Learning from Overwhelm

The past month has been incredibly challenging as the feeling of overwhelming stress crashed upon me. There were physical manifestations and mental lows.

Many of my friends seem to suffer from this especially during the fall. The days get shorter, the temperature chillier, and for those of us who do not love winter, the season of mush and sleet looms drearily ahead. Aches and pains get worse, fatigue sets in, and the day after a night where sleep is allusive, mini despair and spiraling start: I am tired. Why am I always tired? I didn’t get {such and such} done. I should have gotten it done. Why didn’t {so and so} do it? They don’t care about me. My back is sore. I want to nap. I really shouldn’t nap. I should doing {this and that}. Oh look at how together that person looks. I’m such a loser. I can’t make my life work. And so on.

The slide is a steep ride right down to: I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like where this is going. If I get any more anxious or depressed, I’m going to end up at that horrible moment at the (mental) cliff, the precipice, that line I really, really don’t want to cross.

So we try all sorts of things:

  • meditation (can’t because brain is chaotically in madness and won’t quiet down)
  • distraction (helps a bit, but is only temporary)
  • eating (helps a lot, but also temporary and has side effects that have to be undone at a later date)
  • yelling (sort of a distraction and valve to let off steam, but temporary too and hurts relationships)

The only way past it is through it. I hear that a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. So many things just start sounding like clichés and sound bites. But today, I had an ah ha moment. Through it means feeling it, not running away from it. Through it means listening to it, not ignoring it. Through it means experiencing it to learn from it.

Okay then. I asked myself: What does my stress tell me? What are my feelings trying to tell me?

Emotions are what we feel after we compare our Expectations with the Reality. If the outcome is good, we feel positive. If the outcome is bad, we sad or mad.

Then I wondered: WHY do I think my emotions are trying to tell me something? And who is it exactly that is using my emotions to talk to me? Is it their language?

My theory: My body is host to so many ecosystems that make it possible for me to function. And when I feel overwhelmed, it is because what I want to get done is more than what is possible to get done with the systems in place and the resources needed. So the systems start shutting down or slowing down to rest. And the systems that haven’t done so start to bear the burden even more and then they start to shut down or slow down. As different ones respond at different times, different feelings emerge – they are the symptoms of what is happening.

My conscious mind is governed by thoughts that I try to control. And it will say things like: Suck it up. Don’t be such a baby. Just do it. You can do this. Don’t be lazy. You can’t afford to stop.

My subconscious mind is the one who is listening to the systems and making sense of it all. It knows when it’s time to stop, secure and start. It can sense when a system is breaking down. It can see when a system is slowing down.

If I listen carefully when I’m overwhelmed, I think I hear:

  • Rest and retreat
  • Recover and repair
  • Reflect and remember
  • Restart

It certainly feels a bit counterintuitive to slow down when everything in my conscious mind is screaming DO MORE! GET IT DONE! HURRY UP! But, when I do, I realize that my subconscious has been working on a solution that may be more creative, efficient or enjoyable. Or it’s trying to warn me of potential roadblocks ahead that need to be considered.

In any case, I’m learning not to panic now when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning to just stop and let the chaos run its course, come apart and then come together again. It’s very hard and I’ve only tried this a couple of times, but inevitably after I emerge from the overwhelm with some energy or headspace to productively handle something that has been bothering me.

2 thoughts on “Learning from Overwhelm

  1. I think we all have a tremendously long laundry list of things that need to get done. I understand the feeling of anxiety when we just don’t have the physical or mental energy to get it done. But one thing I do know is that tomorrow is another day, and unless it is a matter of life or death it can get done another time. You will not be loved any less and you are not a bad or lazy person. Choosing to hang out with family or friends, reading a book, painting whatever is just as important to our well being as getting “things done”. It took me a long time to learn this but it so true.
    Love you my friend
    janet

    Liked by 1 person

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