Overwhelm is one of the biggest and most elusive causes of chronic stress. It can slowly creep up on us, over months and years as we do battle with the intensity of modern day life. It can show up in all sorts of different ways, depending on the situation. And it can come and go, so on the good days we are so relieved we are feeling a little better, that we shrug it off.
So sometimes, it can be hard to spot! We might think its depression, or fatigue, or old age, or the menopause. And most of the time, we park the whole lot in the ‘ this is completely normal’ box. Until we get sick. Or we burn out. Or something else happens, that forces us to face the music.
WHAT DOES OVERWHELM LOOK LIKE ?
Always being on the go.
Feeling like you’re on the hamster wheel of life.
That to-do list that you just never seem to get on top of…….no matter how hard you try.
Feeling like it’s an impossible task.
I can’t work it out.
I can’t stop worrying.
You find it almost impossible to switch off.
Feeling like you have failed before you have even started.
If any of these are you right now, then you most definitely need to read on!
So why do we let ourselves be this busy? Why do we line ourselves up for this amount of intensity of life?
WHAT DRIVES US INTO OVERWHELM?
There are lots of reasons and they are nearly all to do with wanting to be a good and valuable human being!
☝We feel we let people down if we don’t do it all.
☝We want to good at what we do: being a mum, a colleague, a volunteer, a team member.
☝We value hard work, contribution, and perform.
☝We want to make a difference.
☝We want to feel like life has meaning and purpose
☝We want to be awesome!!
☝We don’t want to let anyone down.
All of these beliefs, values and desires are what drive us forwards, at an ever increasing pace.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MYSELF?
When was the last time you sat down with your feet up and feeling totally happy and relaxed? When was the last time you felt confident in the knowledge that all your work is done and all the loose ends are tied up?
When was the last time you knew that nothing more needs to be taken care of?
For most of us that’s a distant memory!!
So how can we help ourselves? First, we need to understand the difference between a busy, purposeful life that allows you to thrive vs a life that is setting you up for overwhelm, stress and potentially burnout.
And secondly, to get to this state of organised bliss, you need to get good at spotting those early warning signs!
THE 3 STAGES of OVERWHELM
Overwhelm doesn’t just arrive one day, like chicken pox. It’s something that evolves over time. And so it won’t surprise you that it builds up in stages. Like this:
In the early stages of overwhelm, we simply up the pace. We work harder, longer, faster. We might cut back on our sleep, or doing things for ourselves, to make time for all that stuff that has to be done. You are less available for your friends and family. But you are enjoying and coping with stepping up your game. Life is simply busy and full on. You feel like you are making waves!
In the next stage, all that hard work and extra effort starts to take it toll. You feel tired, achy and exhausted. Life is losing its colour. You seem to catch every cough and sniffle that is going round. And the months of erosion on your selfcare are really starting to show. You put on weight, you crave carbs, your sleep is disturbed or restless, and you can’t remember that time you saw the gym. For women in this phase, struggling with periods or menopause symptoms can really take their toll.
3 Blow out
By this stage you are in full overwhelm. You just can’t do it anymore. You’ve given everything you’ve got and you are running on empty. Your confidence is hanging by a thread and you just don’t feel like you are you anymore. You’re tired, depressed and not even a holiday can pull you out of this one.
These stages are not fixed, and the boundaries can be blurred, but it gives you an idea of the journey of overwhelm, if left unchecked.
So let’s get really savvy and spot some of the common signs of overwhelm.
THE 7 EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF OVERWHELM
1 Regularly feeling stressed or distressed.
The emphasis here is on the regularly. We all get stressed at times, but constantly feeling on edge is something quite different. When the stress becomes too much we start to resent the pressure that there is always something more to do. That we are never ‘done’. Usually we tend to ignore it or override feeling like this.
2 No time for friends or family.
Are you one of those people who has to organise meeting a friend for coffee weeks in advance?
Do you have to timetable in a ‘date night’ or else you would just be passing ships in the night? Or do you plan ‘quality time’ with your kids, or else it just wouldn’t happen?
Yes, of course there is a certain amount of organisation to be done. As they say: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. But if everything in your life has to be timetabled, planned and arranged.… just take note! And keep a careful eye on yourself that you are not heading out to overwhelm.
3 Backlog of little job and chores
The next ‘sign of overwhelm’ is more practical. Things starts to pile-up such as administrative tasks, unpaid bills, housework, DIY. These are the things that keep getting shoved to the bottom of the to-do list, because they are not as important as important, urgent or interesting as all the other things on that list. This means that you start to lose things, the house start to look a bit neglected and unloved, the car MOT is suddenly overdue and so on. All those little things, that mean we are not quite on top of our game.
4 Your selfcare gets moved to the bottom of the to-do list.
Pulling back on your self care is another early sign of overwhelm. Placing the needs of others, of our jobs, of the ‘Greater good’ etc before our own is risky business. We all have a need for rest and sleep, for good nurturing food, for exercise, and for meaningful time with those we love.
5 Lose your mental and emotional flexibility
As the overwhelm deepens, we start to lock down and become more rigid, in our thinking and in our emotions. This means we are less able think creatively, solve problems or see other points of view.
6 Self-worth and self-confidence
As we get more overwhelmed, tired and feel more isolated, our confidence can take a real nose dive. We become harsh, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Instead of recognizing our need for rest, ease, play and joy, we tell ourselves off! I should try harder! I should be more productive! I should be more original. I should be better than this. And guess what this does to your feeling of confidence or self worth?
7 Tired and fed up.
Eventually everything comes together in such a way that we lose our energy our joy and vitality. It’s a combination of everything, and it all started with such good intentions!!
IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS!
The good news is that it is perfectly possible to actively address overwhelm. It is a process and it involves taking a close look at things like:
👉What is really and truly important and valuable to us,
👉Being ultra clear on what needs to be on that to-do list and what doesn’t
👉Understanding that time spent on self care and self nurture is as important as how we look after others.
YOU are your most powerful and important asset in your life.
YOU are worth investing in.
YOU are worth taking the very best care of.
I hope this article has given you some insights into how and why we can end up in overwhelm, and that you will look out for those early warning signs of overwhelm. Dont leave your health to chance.