The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines overwhelm as “to cover over completely, submerge”, “to overcome by superior force or numbers”, or “to overpower in thought or feeling”. When we, as humans, experience overwhelm it is usually the third definition of “to overpower in a thought or feeling”. Overwhelm is a feeling you experience when you believe you have too much on your plate and/or when you think life has thrown something at you that is more than you can handle.
Overwhelm can hit you all at once if something significant happens in your life, or it can build slowly until one day you feel like you don’t know how you can handle everything that you have to do. Overwhelm can result in ruminating thoughts about the circumstance(s) causing the overwhelm, challenging feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear, and/or physical symptoms in the body such as an upset stomach, tightness of the chest, fatigue, or headaches. When these feelings and/or physical symptoms are present, it is common to struggle to take any action that would help manage the overwhelm, and therefore feel even stronger feelings of overwhelm. Can you relate to this?
Overwhelm is a normal response that most of us experience from time to time. It becomes problematic if it becomes chronic, results in ongoing challenging emotions and emotional responses, creates paralysis, generates negative physical symptoms, or results in mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. If you go back and reread the first paragraph above, note that I wrote that “Overwhelm is a feeling you experience when you believe you have too much on your plate and/or when you think life has thrown something at you that is more than you can handle”.
I have many clients who believe that the things happening around them and to them are the cause of their overwhelm, however, this is never the case. It is what they are thinking about the things happening to them and around them that create the feelings of overwhelm they are experiencing. This may not make sense at first which is totally normal, however, when you understand it you are much more likely to manage your overwhelm so that it does not negatively impact what you are trying to accomplish or how you feel.
Let me give you a couple of examples to help you understand this idea better. Imagine two people lose their job at the same time, under the same circumstances, and with the same severance package. One person becomes incredibly overwhelmed about what they are going to do for work and the other one does not. Why? It is because they have two completely different thoughts about the situation. The first person may be ruminating on how they will pay their bills in six months and may be playing out how much work goes into looking for a job, interviewing, and all of the competition there is in the market. The other person may be thinking that they have an opportunity to pursue a career that they may find more fulfilling and therefore feel excitement about what lies ahead. The same circumstance results in two different emotions because the two individuals are having very different thoughts about what happened.
Let me give you another example so that you can see this is not about ignoring things happening in your life, but rather managing how you choose to think about them. Let’s imagine that two individuals receive information from their doctor that they have been diagnosed with a new health concern. The first individual becomes overwhelmed and can’t stop focusing on the worst-case scenario outcomes that they read when googling the condition online. They are thinking about how this condition could negatively impact their life and what it is going to be like to have to tell family and friends. Instead of experiencing overwhelm, the second individual experiences relief. They think that they are lucky to finally know what is wrong with them so that they can work with their doctor on a treatment plan so that they can start to feel better. The circumstance is the same for both individuals, however, what they think about the situation creates drastically different feelings.
In both situations, the second individual is likely experiencing some level of concern, however, the way they are choosing to think about the situation results in better feelings, less suffering, and likely better actions that create better results for them. With some focus and attention, everyone has control over their thoughts. When you learn to connect how what you are thinking impacts how you are feeling, the actions you take, and the results you get in your life, you feel empowered because you realize that your thoughts are a choice, even if you have been experiencing some unhelpful thinking patterns for a long period of time.
Even if you have had negative thinking spirals or thought processes that have resulted in frequent feelings of overwhelm for a long period of time, you can change this with intention and consistency. Working with a therapist or a coach can help you fast track these changes, however the process above will support you in making these changes on your own if you work at it consistently. You’ve got this.
Live your best boss lady life!
Karen Vincent Solutions
If you are interested in more information about how to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, you can grab my free 5 Common Thought Distortions Guide HERE.
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