Journal and Blog
Feeling overwhelmed is no one’s favorite feeling to experience. Yet it’s a regular occurrence for many of us. Feeling overwhelmed makes us feel like no matter what, we can’t accomplish what we really want to. It can seem as though being overwhelmed is accomplishment’s enemy. However, the problem isn’t being overwhelmed it’s how you react to it. It’s your reaction that creates the distance between yourself and your accomplishments.
When feeling overwhelmed, instinctively you attempt to do everything you can to make it go away. Instead of reacting to it, try listening to it. This can be difficult to do because often times when you are feeling overwhelmed, you are actually experiencing several emotions all clustered together under the disguise of being overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “What is it I am actually feeling?” “Where is this coming from?” By asking yourself these questions you can identify the underlying emotions playing into feeling overwhelmed. Think of how you untangle a knot in a rope. You start by finding the ends. When you acknowledge your primary emotions influencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s like identifying the ends of the rope, making the knot of being overwhelmed less complicated. Now with your identified feelings, you can manage being overwhelmed by offering yourself reassurance counteracting the insecure feeling that being overwhelmed creates.
Being overwhelmed has a way of immobilizing our progress, especially if you recognize it as a sign of failure. Instead of being paralyzed by feeling overwhelmed, use your feelings to help you mold your accomplishment for the better. By thinking about how you can make your feelings of being overwhelmed work for you, ask yourself, “Is this something to work towards? Is this something to work though? Is this something to work out?”
Is this something to work towards?
When trying to accomplish something important to you, it’s common to feel fearful. Being rejected, especially when you are working towards something you really want, creates vulnerability. Becoming overwhelmed when things become difficult is likely to happen. Acknowledging you are afraid of rejection, fearful you will fail, and providing yourself with support will help manage the negativity of these emotions. Allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed with the understanding you are working towards what you really want, prevents being overwhelmed from becoming rehabilitating. An example of this is the familiar motivational story of Rudy Ruettiger in the movie “Rudy”. Regardless of how insecure he felt or how many people told him he couldn’t become a Notre Dame Football player; he knew what he wanted. It was worth it to him regardless of how overwhelmed he felt. By acknowledging your underlying emotions and framing your stress, being overwhelmed now has a purpose in your struggle. When feelings of being overwhelmed rise up, you know it’s a sign your comfort zone is growing. At that point, you can reassure yourself it’s worth it to be work towards what is important to you.
Is This Something to Work Through?
Being overwhelmed plays tricks on our mind. It’s easy to find ourselves caught up in the intense struggle and feel like our stress is here to stay. Once we have identified our primary emotions that often appear as doubts, it becomes easier to recognize our current stress is something we can work through. Having young children can be a very demanding time in parenthood. There are so many different needs to attend to. If you were standing in line at a grocery store behind a young mother who is wrestling small children, it would be easy to assume that she is overwhelmed. Feeling inadequate meeting so many emotional and physical needs is understandable, but acknowledging that you are working through a “tough age” and challenging “concern” helps you realize that being overwhelmed isn’t the end point. It will get easier. Circumstances can improve. If you are feeling inadequate but continue to work yourself through the task at hand, you can rework small successes to see you are accomplishing your end goal in small doses all along the way.
Is This Something to Work Out
Feeling overwhelmed creates discomfort for a reason. It’s a way we emotionally can signal our mind and body that something isn’t right. By recognizing feeling overwhelmed as an alarm, we can evaluate if it’s not something that will help us work towards what we want to accomplish or an important influence in working through the process to our end goal. Chances are, there is something we might need to adjust or rearrange. Ask yourselves, is there something I need to work out? Sometimes you might realize it’s not worth it to feel this overwhelmed, anxious, or confused. Leaving a job might be what you need to do to accomplish what your true focus is. Switching positions within a current job, might be the answer to feeling overwhelmed. Rearranging roles, taking a break from a leadership or voluntary position are all examples of how we can work out situations that cause stress and prevent us from the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment we’re all striving for.
When you identify underlying emotions that play into feeling overwhelmed, you regain emotional power lost in the mayhem that being overwhelmed creates. By asking yourself is this something that I am working towards? Something I am working through? Or something I need to work out? You create ways to turn feelings of being overwhelmed into accomplishment.
In Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, Alice says… “From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot. I’ve been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice…”
Becoming a mother is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. You can’t be prepared for what is on the other side. The love you feel for your children. The energy you put into worrying about them. The patience and consistency it takes to teach them. Can shrink, stretch and leave you scratched up over and over again. Some days it feels nothing short of being stuffed in a teapot.
As a clinical therapist I have sat in many sessions with an individual calling herself a mother. Knowing her struggle and heartache and watching week by week as she comes out of it. I know all that shrinking, stretching, and scratching turns Mothers into the most extraordinary beings, humans can become.
I regularly meet with moms struggling with anxiety. They feel crippled by their fears, worries, and overwhelming pressure that sits on their shoulders. In these sessions once we identify what their goals and strengths are, the next thing I often do is help them create a therapeutic toolbox with techniques and resources tailored to their circumstances that help them cope. The coping skills in their therapeutic toolbox becomes how they can apply what we have processed during therapy.
One technique I find helpful for almost everyone is something called grounding. Grounding is technique in cognitive therapy. When used properly, it can calm down intense emotions, giving you an opportunity to separate your emotions and thoughts and evaluate your circumstance in real-time. While focusing on taking deep breaths and inhaling and exhaling, you can focus on each of your senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? What can you taste? How do you feel physically? (my back aches, all my weight is on my left hip, etc.) While there are many ways to tailor grounding to an individual, I encourage clients to practice this first in moments of peace when they can spend a lot of time thinking about each of their senses and what they are experiencing. That way, when in a heightened stressful state, using the technique of grounding can take as little as a brief/silent 30-40 seconds. This technique literally grounds yourself in the present. Clearing away the extra emotional noise that anxiety usually brings to a situation.
Let’s look at this common situation as an example. You have finally gotten everyone in the car and buckled up and despite your best effort are now a few minutes late on your way to an appointment. Unchecked, the anxiety of rushing to get in the car might carry over into the way you drive or into your tolerance of repeated questions coming from the backseat. Now, all that unchecked anxiety is turned into raw anger or complete emotional withdrawal both having negative emotional consequences. By taking a few seconds to ground yourself as you drive down the street, it gives you just enough emotional steadiness to put things into perspective and offer yourself some needed self-compassion. Everyone is safe. You are on your way and you did your best. You can now emotionally reset. In therapy you would be able to examine this situation to recognize your triggers and process the underlying emotional layers, leaving you empowered to have options and handle it differently in the future.
All the emotional energy you experience as mothers definitely causes shrinking, stretching and scratching. But, just like Alice in wonderland, through it all she was able to find her muchness. Being able to monitor and regulate your anxiety can help you become as the Mad Hatter might say,” much more muchier”. Alice ends her dialogue about all that has happened to her since she fell down the rabbit hole, with… “but this is my dream and I’ll decide where it goes from here.” Anxiety isn’t your enemy when managed and respected. It can be a tool to motivate, protect, and prepare you. You can use it to create the muchness you are capable of.
Yarrow Therapy was created with mothers in mind. Providing online therapy and therapeutic resources for women. Visit us at yarrowtherapy.com for psychotherapy resources as well as individual and group therapy scheduling.