Overwhelmed feels like a lot of things.
It feels stressful. It feels exhausting. Indecisive. Immobilizing. Chaotic. Discombobulating...
When you're overwhelmed it can seem impossible to do even the simplest task, let alone think straight.
Everything is too much.
It can be helpful to have some tricks up your sleeve for when everything becomes too much, so I want to offer some strategies to play with the next time you're feeling overwhelmed.
1. Take micro-steps.
Break it down, ridiculously small. Remember, no one needs to know that your thought process consists of micro-steps like this. When even making a cup of tea becomes too much, talk yourself through it, one micro-step at a time:
First I will turn the kettle on.
Now I will open the cupboard.
Now I will choose a mug.
Now I will choose a (calming) tea. (I recommend tulsi, lavender, chamomile, and passionflower)
Now I will pour the hot water.
Now I will sit quietly as my tea steeps.
2. Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory technique.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique grounds you in your senses and the present moment, while interrupting spinning thoughts and negative internal dialogue. This technique is especially effective for acute overwhelm and panic attacks. It requires you to simply sit and notice:
Five things you can see.
Four things you can feel.
Three things you can hear.
Two things you can smell.
One thing you can taste.
3. Tidy your immediate physical space.
A quick cleanup to create order in your physical space makes you feel productive while calming your nervous system.
Our physical environment has a profound impact on our internal environment, so it would make sense that to create a calm inner world, we need to create a calm outer world. Just be careful not to go crazy here: this is not about decluttering, re-organizing, or feng-shui'ing your entire home. It's about harnessing control and peace with a quick surface level tidy up. Repeat after me: a tidy space, a tidy mind.
4. Connect to the breath.
This is one of the most powerful and instantaneous ways to counteract overwhelm, and the beauty of it, is it can be done anywhere and only take a couple minutes. Try box breathing or abdominal breathing for grounding and calming benefits. If you feel safe to do so, close your eyes while breathing.
For abdominal breathing, lovingly place your hands on your belly. Inhale to fill and expand your abdomen, and exhale to release and contract your abdomen. Repeat this slow, intentional practice of connecting your mind to your physical body until you feel calm.
Box breathing goes like this: inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4. And repeat. I like to imagine a box that I am drawing over and over again in my mind's eye. Repeat the process for a couple minutes, until you feel a sense of calm wash over you.
5. Practice radical acceptance.
When your mind, body, and soul accept that "it is what it is", you can let go of the need to control or even approve of what is, relieving the inner pressure contributing to overwhelm.
Practicing radical acceptance takes practice.
And - it's incredibly freeing.
So let it all go. You don't have to like it, but getting to a place of honoring and accepting what is, while untangling yourself from any responsibility around it, will help to drastically alleviate overwhelm in situations outside of your control.
Remember, that overwhelm is a sign of disconnect from your inner being. Your Inner Being is telling you that it’s time to reconnect with yourself, and simply do less. Each of these 5 strategies will help you find a way to do less, so that you can find your way out of overwhelming feelings. Play with them and find which works best for you. And remember:
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” – Timber Hawkeye.