How to overcome
feeling overwhelmed -
A guided tour
There's no irony in reading this article if you have 1,000 other things to do. The truth is, you've secretly discovered one of the best coping strategies for the overwhelmed.
“I've never worried about having too much to cope with...” - No one. Ever.
We all have those days, some more than others. For some of us it's an occasional hazard, for others it's every waking minute.
There are many ways to cope with coping and in this, the definitive guide for those looking to overcome feeling overwhelmed, we'll look at each and every one.
To understand the why and how to overcome that feeling of overwhelm, it's imperative we understand the word itself.
Overwhelm - verb
Bury or drown under a huge mass... usually water.
To have a powerful emotional effect on someone.
Dealing with the first part of the definition is quite illuminating. Drowning is a primal fear, and even though those overwhelming fears are metaphorical, our minds love nothing more than crushing us under the weight of anything vaguely biblical. There is, however, something we need to remember about drowning.
“It doesn't matter how deep the water gets... as long as you can float...” - My mother
She was a wise lady my mother and of all the nuggets she bestowed upon me in the time we had, this one contained all the gold. Could the key to overcoming overwhelm be as simple as staying on top of stuff? There's some truth to that, but let's cut into the second part of the definition too.
Is there anything more harrowing than the statement 'powerful emotional effect'? We are creatures of emotion, it is another primal part of our psyches that we may never fully understand. Overwhelming was bad enough when we were merely drowning, but to face a powerful emotional effect too!
Combined, these dual definitions make it easy to understand how and why anyone can feel overwhelmed. The world we occupy is faster, larger and more connected than at any time in history. We are at the beck and call of the universe.
As a child, the only way my close friends could get in touch with me was to literally turn up on my doorstep and for some that meant a three-mile trip. These days people use apps to date the most attractive person they walked past that day. We are at the mercy of long lost school friends, casual acquaintances and even complete strangers who can, and do, drop in on us, electronically or otherwise, whenever they like. And that's just socially.
This leads us nicely to the first stop on the 'overcome overwhelm' guided tour.
The Quiet Place
The Quiet Place is a zone as simple as it sounds. It is an area free of distraction, stress and well anything really. When you feel the overwhelm begin to surge over you, or even if it already has, take time to escape everything. Only when there is absolutely no choice (and even then on occasion) can you afford not to take some time out. Turn off everything and go somewhere else.
It's nice to have a physical place to go, a secret haven known only to you, but even if you haven't, just go for a walk.
Go somewhere new, somewhere green, somewhere quiet. Even if you can't actually go somewhere in the real sense, you can still switch off and escape the metaphorical flood, with a metaphorical raft.
Close your office door, turn off the laptop, silence your phone, turn out the lights. Time spent in silence is time spent well.
Sitting in the dark is all well and good if you can escape the nagging doubts pulling on the back of your mind, but as we mentioned earlier overwhelm is a primal fear and dislodging primal fears is harder than getting Primal Scream out of your head...
This leads us perfectly to the second stop on the overwhelm guided tour.
The Elsewhere is as it sounds. It is a place unburdened by the overwhelming problems you're facing. Unlike the Quiet Place, Elsewhere is a not a place of sanctuary, but rather one of distraction.
Elsewhere can be a physical place where you go to escape or like the Quiet place it can be a virtual stop. The key to Elsewhere is that you are seeking escape, not solace.
I often like to visit the cinema and lose myself in a wholly new narrative, but... whatever boats your float.
By removing our minds from the flood waters it allows us perspective, something which is often invaluable when dealing with stressful situations and moments of panic and yet so hard to achieve when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. It is a creative diversion and, speaking of which, this leads us neatly to the next stop on our tour.
The Maker's Space
The Maker's space combines a number of usual strategies for coping with overwhelm. As with both the Quiet Place and Elsewhere, it provides a physical refuge and also much-needed distraction. However, there is more to the Maker's space than that.
Part of the pain associated with the primal fear of drowning is the very real sense of futility. How can anyone cope with a crumbling mountain above them?
The Maker's Space allows us a real tangible alternative to failure. In the Maker's Space, we can succeed. We can make whatever we like and while we're engaged on our product we're not at the mercy of the mounting pressures around us.
Like the other examples, the Maker's Space can be a real physical space or merely a virtual construct. It doesn't matter, whether your studio is the garden shed and your end result is a new coat rack or just a new document on your laptop, a blog post, a Haiku, or an email to a friend.
The key to making good use of the Maker's Space is to take time out to do something else, to complete a challenge and prove to the universe at large that you are a doer and that you can accomplish tasks. Particularly in the face of overwhelming adversary. This defiance in the face of crumbling odds is a testament to our capacity to get things done and remember, countless millions have stared at that same blank canvas and delivered.
With solidarity in mind, we step onwards to the next step in our tour of the overwhelm atlas.
The Common Grounds
The Common Grounds is a shared space. It is accessed by realising that we are not islands. By sharing our problems we lessen them and the impact they have on us.
Remember, overwhelm often comes in the shape of a powerful emotional effect and sharing the load makes it easier to shoulder. Despite the ease of connection in our time, it can be hard to open up to the people we care about and we'll come to that fork in the road later.
The common grounds then is a lower tier plateau where we can reach out to others in similar craft and facing similar issues.
There are numerous groups online and in real life who meet up to problem solve, share ideas, network or even just to procrastinate. You can find them on Facebook, Reddit, Linkedin and your local pub. There are groups for almost every creed. Sometimes it's enough to know you're not the only one facing the wall and little things like that give you enough time to breathe.
At CoachDirectors, we organise a regular monthly networking event for fellow coaches, colleagues, LD and HR professionals to get together for a drink after work. It's our way of providing the opportunity to share a bit of common ground space with our friends in the industry.
Which links into the next albeit very brief stop on our tour.
The Breathing Space
Slow down... take a moment and breathe. It's incredible what difference a little-oxygenated blood can make to a crisis.
Panic is a mind killer. It slows down our cognitive functions and allows the overwhelm to creep over us until we're mired down good and proper. A few minutes of good solid deep breathing will allow you to regain your composure and retake the bridge.
There are many sound techniques for breathing but the end result will be the same. Oxygenate your blood to energise your mind and take back the fight.
We can all do with a breather now and then which is the ideal opportunity to introduce you to the next stop in the overwhelm guided tour.
The Passing Place
The Passing Place is a shared environment where we can take some of the weight off.
Delegating is not just for management, anyone capable to perform a relevant helpful task is capable of sharing the weight. Even if the assistance is something as every-day as picking up the kids from school, anything which reduces the amount of stress you're facing is a boon.
We, the overwhelmed, don't like to burden other people but the truth is most people appreciate being needed and will take some joy in the fact they were able to help.
Passing responsibility to others is not only helpful it can feel liberating. Sharing the task means sharing a little of the responsibility and it's worth remembering that when its time to reap the rewards.
Speaking of which, the next stop in our atlas of overwhelm has a lot to do with rewards, so step lively as we approach our next destination.
The Steppes of Delayed Gratification
We wait calmly on the Steppes of Delayed Gratification because we know that our reward is near, but we must resist it, for now, to face the tasks at hand.
Unlike distraction and solace, the goal of Steppes is to encourage us to meet our challenges and the best way to do that is in baby steps. Each Steppe we climb is a step away from overwhelm, but to get there is often slow and arduous going.
When it comes to being overwhelmed the carrot is often far more reliable than the stick. If it means taking longer and missing out on exciting things in order to break an overwhelming cycle, then it's a sacrifice worth making.
Talking about martyrs... the next stop on the overwhelm guided tour is not for everyone.
The Pillars Of Faith
We call it the Pillars of Faith because when you're fresh out of luck sometimes faith is all you have.
The Pillars of Faith are not exclusively for the religious, although clearly if you're approaching anything even vaguely agnostic then even a whispered plea to whatever is out there can feel like a lifeline.
If you're not religious then consider this as a call out to humanity and whatever chemical reaction caused our existence.
Call it chance, call it chaos, but even crossing our fingers can be of some comfort in the darkest of moments.
At the Pillars of Faith, we allow ourselves to be cogs in some great design. Who knows if our prayers, hopes, thoughts and pleas help lubricate those wheels, or send some message out into the void? Either way, a quick thought takes exactly zero effort, even if there is no reply.
While you're considering your options now is a good time to move on to the last stop in our atlas of overwhelm. This is the final stop and all trains of thought terminate here.
We call this place The Rock because everyone needs a rock in their lives and sometimes, just sometimes we need to cling to it.
Think of the last face you'll want to see as you shift off this mortal coil, the last hand you'll hold and the last smile you'll ever see. That person is your rock and when all else fails and things get too much that is the person you need in your court.
You won't want to burden them, but they won't thank you if you don't. Your rock is just that, a foundation stone, unmovable, infallible and 100% on your side no matter what.
To make the most from your rock you need to be honest. Remember, doesn't matter how deep the water gets as long as you can float and, despite the title, there's nothing more buoyant than your rock.
There are other places we can visit, other shores we can grace, but they'll all have something in common with the above. In the end, only you can stay afloat although it can sometimes take assistance to remember that.
Those pressures that overwhelm us are unique to us and although countless others may be facing exactly the same problems, those burdens are equally theirs to bear.
Thank you for joining us on our guided tour, we hope you found it useful and do feel free to pass it along.