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How to manage overwhelm: A simple 4 step reset for when it all gets too much

If only I’d remembered my PE kit it would never have happened. My mum had sent my middle brother (I’m one of 5 siblings!) to collect it because he was the fastest. The trouble was we were already late. I was distraught about turning up to school without my kit. The week before I had to do PE in just my vest and a spare pair of green gym knickers from the depths of the lost property pile. I can still feel the horrible shame of it all these years later. It was one of those chilly early spring mornings (much like the ones we’re experiencing right now!). The air was crisp and expectant, like the drama was already waiting to reveal itself. The birds were loud and shrill. When the car hit him, everything went quiet. It was a hit and run so we didn’t find out who did it. My brother just didn’t see it coming as he dashed out from between two parked cars. A broken leg. It could have been much worse.

When you’re rushing it never ends well

When everyone is stressed and frantic then no one thinks straight. Things go from bad to worse. Everything feels in a constant state of “about to go wrong”. So even when the wheels haven’t fallen off, you feel like they’re about to. It’s not a sustainable way to exist and yet for many of us that’s our default.

How does it feel like right now?

After a year that’s given us all so many shockwaves and bombshells, it’s not surprising that getting back to “normal” life might be bumpy. If we consider our physiology at it’s most basic then it’s not surprising. Our threat detection system has been on hyper alert for 12 months. Even a trip to the supermarket has contained the real risk of contracting a deadly virus. We’ve spent so much of our time in hyper vigilance, whilst also being deprived of the release valves of social contact and community. Have you found yourself overwhelmed by small things? Or struggled to focus and concentrate? If so, that’s a marker that your survival brain has been hijacking the show.

Taking back the reins

Emotional regulation, thinking strategically, making good decisions and choosing an appropriate response. These are all functions of our prefrontal cortex. The region of our brain that sits behind the forehead. When we are reacting to danger and the alarm bell of our brain has triggered the fight, flight or freeze response, the prefrontal cortex goes offline. It’s a hangover from the way our brain evolved. If I was about to fight a sabre toothed tiger, I wouldn’t want to be engaging in a lengthy analysis in the more considered part of my system. (Re)action is the order of the day. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our brains are clever, but not THAT clever Our brains are such a marvel. Able to process billions of pieces of information every day, mostly subconsciously. Then able to react and respond accordingly. The problem with so much of that process happening ‘below the surface’ is that it’s easy for our brains to get hijacked. For us to get stuck in a default way of responding and behaving. The good news though is that it’s possible to hack the system.

4 steps to reset your system

Meditation is a powerful tool to change how we respond to and process stress. A regular practice changes how your body and mind respond which is kind of awesome! However, sometimes you need an emergency button. Here’s a simple 4 step process to reset and get your brain CEO back online so you can clear the overwhelm:

The Amygdala Reset Breath

One of the culprits for stress hijacking is the amygdala. Part of our mid brain, its job is to be the alarm bell. Detecting threat and sounding the alarm to activate the sympathetic nervous system; our fight/flight/freeze response. The problem is that it’s like a faulty smoke alarm going off when the toast is burning. Trigger happy and likely to flip the switch into reactivity too readily and leaving us stuck there. For a 4 step reset you can bust out anytime you need to get out of overwhelm I recommend this (deceptively) simple process: 1. PAUSE Put a hand on your belly (if that feels comfortable for you) and take a deep breath in through your nose as slowly as you can. You’ll feel your hand rising as you breathe in. 2. HOLD Hold your breath gently, without straining and tensing your muscles. Keep holding the breath for as long as you can. 3. RELEASE Now breathe out as slowly as you can, ideally through your nose. You’ll feel your hand falling as you breathe out. 4. REPEAT Repeat this for 6 to 10 breaths

Can it really be that simple?

Surprisingly, yes it can! The breath is part of the primitive part of our brain associated with survival - our heart rate, our temperature regulation and also, importantly, the fight or flight response. Breathing is the only part that we can control of that area of the brain. When we slow the breath, what we actually do is call off the troops. It’s the equivalent of sitting down and having a picnic in the middle of a battle. It’s so incongruous to what’s going on that your inner defence system is stopped in it’s tracks. If I’m breathing in this way, what I’m actually doing is telling my system that there isn’t an immediate threat that needs dealing with. Or rather that I can handle it without needing the big guns. That shift makes the rest of my body join the picnic instead of the battle. My heart rate slows down. Stress hormones stop being pumped into my system. My nervous system switches track from fight or flight to rest and digest. Leaving me better resourced to deal with whatever is happening.

Come and play with me!

This is one super quick technique for in the heat of the moment. What we then need to do is find ways to cool our engines to prevent the reactivity in the first place. Playfulness, curiosity and fun. Key ingredients to shifting the default out of stress and overwhelm. Come and join me and my guest expert this month, Harriet Poole, for a FREE workshop to unleash your playful rebel with some simple creativity for a busy life. You can find out more and book your free spot here. (My Be.More membership Community will have access to the session replay and an exclusive Q and A with Harriet) I hope to see you there!

Laura @ Be. x

“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” — Timber Hawkeye


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