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?
Photograph by Brea Fisher
Have you ever heard the word “overwhelm” be used as a noun? It’s listed clearly in the dictionary as solely a verb, but take a look around the web and you’ll find that it’s now a thing-- literally; it’s a thing to call overwhelm a thing.
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.
An overwhelmed mind doesn’t mean something is wrong. It’s just letting you know that you need something you haven’t been giving 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.
How do you de-overwhelm yourself? What works for you? Leave a comment below!
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.
The cushions are placed in Daochan formation, a square on the floor, with four pillows angled to create soft corners. We each find a place, bowing in, first while facing our seat, then turning inward and bowing toward the center.
Before the meditation, our sifu, Master Zhenzan Dao, asks us to “come back to reality.” We are guided to remember what is real— really real— and to think of the miracles that make up that reality. This is the way we begin our weekly practice of Qigong and Gongfu in MogaDao.
Zhenzan guides us to acknowledge our miracles. Like the miracle of being able to walk up the steps to enter the practice space and the incredible strength of our legs to do so.
We recall miracles of all forms and depths— the miracle of architecture and engineering to create the building we sit in, the miracle of the breath, and the miracle of the earth revolving at the perfect distance from the sun to receive the exact amount of light and warmth to sustain life on this planet.
This is reality.
It’s a true reality check to recognize that every single aspect of life is a miracle.
Coming back to what’s truly real reconnects you with a perspective both grounded and cosmic.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
You are a living being, existing in a body with a beating heart, lungs to breathe air, and skin to protect your bones, muscles, and organs. This is a miracle.
You live among other humans and animals, all sharing space on this planet, working together and fighting it out, building new paradigms and suffering horrific atrocities, all while the trees, flowers, and bacteria continue to grow and spread, thrive and die. This is a miracle.
You are standing on an orb of rock and stardust spinning in space, in a galaxy of other planets rotating around a massive burning star. This is a miracle.
When you woke up this morning, opening your eyes for the first time and taking your first waking breath while still in bed, that was a miracle.
When you take the time to see the miraculous in every single aspect of your life, it creates a space to fully and instantaneously release your grip on the burdens of your personal life circumstances.
This, too, is miraculous: to know that you have the ability to let go of your worries even just for the moment during which you recall what’s really real.
This is the kind of reality check that causes you to embody a very potent dose of presence.
And once you’re fully here, totally focused on what exists before you right this very moment, you realize— you remember— that in the mundane and momentous alike, there is miraculousness for which to feel grateful.
The blessings of reality are all around you; they decorate your walls, fly across your skies, and swim around your insides.
Take moment with me here and let’s have a true reality check.
Then, go about your day like it’s a treasure hunt for miracles.
The truth is, there are many different dimensions of reality. What we tend to fall into is the “reality” of the current state of the world, the drama of our relationships, or the toils of our daily drudgery.
Experiencing a good mix of contrast in life does serve as a potent way to get precise with our desires; this we know.
However, keeping focused on those aspects of life that cause us irritation, fear, or pain will also keep us bumbling around in a reality that’s spinning a momentum for more of that.
In order to create inspired change, creative growth, and just plain more joy in general, we need to drop what we typically consider real, out of habit, and we need to drop into a different kind of reality.
Come back to a reality in which miracles infuse your daily life, and from that place, you’ll be much more likely to find solutions to your circumstances of the “real world.”
Tell me some miracles. Please, tell me your miracles. Please leave them as a comment so that others may share in reading them, too. Because we all need more miracle-vision, to put us in that kind of real world again.
And if you know anyone who would enjoy this article, please do me the kindest gesture and share this with them. It helps so much. My gratitude for you is overflowing.