I quietly close the sliding door behind me and drop to my knees in the tangled pile of dirty laundry.
A sob escapes and I slide down further.
As I curl my body around the dirty towels, I can feel the damp press of the clean clothes spilling from the washing machine.
I whisper under my breath like a twisted mantra:
“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this…”
My whole body is tensed and poised, like I’m preparing for some great danger.
“MUM, WHERE ARE YOU?” a little voice calls.
Hastily I pull myself up, wipe the tears that have sneaked out and catch my breath.
“I’m just coming” I call out, making sure to keep the wobble from my voice.
I take another breath, more like a gasp, and open the door with a smile on my face.
Overwhelm can be under the radar
For many years I struggled with overwhelm. The pressure of trying to do everything and be everything felt relentless. The days felt like they swept me along without respite. It was like being in a constant state of almost drowning. Never quite enough time to get it all done or feeling like I wasted time instead of being productive. Even when I got to the “good bits”, where I was supposed to be happy, I couldn’t relax and enjoy it. I was constantly battling with a sense of not holding it together well enough. I would find myself tipping into moments when I just couldn't cope any more, usually triggered by something small and inconsequential. But to the outside world at that time I was doing fine. That’s often the hardest thing about experiencing overwhelm - it doesn’t always make sense and so it goes under the radar.
Does that happen to you?
Are you also one of those people who feels constantly busy and like you can’t stop? Maybe your life doesn’t look busy in terms of what you have to get done, but somehow it always feels hectic inside. Or perhaps there is just SO much to be done that it isn’t possible to do it all. Work. Family. Friends. Life admin. Finances. Global events. Notifications. News. And underneath all that, buried under all the busy, is a feeling that there’s supposed to be more to life than this.
The Overwhelm Problem
One of the problems my clients tell me about is they don’t have time for elaborate self care rituals in their day.
They know it helps when they stop and give themselves a break, but it feels really hard to do.
There’s always “just one more thing” to be done and if they only have a few minutes to spare it feels like it won’t really help.
It feels more productive to just push through and then they can rest later.
But there’s a problem with that strategy.
Our nervous system just isn’t designed that way!
The Circuit Breaker
As humans, we evolved to be in the Stress response for around 20% of the time. Preparing to fight, run or freeze to escape danger.
The rest of the time we would be in the Relaxation response.
That would allow us to rest, digest and heal.
When we race around in the modern world we're constantly being triggered into the stress response. It's like having a smoke alarm that goes off when the toast burns - the slightest thing creates that response in the body.
So we end up in an almost permanent state of tension and stress, even when we don't realise it.
That's why you end up reaching the so called "good times" or settling down to sleep, and you can't switch off.
When you take a moment to pause and reset, it doesn't matter if it's only brief.
You are momentarily shifting out of that stress response which gives your nervous system a chance to recalibrate.
3 Steps to Tackle Overwhelm
So how can you interrupt the stress so it doesn't turn into overwhelm when your days are busy and you can't stop?
The good news is that research shows that even a small moment can help (which is good news if the idea of trying to find lots of extra time fills you with dread).
Here's 3 simple ways you can reduce overwhelm, no matter what's happening.
Unless you notice that you're slipping into overwhelm, you can't take steps to get out of it!
This really is a fundamental first step.
That can be as simple as having regular points in your day when you check in with how it feels in your body.
2. Ask a question:
When you do your noticing, a really useful question is:
"What do I need right now?"
When we are asked a question, our minds get curious and want to answer it!
Even if it's you asking yourself a question, your mind will slip into investigating mode.
This makes it easier to work out what's going on.
3. Take a small action:
Can you allow the answer to your question to be something really small?
As I'm typing this, I realised I needed to stretch my arms and legs. Just for a brief moment.
But that tuning in made a difference
How can you make it REALLY work?
Hopefully as you read along to the three steps you experienced a tiny shift.
You paid attention to your experience a it is right now.
But what about in 5 minutes time?
Or in an hour?
How can you know that you'll reliably and consistently process stress in a way that doesn't allow it to tip over into overwhelm?
I'm hosting two FREE workhops next week called The Power of the Pause: Ditch Overwhelm and Do What Matters (Monday 11th @ 8pm and Wed 13th @1pm)
You can sign up for your FREE place by clicking the button below.
I'd love to see you there.
Laura @ Be. x
"My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened." - Mark Twain