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Panic rests a fist on your throat, someone steals all the oxygen out of the air, and puts the clock into hyperdrive so there’s no way you’ll get done what you oh, so need to get done right now.
This, we know, is overwhelm. Classic flavour.
It’s nasty. It’s familiar. It’s why we have a meditation app and pop CBD. We are clued up, aware, and ready for you, overwhelm.
Not to be beaten, the people over at overwhelm HQ have created a more subtle flavour. It’s so intriguingly different that we might not even realise that we’re sucking on it. It’s Overwhelm Lite.
Overwhelm Lite may not announce itself as loudly as Classic Overwhelm, but there are still signs:
>> snapping the heads off our loved ones.
>> feeling let down or hoodwinked by people, coaches, or mentors who we’ve had a good relationship with up till now.
>> wondering how we ended up with such annoying, boring friends.
>> deciding that our work is stupid anyway so we may as well rewatch “Madmen.” All of it.
>> a constant itch to change our job, our partner, our kids, if we could. Something needs to change, and we don’t care what.
These are all pointers that our system is overloaded and looking to dump responsibilities, fast. No matter what the cost.
Whichever version of overwhelm has darkened our door, here are five simple ways to send it packing:
Breathe. Don’t roll your eyes at me. The first thing we forget to do when overwhelm strikes is breathe. Science people have proven that six deliberate, deep, and steady breaths can restore you to yourself. So stop, sit if you can, and slowly, take six breaths.
That’s the time it takes for your lungs to send a message to your brain that everything is okay. Then your brain will tell the rest of your body. Then, all of you will be calm.
Drink water. I know this sounds like simple advice and you know it already and yadhayadhaya. I have worked with kids for so many years that I’ve learned when a child is having a meltdown in the afternoon for “no reason,” they are thirsty. One glass of water will snap them out of it. Our bodies work the same way (mostly) as a small child’s. If we are thirsty, we can go into emotional meltdown, and we won’t know why.
If you’re lashing out at your mates, about to quit your dream job, or rolling around on the floor crying for your Bo-Bear, stop. Have a glass of water.
Always carry emergency food. Back when I became a vegan, the London food scene was a different landscape, and I was often caught out running from meeting to meeting having not found anything to eat. Overwhelm and I became well acquainted. Until I started carrying emergency food.
Whether it’s a little packet of nuts, a protein bar, or a box of mixed berries, keeping your blood sugar from nose-diving into your shoes will help you break up with overwhelm.
Do one thing at a time. This is grand advice, isn’t it? We all know that the main cause of overwhelm is feeling like we have to achieve everything all at the same time—now, while our minds are everywhere except now. Our monkey mind swings between the branches of past failures and imagined future disasters, and we just want to throw the laptop out of the window.
So, have a snack, drink some water, breathe, and then try to only do one thing at a time. Turn off your phone, set an out-of-office, silence email notifications, and focus. Every time you switch tabs on your computer your concentration dips for up to five minutes.
Multitasking is a myth. One. Thing. At. A. Time.
Get out of here. My mum, one of the wisest women on the planet, has insisted for decades that a good walk will “blow away the cobwebs.” As a carefree child, I had no clue what that meant, but the older, busier, and more desk-bound I get, the more I get out and blow those cobwebs away.
The cobwebs in my mind, heart, and body need a good, brisk walk. On days when I’m smart, I take a preemptive strike against overwhelm and take a lunchtime walk. When I’m not, I stop a surprise visit by getting myself out of there the minute I feel like I work with idiots—another telltale sign of Overwhelm Lite.
Walking might not be your thing, but physical activity is the key. Do push-ups, sit-ups, or jump squats until you physically can’t anymore. Make five sun salutations. Put on a track that makes you shout “Tune!” and throw shapes that haven’t been a thing since 1997. Do whatever it takes to get out of there.
Finally, a sneaky bonus here, forgive yourself for being overwhelmed. It happens to all of us. Honest.
The game here isn’t to never feel emotions or react to life, it’s how to best take care of yourself when you do. So you can get back to being the you you’re meant to be.