It’s a word I hear a lot. Hell, it’s a word I’ve said to myself a lot over the years, although it took me a long time to admit to it out loud.
Not because I ever thought there was something wrong with being overwhelmed, but because often when I got to that place of feeling anxious and overburdened to the point of complete stuckness I honestly couldn’t tell where the external burdens started and I stopped.
What I learned – the hard way, and what every overwhelmed client I’ve ever worked with has come to realise too, is that calling those feelings out for what they are is one of the first ways to take back control from them and find a way forwards that doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming.
Acknowledging when it gets too much
Of course that’s not to say it’s always easy to tell people that you’re overwhelmed.
For starters we live in a culture that praises and celebrates busy, while so often vilifying rest, boundaries and self care.
That can mean your worries and feelings might just be ignored or even laughed at. Not to mention the fact it can be all too difficult to speak up in the first place and ask for help when so many others seem busy and burdened too.
And some of those people will be only too keen to compare burdens with you, and no matter what you both have going on, those people will likely always tell you that they have it worse.
Or the other end of the scale – those people you ask for help who go on and criticise you for taking on too much. “No wonder you’re overwhelmed? What did you think you were doing?”
Are any of those things good reasons not to receive the help and support you need? Hell no.
It doesn’t matter how heavy a burden you’re carrying; like that old analogy about the glass of water anything you carry for long enough becomes heavy and challenging.
And just because we’ve agreed to or even chosen something, doesn’t mean it’s easy or that we can’t ever find ourselves drowning in that something.
Not to mention the fact that sometimes it’s not those big things we expect – or even call out – that leave us feeling overwhelmed, but instead the smaller ones under the surface we didn’t even know were challenging for us.
Unpacking the burdens
A few weeks back I had a conversation with a friend, who spoke about the weight it seemed she’d been carrying around for ages and how over burdened it made her feel.
She used the analogy of “carrying” that weight over and over again, until it took me back to my very first counselling teacher and a box of buttons.
Back then, he would encourage us to use physical metaphors with clients… A box of buttons could be used to represent all sorts of things clients didn’t have words for in something a little like play therapy for adults.
So I suggested my friend did something similar; take an actual bag and fill it up… maybe with random objects, stones or something else that is very unconsciously done without too much thought.
Then unpack the items one by one and see what’s really in there…
What do each of the items represent as you unpack them, and how heavy does each one feel when you hold it in your hand?
What are the feeling attached to them, and what feelings come up for you once the back is empty?
Talk it through with someone, journal on it; just let the bag tell you its story.
And then what?
The next step of course comes when you decide what to do with whatever you find in that bag and how you use this new knowledge to move forwards.
After all, once you see what you’re really carrying, and which are the heaviest burdens in there, you can see what’s having the biggest impact on your happiness and energy levels.
Maybe that will show you what you need to work on – with a therapist or in your own personal development practice.
Maybe it will show you what needs to change.
Hell, maybe it will even show you what can change – even if that’s not the weightiest things in there.
Either way this exercise is about helping you to see those burdens you’re carrying from a different perspective; as something you’re a little detached from rather than stuck with.
By laying them out in front of you as tangible physical things it can make your view of them a little more practical than it may have been before, helping you to potentially see a way around them that otherwise might’ve felt impossible.
All of that said I know this isn’t always easy to do on your own.
Some of those things we carry around with us are deep and painful; and sometimes when we dive into our overwhelm we find the things causing us the most problems are those we’ve been carrying forever and don’t even know where to start changing or fixing on our own.
But we don’t have to.
That’s where working with someone else who can create a safe space for you is a great way forwards.
Soul-Led Therapy is a perfect example of that; offering you a place to lay everything out and then work through it all… step by step until you find your way through it and out the other side.
Read more about that on the link above, and get in touch if you’d like to book your free introductory session.