Overwhelm and Stress, what if there was another way?


Overwhelm. Even writing the word makes me feel overwhelmed. Overwhelm is the sense that we have too much going on and we’re a little bit out of control. It’s when we have multiple pressure points, often landing at the same time. The end result… Stress!  

Many of us suffer with overwhelm from time to time, it’s that feeling when you really don’t know where to start, you feel like you have so much going on and life is just purely relentless. Come to think of it, it pretty much sums up our lives since the beginning of 2020, right? 

For many of us, overwhelm occurs when we are facing something new. It is often centred around our own self-doubt and the internal pressure we put on ourselves. It may occur when we’re given responsibility for something we’re not comfortable with or don’t have a lot of knowledge around. Simply, it’s stepping into unchartered territory and not feeling very comfortable. 

But is overwhelm just a state of mind and something that we have control over? In short, yes, we can control our inner critic and we can choose to say no to things rather than take on too much – easier said than done, of course. However, it’s not something that is easy to recognise especially when we’re on the brink, we each have our own tipping point and certainly there are other elements that contribute to what might be overwhelm one week versus being able to get through it all. 

We all need a little bit of pressure or stress to work better. Whether we have to meet a deadline or we’re competing against others, our performance improves under pressure. When you’re in a state of stress the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released into your system, providing your body with a number of performance-boosting effects. Adrenaline improves your cognitive function, it helps you process information better and makes sure your brain is focused, clear and improves your memory. Physically, adrenaline helps get more oxygen to your muscles, enabling them to reach their full capability. 

Adrenaline and cortisol in short bursts are helpful physically and mentally for our bodies. If we remain in a stressed state for too long, however, this can cause other long term health issues such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, coronary and digestive problems – to name a few. 

So, we know we can’t retain high levels of stress for extended periods of time, what can we do to avoid feeling overwhelmed and ultimately avoid chronic stress?

One idea is to think of life more as an experiment. When we confronted with something new, or a task, we’re not overly comfortable with, could we approach it as an experiment? It’s not the final iteration that we do the first time. I am not suggesting doing something multiple times to make it perfect, but shifting the way we view the task or situation as a little experiment for us to learn, practice, fail and iterate. 

We put pressure on ourselves to know how to handle a global pandemic, to know how to navigate the stress of life without human contact, to suddenly change the world we know into something completely new and be perfect at all of it. 

Life is constant education; we are all constantly learning, failing and iterating with everything we do. Shifting our mindset to be a lifelong learner might just help with that sense of overwhelm and might just help you to get started. 

And, breathe, I feel a little less overwhelmed now! 

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