Overwhelmed? Moi? I’d like to say definitely not but suffice to say that I’m over deadline with this article. Not good, not pleased with myself. That old thing about counting sheep when trying to fall asleep never worked for me – why? Because the whole flock launched itself at the fence in one team action, rather than sedately lining up and jumping over singly in a civilised fashion. My life currently feels just like that. I’m smiling quietly to myself and, as I’m alone not raising suspicion by so doing, because each month I find the title of the article pertinent to my circumstances. Funny that, given the subject of each article was decided many moons ago. I guess that’s a topic for another day – am I just subconsciously more aware of what’s coming up? Interesting.
Actually, I’m rather pleased with myself. Just a few months’ ago I was having tests for leukaemia and was very ill indeed. Fast forward a few months – and many, many medical tests – and I’ve come from complete physical overwhelm and crawling into bed by seven o’clock each evening, to currently concurrently holding down three jobs. I didn’t intent that to happen, the employment sheep hurled themselves simultaneously over the fence and the current fiscals dictate that each opportunity be seized with gratitude. I’m finding that deep gratitude for my renewed health and wellbeing is lifting me to a place where I can, with planning and a ‘will do’ attitude, cope with the demands on my time and fortitude. You see, the knowledge that the medics don’t know what I have/have had, but do know that it isn’t terminal, fuels a place deep within that enables the strength to rise up and meet whatever is incoming. Hold on to that thought if – and I hope you never will – feel you’re surviving with your nostrils only just above the water.
So far I’ve touched on physical and employment overwhelm, both of which have a negative connotation. However, there is always a balance in life and nature and, for me, it is being completely and utterly overwhelmed with gratitude for my health and all that represents; my recovery from illness and my physical, mental and emotional ability to power on through the next three months of triple employment. And that, my friends, is an enormous positive.
At times, we might feel we’re sinking under the burden of emotional, time or financial pressures from others or just demands we place upon ourselves to conform, perform or be all things to everyone. Do you do that? I know I have certainly been one to try and fix everything for everyone, mistakenly feeling I had to keep everyone’s lives in a constant state of equilibrium. A dear friend opened my eyes to that one by suggesting that it was actually rather arrogant of me to assume I could do a better job of THEIR lives than THEY could. I had caused my own very unnecessary overwhelm by being a self-appointed ‘fixer’. Oh, the relief of letting all that go and, I assume, the relief for others that I had! Hmmm, all that overwhelm caused by me for myself. Do you do that? Cut it back, simplify and/or rectify would be my top tip, having got the full set of tee-shirts on this one!
Overwhelm strikes at the most unexpected times, sometimes literally rendering us incapable of speech or action. I’ve known both. May I share something with you? My mother had years of poor health and several times I sat through the night with her, having been told she wouldn’t make it through to the morning. She always did, confounding the medics. One day, I had a call from the nursing home saying Mum had been sick in the night and they were calling the doctor. I said I’d be over shortly. I was busy preparing a buffet for some visitors due later that day. When I arrived, Mum said “Well, Jan, I think this might be the end of the road for me. If it is, I want you to know how truly honoured I am to have had you as my daughter”. I was so overwhelmed by the moment that I just couldn’t respond. Mum was blind and so couldn’t see my reaction. To this day it troubles me that I didn’t thank her for being such a wonderful mother and tell her how much I loved her. I was literally unable to speak. I didn’t expect it was the end as she looked well and was up, dressed and quite perky. She died later that afternoon.
Fast forward a week and I was trying to get the house cleaned as I wanted everyone to come to our home after saying goodbye, and I knew this would make Mum happy. I was against the clock and yet I just sat staring at the vacuum cleaner, unable to move to start the cleaning, totally immobilised by overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Now I’m usually a capable ‘just get on with it’ sort of girl, so I was perplexed by my inability to respond to the needs of the moment. Luckily for me, a dear friend turned up, took charge of the vacuum and did for me what I was unable to even begin.
I’ve touched on emotional, physical and mental overwhelm, both short and long term, so it might be helpful to have a look at each of those.
Builds up over hours, not months. Slow-burn, increases over a period of weeks or months.
Lose focus and just can’t keep going, Stressful job, long hours, little rest.
Studying for/taking exams Long-term project or care-giver
Intense mental focus for a few hours. Constant demands on time/energy.
Exhausted, no more to give after a hard Illness, p oor sleep and nourishment
day, or physical endeavour
Frustration/anger, disagreements, regret Divorce, loss of a loved one.
over action/inaction/responses redundancy, unemployment
STRATEGIES FOR COPING
Perhaps the most important first step is acknowledging that we are in a state of overwhelm, regardless of its origin. Sometimes a whole herd of life events come at us at once and knock the stuffing out of us; it might be a relationship break-up or an argument, or a loss of some kind.
Left to boil over, overwhelm in any one area can have a crippling affect in all areas of life to the degree we’re unable to function. Taking control is essential and that requires planning.
Sometimes we just have to work with what we have and deal with life events, as and when they happen. If there are many and various issues to deal with, what can you do to reduce the load? Is it possible to ask for help – this was the subject of an earlier article – either with the tasks themselves or with emotional support to enable you to work through them. Can you do anything to spread out the mental heavy lifting so that it becomes more manageable?
At times like this, it’s essential to be aware of those situations which make us feel emotional and negatively fired-up and avoid them, since they drain away energy reserves that can be better utilised performing the tasks which lie ahead.
Frustration and anger are forms of emotional overwhelm and are states we often find ourselves in. In the short term, perhaps we’ve had an argument and thoughts of what was said, or what we wish we’d said or done, are festering away inside which is so draining of our energy, leaving little in the pot for family or friends. When we’re angry and mentally fatigued, we’re not in the right mindset to respond appropriately so it’s best not to react immediately, but rather re-visit the scenario after a period of rest and reflection when it’s easier to see things in perspective.
When we’re emotionally stunned by loss of some kind, be it death, divorce, health issues or redundancy, overwhelm can build over weeks and months, following on from the emotional shock we’ve suffered. Or perhaps it’s built up over a period of time with an ever-increasing workload or level of responsibility.
Whatever the cause, short or long term, taking time to practice mindfulness and meditation really can provide a breathing space and allow us to identify where we’re ‘bleeding’ energy and becoming exhausted. If this doesn’t come easily to you, then begin by just being still physically, breathing deeply and allowing yourself just be in the moment, perhaps listening to some calming music of choice, for music really does reach those places deep within and also soothe the troubled mind.
Sometimes there’s just nothing left in the tank after a hard day at work, or a period of sustained mental concentration such as when studying or focusing on a project for a few hours. The key to reversing this is hydration, nourishment and sleep.
It’s imperative to plan ahead if we know that a period of sustained physical stress is approaching. It’s necessary to rejuvenate ourselves every day which takes discipline and planning. Having enough sleep is essential, as is regular exercise which increases the oxygen circulation and is therefore good for the whole body and helps with clarity of thought. Conserve energy for the tasks you know must be completed.
We’re happy enough to make sure our care has the correct grade of fuel, enough water, is regularly serviced and is taken out for a run to keep everything oiled and working smoothly. If we don’t, it won’t work efficiently. Yet, when we’re tired and fatigued, we often settle for junk food and top up with ‘performance’ drinks and yet expect our bodies to perform at optimum level. It won’t be long before our immune system starts to break down and we pick up illnesses we would have overcome without even realising, had we not been tired and poorly nourished.
So, what can you do to have more and better quality rest?
If It’s Going To Be Long Haul …
Welcoming any help, and actively seeking assistance, is really important to sustain the days and weeks ahead. A ‘self can manage’ attitude might just bring your little boat crashing onto the rocks. Is there a friend or relative who is there to discuss things with, or just listen as you unload? An emotional support network really is a safety net to catch us when we feel we’re falling, and there will be days when it all seems too much. But it isn’t, and somehow we find that courage within to carry us forward.
The rejuvenative power of sleep really is the key to the tool box. It enables the mind to re-set, the body to repair and the brain to shuffle thoughts into a brighter perspective.
As mentioned earlier, good nutrition and hydration and building some exercise into the day will keep mind, body and soul healthy so energy isn’t dissipated into recovering from illness, either mental or physical.
If there’s a project or exam deadline, pace the work or revision so optimum performance is achieved and maintained. Schedule what needs to be done and when to achieve success and stick to it. There’s a real sense of achievement in ticking the boxes, as tasks are successfully achieved.
If overwhelmed by loss, the above still applies, although it’s never easy to keep moving forward. Try to look for one positive each day, and hold on to that. The light will shine again but take time to grieve and adjust to the changes in life going forward. Healing and recovery from overwhelm of any kind is not time-specific and will vary for everyone. We have to be kind and nurture ourselves in the way we would those we love.
It’s late now, so I’m off for some rejuvenating rest. I wish you peace, happiness and success until we meet again next month. Remember, be kind to yourself because you deserve it!
Through careers in nursing, the police, the corporate world and as a successful business owner, Janet Swift continued hiding her potential until life’s hobnail boot startled her awake. Today, Janet helps clients recognise events which shaped them, inspiring them to shine by living in integrity with their values and aspirations.