Five Steps to Stay Resilient and Escape Overwhelm

Since I have a significant level of business and entrepreneurial experience, I thought starting a new one would be quite straight forward. How difficult could it be? I’ve done it all before, I just need to decide on my strategy, marketing strategy, set up the finance, the legal aspects, the systems, then implement. On top of that I need to create and send out a regular newsletter, meet people, find speaking opportunities, get referrals, master the art of and post often on social media, write and post regular blogs, record and post regular vlogs and podcasts, maintain my creativity and always remember that if ever all that is achieved, the best speakers have written a book.

Do you ever have the feeling as if you’re running down hill so fast that your legs are going to come out from under you?  Or standing in a snow storm getting confused and losing your bearings in the swirl of snowflakes? Or maybe like an unattached astronaut spinning into the oblivion of space with no gravity to keep them anchored.

I’ve learned that I’m not alone and we’re certainly not the first to experience overwhelm and the debilitating mindset that can come with it.  It’s small wonder that history came up with all those wonderful phrases as we headed past overwhelm and into panic mode such as, ’gather yourself together’, ‘you’re all over the place’, ‘sort yourself out’, ‘get a grip’, ‘feeling scattered’, ‘in over your head’. It’s an age old problem, a human condition; and those phrases have been used for generations and probably been said with the best of intentions as was the sharp slap delivered to shock you out of your panic.

What starts out as only thoughts, gathers momentum and suddenly we’re experiencing more than mental response. It’s physical as well. Our hearts beat faster, we’re feeling nauseous and need the loo, feeling on high alert, starting to fidget and breaking out in a sweat.  As our adrenal response springs into action and the worse our symptoms feel so the brain switches from analytical to responsive in preparation to fight, flee and survive. Who hasn’t wanted to run away or hide when feeling overwhelmed, after all it’s what duvets were designed for! 

When your brain is in reactive mode it gets stuck in a cycle of reacting to the overwhelm, the more it reacts, the more it experiences and so the behaviour augments and we’re cast out like that spinning astronaut with no gravitational pull, swept into oblivion with no escape. 

Fortunately, these days, the face slaps are outlawed (or less socially acceptable) but there’s still always that one person with the helpful advice to, 'Just do it'. When I’m in the middle of feeling overwhelmed and suffering from self-inflicted mental and physical torture, believe me when I say that if I knew how, I'd be the first to, ‘Just do it’. I’m in awe of those who can indeed respond to the simple command but when I’m in the middle of overwhelm, the thoughts and queries are coming at me too fast. I’m way past seeing what needs to be done and I certainly can’t prioritise. It is difficult to “just do", anything.

When you can’t ‘Just do it’, here are the 5 steps that you can do: 

1     Stop - Recognise where you’re at and hit pause. Just stop. When all the doubts start to jump into your head that you can’t stop, that you haven’t got time, that you’re going to fail, that people are relying on you, listen to all of those, but stop anyway. Just stop what you’re doing. Acknowledge that you’ve experienced this before, this is what our brains do, the human brain traps us in loops that we need to find ways to break out of, acknowledge all that but stop anyway.

If you’ve ever witnessed a trapped animal trying to free itself, it’s a pitiful sight. With some kind of super physical energy, they repeat the same action time and again, more often than not failing time and again until either collapsing into an exhausted heap or finally breaking free, wide eyed, manic and in shock. It’s a natural programming of survival to give our all when under extreme duress, the tragic thing is that it’s not unusual to hear about animals who once having freed themselves and escaped are to be discovered not having gone very far, to curl up and die as a result of the massive stress overload. 

The tragic thing for humans is that we react equally to both real and perceived threat in the same way. Your body is already reacting as if your life is in danger, so stop. Even though you’re doing everything in your power to get out of this, just stop. 

2     Take a breath - this is the fastest way possible to detach yourself from your state of panic. You probably won’t have noticed that your breathing has changed in response to the perceived threat, your body is already in peak state to fight or flee. Bring your attention to your belly and breath, five slow, deep and purposeful breaths would be optimum but one is enough to help you detach.  Ground yourself and take a breath.

3     Change your state - physically walk away, if you can go outside, GO! Completely change your sensory experience. Actively seek out a change in temperature, sound, feeling, taste, the view. You’ll probably resist this suggestion because you really don’t have time, but in my experience, we have to press the restart button. Switching to social media doesn’t work, switching your thinking only is not enough, the stop and restart has to happen on all levels. At the very least walk into another space and make yourself a drink, put some upbeat music on, move away and put some distance between yourself and the feeling of overwhelm.

4     Reach out - have a conversation with someone. If you want to be typically British and only talk about the weather, do just that. If you want to discuss where you’re at, choose your confidents with care. Choose someone who will be able to listen with no judgement and witness you as your storm plays out. In my experience, someone who’s going to tell you what to do even with the best intentions will add to, rather than lessen the overwhelm.

5     Get it out of your head - Start writing and empty your brain on to a page or start speaking and record yourself. Ask yourself why you’re feeling overwhelmed and work furiously, I find that as I get one point out of my head, just like those onion layers, so another will reveal itself to me. 

For your own sanity, piece of mind and progress, get that confusion out. I like to see things in front of me, so I write, if you prefer to hear things, talk away. Keep going and keep asking until you feel that it’s all emptied out, I know that I’ve reached this point when I can’t think of anything more to say. More importantly, I know I’ve reached this point when I suddenly notice myself sighing or feel tension in my shoulders, in the storm of overwhelm when my brain is eating itself, it’s good to remember that I have a whole body attached.

 

So you stopped; you’ve breathed, activated your five senses, become aware of your body, reached out and had a chat with someone else, now you’re ready to take action to get past the overwhelm and achieve your goal.

 

Return to the notes or journal entry you made, or listen to your audio recording. Those wild thoughts have been tamed and now need to be organised. What’s urgent and important?  What’s the one thing that you can recognize needs prioritising? If there’s more than one, grade them on a scale of 1-5 . How important? How urgent? What needs your attention first? Like all things, one step at a time. 

Pay attention. Can you feel the echoes of overwhelm begin to rise? If this is the case, name and knowledge it, ‘Oh, I recognise this feeling’, ‘here it is back again’. 

The fact that you are aware of it and can thus detach from it means that you’ve reached your goal. Feel the feelings and know that it’s just brain chemistry. 

Take a deep breath, remember you are indeed resilient, and get to work.