Overwhelm is part of the human experience but it’s within our power to deal with it, reduce it and help ourselves to feel less of it.
In this episode we look at:
Pressing Pause Podcast episode 78 The waves of overwhelm
Welcome to Pressing Pause. I’m Gabrielle Treanor, a coach and writer, and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to overcome your overwhelm so you can feel calm, confident and in control.
Hello and welcome to episode 78,
Quick announcement to begin with – The Calm Mind Club is open for you to join!
The Calm Mind Club is an online membership where you’ll find resources, live calls, practical tools based in positive psychology, and a supportive community, to help you deal with your overwhelm so you can feel calmer, more confident, in control and, ultimately, happier.
We explore the challenges of worrying what people think or getting things wrong, comparing ourselves, self-doubt, people-pleasing, self-kindness, dealing with change, optimism, resilience and so much more. We have amazing guests sharing their expertise on all kinds of topics including boundaries, monthly cycles, nutrition, relationships, creativity to name just a few.
We have live Q&A sessions and there’s a gentle and supportive community where you can talk through your challenges and celebrate your wins.
The Calm Mind Club has been in action for 18 months and an incredible wealth of information, inspiration, tools and resources has built up ready and waiting to support you when you join.
And because it’s The Calm Mind Club, because the whole purpose is to help you bring down the overwhelm, there’s no timetable you have to keep up with. There’s no pressure, no falling behind. You take it all at your own pace, accessing what you want when you want it with support from me too.
So, if you’d like to join The Calm Mind Club while the doors are open now go to thecalmmindclub.com. I’d love to welcome you in.
Now, in this episode I wanted to take a closer look at overwhelm and how it feels.
Our natural need for certainty can see us wanting things to be definite, wanting ourselves to achieve a goal and say we’re done, tick it off the list. So we strive to be happy, to live a balanced life, to not feel overwhelmed – like they’re destinations we can arrive at, plant a flag in and live in that state forever. But that’s just not possible.
Happiness isn’t a goal you can complete, life cannot be permanently evenly balanced and overwhelm is not something that you can shut the door on, never to be felt again. These are emotions and states of being that we flow in and out of, we can take action to help ourselves feel more or less of them but they don’t take a tangible form that we can grasp hold of or avoid forever.
Like so much in life, it’s simply not that black and white. Overwhelm lives in the grey, it’s a sliding scale. That’s why I talk about feeling overwhelm rise and bringing overwhelm down and why I don’t talk about banishing overwhelm for good. There will be times when we do feel a little or a lot overwhelmed because of life. Because things happen in life that floor us, that take our breath away, that side swipe us and it’s hard to see how anyone can go through life completely overwhelm-free.
That doesn’t mean that when overwhelm overtakes you you’re powerless to do anything about it, not at all. We can influence how far overwhelm knocks us off our feet and what we can do to overcome it. That’s not eradicating it from our lives forever because that’s simply not possible, but dealing with it so that in that moment we can manage it, and in time we can get on with our lives as we choose, without overwhelm as a constant presence.
An image I find helpful to visualise is overwhelm as a water level. So when we’re feeling pretty good, we’re not feeling particularly under pressure, the water is a pool around our feet, it’s barely there. If life gets busier, if we feel the pressure of expectation from others or ourselves, if our boundaries are crossed, if we don’t feel able to speak up or ask for what we need, if we ruminate over the past, imagine what could go wrong in the future, if we curb ourselves, compare ourselves, strive for perfection, worry what others are thinking, put everyone first and ourselves last… the overwhelm water level starts to rise over time and can keep rising if it’s unchecked.
We might not even notice when the water is flowing up our legs, past the knees, past the hips. Life feels uncomfortable because the overwhelm water level is up around our waists, making us feel unsteady and off balance. As it rises to cover our chests everything feels tighter, we feel more tense, it’s all becoming harder work. But we’re managing because we’re still upright. We still can move our arms and legs and bodies, our heads are above water, we’re functioning. So we’re getting work done, we’re taking care of everyone we need to, we’re doing what we have to do, because, technically, it’s still possible. We might keep going like that for a long time, because we get used to it. Because the overwhelm might have crept up slowly without us really realising. But the water level is there, the overwhelm is there, a constant presence pressing down on us making life feel more difficult and less joyful.
There are times when overwhelm goes from lapping around our ankles to a wave of it suddenly crashing over us. When we get bad news, something unexpected happens and we suddenly feel thrown in the deep end and we’re in over our heads (I’m running with the water metaphor here).
Just as the water can flow up, just as the overwhelm can rise, so can the water flow down, so can we bring the overwhelm down. But, like so much in life, we need to be aware of something before we can do anything about it.
It might be that you come to realise overwhelm has risen up around you because you feel the water splashed in your face, metaphorically. In that moment you feel it’s all too much (that was my classic phrase) and you’re acutely aware of how overwhelmed you are.
Or it may be that slowly and surely your awareness of the overwhelm, of the pressure, of the constriction you’re feeling, grows. And you realise that this is not tenable, feeling like this, living with this overwhelm is not what you want. The overdoing, the overthinking, the trying to be the perfect, ‘good’ girl who does what others expect, who puts herself last, who keeps the peace, keeps herself small, wears all the hats, juggles all the balls, who puts her energy into being the responsible, capable, dependable one so there’s barely anything left for herself. And something’s got to give. This is not what you want, this is not how you want to feel, this is not how you want to live.
It’s from that moment that you can start to lower the water level, to reduce the overwhelm. Having the realisation doesn’t mean you necessarily know how to go about it, you may have an idea of the first steps, maybe you need support to bring down the overwhelm. But just that realisation starts to put the power back in your hands. Overwhelm takes away your feeling of agency, it chips away at the feeling of being in control of your own life so when you realise your overwhelm is high and you look around you to see how to tackle it, you’re empowering yourself.
This isn’t about eradicating overwhelm from our lives because that isn’t going to happen. As human beings we are going to have experiences that create upset, stress and overwhelm, it’s unavoidable. But, what’s crucial here is that each of us can learn how to recognise when overwhelm is rising, what the triggers and signs are, how to reduce the likelihood of it knocking us off our feet and how we can help ourselves to bring down the overwhelm more quickly and effectively, in a way that works for each of us as individuals.
How does this image of overwhelm as a water level rising or lowering around you work for you? Can you picture where the level is for you right now? Where it’s been in the past? Can you see what could cause your feelings of overwhelm to rise? And can you identify what will help you to bring down the overwhelm, or how to stop it rising high in the first place?
Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear what’s struck a chord with you so email me firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram where I’m @gabrielletreanor.
And as I said at the start, The Calm Mind Club is open right now for new members to join. You can read all about the Club, and how it can help you to bring down the overwhelm and feel more calm, more in control and, ultimately, happier, and you can join, at thecalmmindclub.com. I hope to see you there.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.
Throughout this website and my work when I refer to women I include people identifying as women.
If you have, or think you may have, a mental health problem that requires professional diagnosis or treatment, please consult a mental health care professional and your GP.
You can also talk to the people at Mind on 0300 123 3393 or SANE on 0300 304 7000 or Samaritans on 116 123.
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