Select Page

Look in any thesaurus, and the synonyms for overwhelm are pretty awful: overpower, subdue, oppress, squash, engulf, swallow, submerge, bury, suffocate.

Ugh. Groan. Moan.

To anyone who has experienced overwhelm, and that’s plenty of us – especially me in the past few months, those words may be all too familiar. Whether the overwhelm is sudden or cumulative, chronic or acute, the feeling is one of drowning, immobility and powerlessness.

During those times, everything feels too big. Its not just everyday busyness and packed schedules. When we’re overwhelmed, making dinner becomes a monumental effort. Better eat out. Bills and housework? Forget it. Tasks that used to take only 10 or 15 minutes now seem utterly impossible. There seems to be no time for anything. So we do nothing.

Worse, we have no faith that this, too, shall pass. We seem hopelessly mired in the quicksand of “too much.” We keep trying to will our way out of the quicksand with a will that just wants to lie down.

Jan Boddie, Ph.D., a California therapist who trains individuals and consults with businesses on the topic, says we live in a very overwhelming time – much more so than in decades past.

Things are speeding up. Technology’s well-touted time saving seems to have yielded less leisure time, not more. Companies are demanding longer work hours. Many adults are sandwiched between the needs of older and younger generations.  I can relate to that! It seems as though Bob and I are working more and harder than ever before with little to no free time to enjoy life! Raising five kids through their teenage years and getting them off to college was a major life distraction! But taking care of aging parents at the same time added a lot to our already busy lives. We were constantly spinning plates and having less time for fun and leisure!

We have really lost connection, not just with nature, but with our own true human nature,” Boddie says. “We’re sidetracked. Our lives are in such fast forward that we don’t even recognize we might need help until we’re drowning.”

Part of the problem is the cultural belief system in place, one that overrates doing and achievement and underrates quality of experience and connection with values.

In that cultural mindset, it’s not uncommon for a friend or a magazine article, with all good intention, to suggest the “Nike solution”: Just do it. Make priorities. Choose three things and accomplish them quickly. Go through the mail as soon as it arrives. Do a “brain dump” and create a huge to-do list with everything that you can think of on it. Now get started!

Not bad suggestions necessarily, but overcoming overwhelm isn’t really about measuring accomplishment. It’s about connecting with what has meaning for us, with what feeds and enlivens us.

“Putting on a whole new sense of doing-ness is overwhelming,” Boddie says. “It creates a future-based state of mind that never ends because there will always be more to do. Being in relationship with what has meaning is fulfilling in the here and now. Feeling connected then connects us to the natural fuel for getting things done.”

Thus, when we come into alignment with our values and needs, we find the inner resources and spaciousness needed to get on with life.

First, however, we need to identify our individual symptoms and triggers for overwhelm. Our symptoms can be physical (e.g., nail biting, clumsiness, neck ache); psychological (forgetful, rude, defensive); social (poor hygiene, inadequate boundaries); or spiritual (loss of sense of purpose, unsure of what’s important).

Triggers are just as unique to each of us as the symptoms are: a deadline, a certain tone of voice, change.

Noticing these symptoms and triggers is like setting off the two-minute warning buzzer: time for intervention techniques. And after we’ve come back to ourselves, it’s time for prevention techniques, such as adequate rest, nutrition, exercise and, as always, connection to purpose.

“The focus that matters is in your heart,” Boddie says. “Connect with yourself and then that self can do the tasks.”

I found it helpful to learn about the symptoms and then have a short list of antidotes for when overwhelm seeps into my life!

Let’s review:

Symptoms of Overwhelm:

Stressed Woman

  • Neck ache
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Allergies
  • Clumsiness
  • Nail biting or other nervous habits
  • Low energy
  • CravingsBubbles
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Defensiveness
  • Withdrawal from social settings
  • Increased time with TV or video games
  • You have a lot to do but see low productivity
It’s Okay, Stan. Just pick one flower, and start from there…
  • Depression
  • Unhealthy boundaries
  • Weight gain
  • Lethargic
  • Increased ADD
  • Complete paralysis

Antidotes for Overwhelm:

  • EverythingAsk for support and help
  • Hire a professional organizer to get your environment in alignment with your needs
  • Make one list per day that is achievable
  • Do the 3 most important things on that list first

  • Make sure at least 2 items on your list bring you JOY (now or later)
  • LET GO!
  • Delegate
  • Learn to say NO!
  • Start new happy habits
  • Put something on your list that is just for you… give yourself plenty of nurturing

Whatever you do, pay attention to all aspects of your life. You want to nurture your mind, body and spirit each and everyday. Notice if you have any of the overwhelm symptoms and then apply an antidote so you overcome the paralyzing effects of being overwhelmed. You will be amazed at the transformation this will bring to your life!

Here’s to being more productive, less busy, enjoying life while making a difference! It’s all possible! I promise!