When you are overwhelmed, you are experiencing intense emotions you don’t have the capacity to fully manage or process. Most people are overwhelmed by negative emotions, like anxiety, fear, anger or shame. These feelings leave little room to figure out what is the next best step. When we are overwhelmed, performing every-day tasks is difficult – and it compromises our ability to act rationally, remember things, solve problems or think.
The “overwhelm” has physical, cognitive, and behavioral effects. Our bodies can feel shaky, or have those anxious sensations such as a racing heart or an upset stomach or that antsy skin-crawling sensation. Cognitively, we can be slower to process information and even become confused and our judgment can be affected. Our behaviors can also be impacted – we may eat more or less, we may treat others poorly, we may procrastinate or isolate ourselves. In short – just feel and act in a way far from our best selves.
Overwhelm is a significant issue for women at work and about a third of us seek professional help to deal with overwhelming stress.
Some strategies for dealing with overwhelm are:
- Make time for the emotion, as we know, strong emotions usually only last a few minutes
- Consider how the emotion feels in your body
- Consider the emotion in the context it arose, was is it a reasonable response to the situation or was it really about something else
- Emotions are messages, which may be as simple as being tired or hungry – or something much deeper
- Be careful not to “grind” on this think piece – sometimes we just need to let things go
- Be really kind to yourself – we are not alone on overwhelm – it is a common experiences
Sometimes calling a friend can help manage and strategize through overwhelm. Kirsten has “borrowed a brain” from a friend when hers was not working. Sometimes completely mixin’ it up can also help – like heading out the door for a walk in the fresh air – or even just in different surroundings. We can change overwhelm into something different – or at least alleviate its intensity – a critical piece to ease, meaning and joy at work.