A sense of overwhelm is no fun. The dread creeps in. Your plate is so full you have no idea where to start. You might even be hiding from what needs to get done, falling into stagnation and inaction. Overwhelm might be my least favorite feeling, really.
In the last few years, I’ve made a real aim to keep myself out of overwhelm. Not putting too much on my plate. Maintaining a sweet self-care practice. Setting and maintaining clear, respectful boundaries. And remembering (often) my true priorities, can help a lot.
But what happens when you find yourself in the midst of overwhelm?
You don’t have to give up and give in. Below, I break down 5 powerful questions to ask yourself to dissolve your overwhelm and reclaim peace, clarity, and calm.
What is going on right now, right here?
Be as specific as possible: what is actually the present-moment experience of being in your body and mind, right now? What is actually happening in this moment and in this place?
Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stuck, or at my wit’s end, I pause, take a breath, and ask myself this question. The goal of the question is to cultivate present-moment awareness.
Often, overwhelm is a product of thoughts about either the past or the future. Bringing yourself back to this current moment and assessing the real state of things can be a useful tool for bringing yourself out of the headspace that is disturbing your thoughts.
Take deep breaths. Feel your hands and feet. Notice what is happening.
What’s actually on my plate, in my life, right now?
List-making has always been a really useful tool for me. This question helps me to create a list framework to really see: what have I committed to? What’s my capacity? Where can I take a break?
Clarifying what I actually need to do and what’s on my plate helps me to break through the brain fog of overwhelm. What I often encounter is that I either:
- Am not as busy or overwhelmed as I initially felt.
- Know what my next steps are.
Even if there is a lot on my plate, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by it. Knowing every single thing that I’m responsible for either takes the sting out of the feeling altogether. Or it gives me an action plan. Either way, I don’t need to feel overwhelmed. I know what to do.
How can I break this into bite-sized pieces or baby steps?
Another “action plan” question, this one helps me to discern where I’m making things a little more intimidating or complicated than they need to be. Once I know what’s on my plate, I can break each of those things into smaller pieces or baby steps toward the final outcome.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and there’s a big task on your list, break it down into its smallest pieces. Then, simply take one baby step at a time.
By asking this question, we have the opportunity to see projects not as intimidating, but simply comprised of a number of small (totally doable) tasks. The best news? Each of these tasks, in their bite-sized-ness, ives us the experience of having accomplished something once their done.
By breaking through the feeling of frozen overwhelm, we can feel empowered in our forward momentum. Then, even if the whole thing feels like a lot, we only need to do the next task. This take perseverance, but it doesn’t need to be a source of overwhelm.
What intention do I want to cultivate in meeting this moment?
Perhaps a little less practical and a little more woo, I find this question invaluable when meandering through overwhelm. One of the trickiest things about overwhelm can be feeling out of control. Even if we can’t control our circumstances, our intentions allow us to regain control over our inner state.
We can choose the tone we want to set. We choose the energy we want to embody. Through our intentions, we choose how we want to show up for what’s in front of us. Do we want to show up determined and compassionate? Or do we want to show up resentful and annoyed? (I bet you can guess which I would choose.)
This question often jolts us out of the treadmill of overwhelm and allows us to choose something else. This in and of itself can shift our relationship to what feels overwhelming. And it may even dissolve the overwhelm itself.
What do I need to feel nourished so that I can move through this?
Oh, such a good question!
Sometimes, when we encounter overwhelm, the tendency can be to feel shame or guilt. The result of either one of these might be to punish ourselves for having found ourselves in this situation. It can be counter-intuitive when we feel overwhelmed to take a break or have a snack.
But what if those things might help us return with a fresh perspective, ready to meet the challenge head on? This isn’t about avoidance or burying our heads in the sand. Instead, it’s a compassionate recognition that we are, in fact, not robots. While we are all aiming to do our best, sometimes we need some support in order to rise to our best.
Maybe getting some fresh air, having a mini-dance party to a favorite song, or having a cup of tea can help realign our energy. Then, when we return, we’re feeling less cerebral, and more nourished, so we can meet the task at hand with our very best.
The upshot is, getting curious and inquisitive can stop overwhelm in its tracks – or at the very least shift your orientation to it. The next time you’re feeling it, try these questions for yourself!