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Overwhelm - Some ways to overcome it!

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Clients often come for coaching to address the sense of overwhelm that is going on in their lives. Everyone is unique, as is their situation. But usually clients leave a session feeling more confident they can get through their to do list and feeling a lot lighter about it all.

The first thing we need to do with overwhelm is to shift the mindset, or feeling state. Often a sense of overwhelm is less to do with a situation we are in, and more to do with the conversation we are having in our head about it, which in turn produces those sensations in the body of overwhelm. So we need to interrupt that pattern. In clinic I have some processes I use, but at home a couple of things you can do to shift how you feel about something include:

1. Acknowledging Your Situation and Yourself

A. Before doing anything else - acknowledging that it's okay and a normal part of human experience to feel like it's all too much. This is about being a friend to yourself and not shaming yourself for feeling overwhelmed. Take a moment to acknowledge your humanity, your vulnerabliltiy, as you would for a friend in a similar situation to you. Give this a few minutes to kick in. If it feels too hard, or like there's an emotional block, it's worth having a coaching session to address underlying root causes at an unconscious level.

B. Play some music - a favourite song that has positive, motivating, or relaxing memories associated with it.

C. Move your body - go for a vigorous walk, or do some slow movement like Tai Chi or Yoga - this has an effect on your breathing which in turn alters your state of mind.

D. Look at some photos of a happy time in the past, or recall some images in your mind or a time when you overcame an obstacle. Hold those images of success in your mind until you start to feel in your body the sense of confidence that comes with those memories.

2. What's Your Personality Type?

Are you a big picture person? Would you describe yourself as someone who is emotional, or sensitive or perhaps intuitive or creative? Or are you more of a details person?

I usually suggest clients do a personality test to reveal whether they are more of a details person or a big picture person. Big picture people are great at coming up with a million ideas and then lose a bit of oomph when it comes to implementation because they want to do it all now and find the reality of restricted time quite challenging - they struggle with what to get on with first. Details people can get bogged down in the detail and forget the "WHY" behind what they are doing.

3. Doing stuff that’s not related to Your Real Dreams

Sometimes there is an old tape playing in our mind - it's just there in the background - and for some reason we decided when we were young that we had to fulfill an obligation to someone else, or try to please them. We lost touch with what's really important to us. We might have been shamed for "being selfish" or rewarded for "pleasing" or doing what someone else expected us to do. So our "to do" list feels overwhelming because our unconscious mind know's our heart is not happy - it feels like we are wasting our days.

If you have ever gone into the settings menu on your smart phone or computer you'll notice a section called "permissions". If you press the wee button it slides across and shows a green light when it's "on". It might give permission for Facebook to access your contacts or for videos on your news feed to play automatically. And that can be annoying when you don't know how to switch it off, right?

In my experience with coaching clients, the unconscious mind is similar to this. Certain "permissions" have been left "on" and we notice people crossing boundaries or we find ourselves attracting situations or stuck in habits that we aren't sure how to change. We might even believe we can't change them. But we're left with that sense of annoyance and frustration - perhaps at others, or ourselves or both.

The first step here is to simply notice whether you are really doing what you want to do, or whether, maybe, you are fulfilling someone else's expectation of you. This can be a surprise sometimes - we've been conditioned for so many years to "want something" that it can actually be a bit of a shock to admit to ourselves that "actually, I'm sick of this...I want something else". And it can be weird to be left with a vacuum. We know what we don't want, but how to we figure our what we DO want?

One way is to listen to our body and notice what lights us up. When do we become animated and excited? What feels effortless? What makes us feel lighter and more free? Is it talking about horses, going sailing, working with people or working alone, is it being in the outdoors or playing with technology? What do feel drawn to do when we are procrastinating? If we start to pay attention to those things, we can follow the bread crumb trail towards our bliss. You will find Your Real Dreams at the end of that wee inquiry: as Stephen Spielberg notes in his famous you tube video - they may only be whispers, but we need to pay attention to them.

4. Extend the deadline – 3 years instead of 1

SIGH - now you may feel annoyed with me. Perhaps you wanted a quick fix, a way to get on with your to do list, not a suggestion that you need to reevaluate your entire life direction. And you could be right. Perhaps you are following Your Real Dreams - but there's still a sense of pressure in making those dreams come about.

Bryan Royds, one of my first NLP trainers once mentioned some research that basically suggested that "We greatly over-estimate what we can do in 12 months and greatly under-estimate what we can achieve in two to three years". I don't know which research he was referring to - it was about 20 years ago. But I have found this idea really useful in my own life since I first heard this comment.

It's that problem with New Year's Resolutions - we think we are going to turn everything round in twelve months. I've learned that any goal really worth achieving can sometimes take several goes to bring it about. For example, I wanted to become a Transforming Communication Course instructor when I first did the course in 2009. It only needed to take a few months to make it happen. But life threw up some challenges - my city was plagued by major earthquakes, I found myself the main caregiver for an elderly parent who was terminally ill, and my time was taken up with that, full time teaching, and earthquake repairs. But in 2017 I finally got accredited and ran my first course. It only took 8 years. But I got there! And I learned a lot of other valuable things along the way.

When something is important to you, allow yourself to do what it takes and allow the time it takes, for it is in the process of talking about and making a goal happen, rather than the attainment of it, that real joy and learning can be found. Joy can be robbed by putting pressure on ourselves, by saying "I should have done this by now".

Instead, notice what other lessons life has shown you along the way. And trust the process.

5. Get a diary that works for you!

For me, my whole body calms down if I can see the whole week in front of me. It allows me to gauge my energy. Before making an appointment, I run my finger over the days and notice if my gut clenches with concern or eases with a sense of rightness and confidence. I may not have a logical reason to schedule the car mechanic for Thursday instead of Wednesday, but I've learned to trust my gut and listen to my body. If I don't, that appointment usually has to be changed anyway, or other things crop up on that day and add to the sense of pressure and overwhelm. Also, I tried just using my online calendar, but found I need a paper one. So now I just take time each day to write the online appointments clients book in into my paper diary where I also have space for my to do lists etc.

For other people they like to have a day-in-view diary and just take things one day at a time.

It's important to notice which adds lightness to your being and which produces a sense of heaviness. Recently I read a suggestion online to only put three things down on your to do list each day. I've adapted that by having a general to do list at the back of my diary - once I've written something down it's easier to remember to do it. Next time I am in town walking past the stationery shop, I see a stack of printer paper on sale and say to myself "oh, that's right, I was going to buy some" and then I can do it right then and there without having to schedule a time in to do it. But as for scheduled items, I find it is useful to only keep it to one or two. That's still ten things a week! Thirty things a month! And lots of time off in between.

6. Conversation in your head – "I've got all this stuff to do"

Big picture people often use vague language when they are talking to themselves. Self talk like this produces a sensation of overwhelm in the body because it directs the mind to focus on everything, instead of one or two things. The feelings we experience arise as a result of our mental imagery - so if you have a picture in your mind of all the things on your to do list and it's swirling around, part of your mind will be asking "How can I get all this done by tomorrow?". So it's really useful to reduce those mental images down to one or two, and send the others to the distance. That helps to calm the emotions within the body. "Which one is most important to me right now"? or "What's one small, easy thing I can do right now?" helps your mind locate your next fun, motivating or relaxed next step.

7. Vision – narrow focus instead of wide

When your vision is focussed narrowly in front of you it activates the fight-flight-freeze part of your brain (the amygdala). This can elevate your pulse rate because narrow focus is what we are wired to use when we need to get out of a life or death situation - it activates the survival instinct.

One way to counteract this is to slow your breathing right down and notice what is in your peripheral or sideways vision whilst you are staring straight ahead with a soft focus in your eyes. If you do this for about two minutes - you can wiggle the fingers of both hands out to the side - you may notice you hear more sounds around you. The mind calms down and you can start to think more clearly and creatively because you have access to all of your mind, not just the survival part. You can access more options and have a greater sense of choice.

8. Which thing will affect the others – grouping

It's common with overwhelm to think that each thing on our to do list is unrelated to anything else AND that each thing is equally important. When we get in a more resourceful state, however, and ask some differently worded questions, more clarity and calm can arise. For example, instead of asking "How am I going to get through all this?" we might instead put things down on paper. Stephanie Philp, an NLP coach suggests that we list each item inside a circle and then ask ourselves a different question like "Which one of these, if done, would make doing the others easier?".

What people commonly find is that if they got the dishwasher fixed, it would free up time to get their paperwork done as well as help the kids with homework. Then they would also feel more able to clear out the garage which would mean they could get one car off the driveway which would reduce stress and save time in the morning when they need to drop the kids to school.... and so on. Sometimes it's not that they don't have money for the dishwasher, but that they feel it's a waste of money, or that they shouldn't spend money on a luxury item - in this case, it's about turning on "permission" and doing a process to clear a limiting belief about the easy and joy they deserve in life.


What can you say to yourself, differently now, to ease pressure and overwhelm? Are you doing what's important to you, or is there fear about what others will think of you if you don't meet their expectations? Which thing could I tackle now, which, if done, would impact positively on some of the other things on my to do list? What might be my next fun or relaxing or motivating step? Is my to do list actually related to my real life dreams, or someone elses?

If you have any questions, feel free to email me Remember, a free half hour coaching session is often enough to get us unstuck and on our way if some of the suggestions above don't quite do the trick!

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