sarah are experienced in helping patients on their well-being journey and would love to get you back to feeling yourself once more.

Contact us or book an appointment online by clicking the button below if you’re ready to get started.