I’ve lost track of the number of people recently who’ve said things to me like “I’m just at the end of my tether”, “I’m at breaking point”, “something needs to change but I’m so overwhelmed I don’t know where to start.
In this world of constant busyness we’ve become so used to the idea of overwhelm that we almost find it normal. So when it hits? Well, we feel as though that’s just the way life has to be and tell ourselves to get a grip and get on with things, right?
Wrong. So so bloody wrong.
We were never meant to be as overwhelmed as we so often are; the human body just isn’t built that was as the fried out adrenals I’ve spoken about before would attest to.
Not only that, but life is too damned short. I can’t claim to know the meaning of life, but when people say we weren’t put here to work and then die, well I’m certain they’re right.
You know my take: that we were all put here to be the heroes of our own stories, and can change our lives in whatever way feels right for us. That’s something I not only fully believe, but also completely encourage.
But I also know – from experience – that in those moments of overwhelm, the idea of changing your life might sound appealing, but can also sound thoroughly bloody impossible.
So what do you do? In those moments when all seems lost what steps can you take to set about making things better?
Let’s keep it short. Here are five simple things you can do in that moment, just to get you through.
Wherever you are and whatever is going on, there is time to breathe. Hell, it’s the one thing you absolutely know that you always have to do no matter what.
But so often in those moments of overwhelm, our breath can do far more than we’d usually give it credit for.
Whether you need to step away from your desk and lock yourself in the bathroom, or put your baby down in the cot for a second and walk into the next room; take a step back, close your eyes and breathe.
As an absolute minimum take three deep breaths – for the count of four if you can – hold that fresh air inside you and then let your lungs slowly empty, before holding it again for a couple of seconds.
As you breathe feel the fresh air fill and rejuvenate you, and then feel the tension you’ve been carrying leave your body with the old, stagnant air.
There’s a reason why almost every meditation starts with a focus on the breath, because doing that really does help to relax us. Not just mentally but physically too as more and more fresh air helps our brains to focus better and our muscles to feel less tense.
And alongside that, with every breath you take know that you are one step closer to the other side of this scary moment, and to being able to regain some sort of balance.
2. Control the controlables
You are seriously fucking powerful. I know that to be true. But I also know that you cannot control everything, and that trying to do that will only ever serve to stress you out more.
So my advice; focus on the things you control – yourself, your own work and the actions you’ll take – and devote your energies to doing that as well as you can (which, by the way, doesn’t have to be perfect. But that’s a story for another day).
What other people do or even think? Well that’s not something you can control, and nor is it something that you’re responsible for. So let them get on with it. Yes, even if they don’t do it exactly as you’d like, or if they do something in a way that might cause them problems further down the line.
Repeat the old line after me: Not my circus, not my monkeys. And then keep repeating it until you believe it.
3. Focus on the miniscule
And when even the things that are within your control seem a little too much to manage, focus your mind smaller.
Focus your mind on the single thing you can control – even if that’s just getting yourself another glass of water or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air; on the one thing you know you can achieve – no matter how small; or on the milestones that you have to tick off along the way to things getting better.
I remember days in a particularly awful job where I would focus my mind on drinking a litre of water every two hours, every time I went to refill it would be another check in the box until I got to head home for the day.
I have friends with children who put kids TV on in the background on their tougher, more tantrum-filled days; not because it helps to calm the little ones necessarily but because every closing credits screen is one step closer to bedtime.
Sometimes the biggest achievement you can have really is getting through the day, and celebrating whatever you can along the way.
4. Don’t be afraid to step away
Let me tell you a secret: no matter what you may feel, or what society has told you, it is not your responsibility to keep going at 100 miles per hour every single hour of the day. And it shouldn’t be.
If you were to wake up tomorrow with the kind of crippling migraine that means you can’t see properly, never mind go about your normal daily duties; or if you were to wake up in the middle of the night with a tummy bug that left you consigned to the toilet for the next three days, the world would just have to go on without your input.
Often we feel we can’t step away from something unless we’re physically ill or injured – but in the same way we rest a sprained ankle rather than keep working on it and risk making it a whole lot worse; we equally need to rest an overwhelmed mind when the need arises, before that leads to us feeling even worse and winding up with a full breakdown of some sort.
Take the day off, ask for support, do whatever you can to get the time that you need; whether that be five minutes or five weeks.
And remember that time away doesn’t have to mean being on your own in bed (although sometimes that’s precisely what we need) – when it comes to mental health time with the people you love or out in your favourite places can sometimes be the best medicine you could ask for.
5. Get help
Never be ashamed to ask for help.
The human race wasn’t made to be as individualistic as we have become; for as long as there have been people there have been tribes, villages, circles and families to share the joys, the sorrows, the achievements and the strains of life.
And for all society has changed, that tribal nature within us really hasn’t. So ask for help – call on whatever support you have available to help you achieve a particular task, make it through the day, or just to listen as you share whatever it is you’ve been carrying.
Whether that be a friend, a loved one, a colleague or a professional doesn’t matter. Just please know that you are never in that moment of overwhelm alone and there is someone available to help you.
Laying it out in those short five sections sounds easy, and I know firsthand that isn’t always the case. This post is very much intended to just help you through that initial few minutes of overwhelm until you reach the point where you can take the first tentative steps forward to feeling happier and less stressed.
Remember that feeling of panic, stress and overwhelm really doesn’t have to be the usual – and it shouldn’t. So if overwhelm is becoming a way of life for you then maybe it’s time for you to make some bigger changes.
Maybe as soon as you feel strong enough to do so it’s time to think about focusing your mind on moving away from that place of anxiousness and instead move forwards towards creating the life you deserve.
If you’re looking for some support in that then check out my work with me page; or if I don’t feel like the right person to work with then do some research to find the right person for you.
And remember that things can change. And they will.