I got a message from a someone dear to me today; it furrowed my brow.
She was overwhelmed. All the time. Going on way too long now.
Have you been there? Yeah, me too. Maybe you’re there now. Maybe you’re chronically there. Or maybe you’re not feeling overwhelmed… but you’re pretty sure you’ll be back there at some point.
We all know that place— where you feel like there’s way too much you have to do and way too little time to get it done. It’s like you’re being crushed by the weight of your To Do List— like you just can’t get anything done.
When your life has you bogged down, inundated, and held captive to the things you have to do, how do you simplify all the stuff that piles up?
Overwhelm used to be to something we encountered as an occurrence, a state we embodied, something we felt. Modern day humans now find themselves so often and so thoroughly wrapped up in this verb, we now need to make it an actual noun.
It used to be we were experiencing the effects of being overwhelmed, but these days overwhelm is a thing that has us.
People say things like, “I’m in overwhelm;” or “If I could only find a path out of all this overwhelm.” This gives the term a whole new level of gravity.
So how do we ease ourselves when we feel like it’s all just too much to handle? Here are three suggestions.
Unwind Method No.1: Recognize that being overwhelmed is an emotion.
This is excellent news because it means that this feeling has a very important purpose. Like all emotions, overwhelm is a messenger. It’s telling you something about yourself and the way you’re relating to the circumstances of your life.
We like to condemn certain emotions— anger is uncool, grief is for the weak, irritation is unenlightened; while other emotions we glorify— compassion is good, happiness is the ultimate, peacefulness is advanced.
In truth, the emotions we have are neither good nor bad; they’re neutral. They aren’t all equal; however, because some emotions are stronger than others (compare content with ecstatic.) What they all share is significance.
Emotions will let you know an incredibly rich amount of information about your life if you attune to their messages.
We know what we want and what we don’t want based on how we feel in the thinking about it. Emotions also let us know what part of our lives need attention (and care) and how urgent any maintenance may be, depending on how strong the emotion is.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you’ve been feeling it for a long time now and it just seems to be getting worse… Congratulations! Your emotions are working their butts off to communicate with you!
What is your overwhelm telling you about your life? When does it come up? Where do you feel it in your body? Do certain people inspire it within you? Do you get it only while at work? While thinking about work? What eases the feeling? What thoughts make you feel better? What people make you feel better in talking to them or just being around them?
Start to ask questions like these and look for patterns that lead you deeper into what the emotion may mean for you. What is your friend, Ms. Overwhelm trying to tell you?
Unwind Method No.2: Say No.
Say No to anything not absolutely essential. Chances are high that 90% of the things you think you need to do are actually unnecessary when it comes to your survival-slash-overall wellbeing.
We have a star and three exclamation points marked on number five on the To Do List, but when it comes down to it, sorting through the pile of paperwork on the kitchen counter isn’t a matter of life and death.
Look at your To Do List. Choose one to three items that really need to get done today. The rest, let go. You can keep them on a separate list to ease your brain from holding on to them, but they cannot be things you try to do today.
As for incoming To Do items, ask yourself: Is it essential for my survival/ wellbeing? If not, say No.
You get an opportunity to make some money doing something you’re good at, but don’t really enjoy, and it means you’ll have to forfeit your one day off next week.
Your friend asks you to go to their brother’s Fourth of July cookout and suggests you bring your famous potato salad.
No. (Unless that sounds super fun and recharging to you!)
Can your niece’s best friend come stay with you next week while she visits colleges in your city?
This may seem harsh. The thing is, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, saying No to the things that are superfluous is medicine for your state of being. You aren’t always going to feel this way; so, in the future when you feel better, lighter, then you can begin to ease off on the vigilance of your decision-making.
Unwind Method No.3: Use the body to calm the mind.
When you feel overwhelmed it’s usually due to an overactive mind that takes in all the things you feel you need to do and perceives their quantity as unmanageable. Either there are too many with not enough time, or they are beyond what you believe you can manage.
Or we often get overwhelmed by the things we think we must do, but that we really don’t want to do.
This causes stress. And stress causes dis-ease in the body. One way to help the body from becoming ill, is to let the body help your brain relax.
Meditation and movement are ways to do this. Tai chi and qigong are meditations in movement. They slow the breath, which slows the mind, which eases the body.
From a place of relaxation the things about which your brain worries and stresses become manageable.
In this week’s Tai Chi Lesson Film, we practice Wave Hands Like Clouds, or Cloud Hands, as its also called. Like sweeping clouds from the sky, we can use this tai chi movement to gracefully clear the mind.
You know how a cloud moves in the sky. Even when the wind is pushing them along quite rapidly, a cloud moves gracefully, effortlessly evolving in shape with smooth and gradual transition. This is how the hands move during Cloud Hands.
Practice this along with me, even if you have no tai chi or qigong experience. Follow along and don’t bother trying to get it right. What matters is that in following along, no matter how poorly or precisely you do so, you take the focus from the places your life has drawn your energy, and you bring it back into your body.
Your energy is drawn to the places your mind takes it, so when you put the mind into your body, you recollect all your energy back into yourself.
There are ways to ease this feeling, but more importantly, the deeper you look into what this feeling is really telling you, the more likely you are to release your need to feel it.
If you know anyone who might like this article, would you mind sending it their way? It may be exactly what they need to hear. Plus, it would mean a lot to me.