It’s hard to know what to do when you feel overwhelmed.
Feeling this way can be such a drag.
And drag you down.
And hold you back.
It feels like a fuzzy cloud to me…but not soft and cuddly. It’s fuzzy and amorphous…unclear…murky.
It’s just so….
I don’t know…
When do you feel overwhelmed?
Is it when you have too much to do?
Or is it when you don’t know what to do?
Overwhelm is so common in midlife. My clients tell me all kinds of reasons they feel overwhelmed, but in the end, they usually fall into these two categories: Confusion or Indecision.
When you are confused, you can feel overwhelmed.
Similarly, when you think you can’t make a decision, you can feel overwhelmed.
Feeling overwhelmed and confused are feelings that, just like any other feelings, are created by your thinking. For some odd reason, though, we tend to indulge in these feelings. It’s almost like we allow ourselves to wallow in them.
I actually don’t remember ever typing the word “wallow” before…that was kind of fun! “Wallow” means indulging in an unrestrained way…and it usually creates a pleasurable sensation. Interesting, right? Because you don’t often associate “overwhelm” with pleasure.
Overwhelm feels like the opposite of pleasure…but there’s more to it than you think.
Let’s walk through an example. Think about the last time you were confused about something, couldn’t make a decision and felt overwhelmed.
The first thing that came to mind for me was when I was taking a course that required me to create and promote a webinar from start to finish. I felt completely overwhelmed and confused about the technology. I had no clue what to do, where to start, what software to use and so on.
So, what did I do?
I procrastinated and did nothing.
What was my result? I didn’t produce the webinar.
I happened to be working with an extremely talented coach at the time, Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School (where I trained) and she helped me see what was going on in my mind.
She suggested I was indulging in overwhelm. I was so surprised and taken aback! I really didn’t understand because the reality was that I didn’t know how to do a webinar and it was stressing me out.
Brooke correctly pointed out that I wasn’t destined to be overwhelmed because of the webinar. The problem was what I was thinking about the webinar task. It was more than just thinking that I didn’t know how to do a webinar. I really thought that my lack of webinar know-how was what was creating the overwhelm and stress.
There was a thought behind that one. And this thought was creating my overwhelm.
This blew my mind.
What I realized was that the fact or the circumstance was my level of knowledge about the technology. But that’s not what was freaking me out.
It was my THOUGHTS about my level of knowledge, or lack thereof that was creating my feelings.
What was the thought?
The sneaky little thought that was behind my feelings was “I suck at technology.”
I can’t even tell you how many times a day I would think “I suck at technology.” It was like an automatic loop. And I have been thinking this thought for decades, about other techie things too (like the TV remotes).
When I thought about sucking at technology, I felt ignorant and overwhelmed. I felt confused about what to do. And I ended up doing nothing…which, of course, ultimately proved my thought that I sucked at technology.
You might be thinking why this was an indulgence.
The answer is because it kept me in my comfort zone of not knowing, not pushing myself, not evolving into someone who didn’t suck at technology.
This didn’t feel like “wallowing” but it was…..it was definitely more pleasurable to indulge in confusion and overwhelm instead of pushing myself out of it into discomfort.
This pattern of thinking went on and on until I was coached out of it with a baby step.
The first thing I had to do was to become of aware of what was going on up there in my mind.
Then, I had to change my thinking.
I couldn’t get my head around how to do this at first, because I still didn’t know how to create and run a webinar. I still felt overwhelmed by the whole thing. I didn’t understand how I could think differently if my level of knowledge didn’t change.
In other words, I didn’t see how I could think differently without changing the facts or the circumstance.
It’s so easy to say you understand the concept that facts are neutral and that it’s our thinking about the facts that creates our feelings. Until it’s about you, that is. I really had trouble seeing that even though I still didn’t understand how to run a webinar, I could start thinking differently about that fact. And if I wanted to feel differently, that’s exactly what I would have to do.
So I tried on a new thought.
“I’m learning to figure this out.”
WHAT????? This new thought changed everything!
When I thought, “I’m learning to figure this out,” I felt capable and motivated. I felt like I knew how to learn.
And then I took a small step. I began to learn.
The result? I figured it out and learned how to do a webinar. Of course this proved my thought.
Just like “wallow,” I’m not sure I’ve ever typed “duh” before.
But I digress. Here’s the bottom line.
The Secret to NOT feeling Overwhelmed
Become aware. Ask yourself why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. Take a close look at the thoughts behind your feelings.
Decide how you want to feel. Practice thinking a thought that creates this feeling. What feeling would you need to feel to do what you want to do? Find the thought.
Take a baby step. This first step is what you need to move forward and do something. The best way out of confusion and overwhelm is to make a decision and move forward.
Overwhelm is a super common feeling I coach my clients through. It got me thinking how I could help more people. This is what inspired me to create this worksheet called How to Defunkify Your Midlife Mood. It’s a GREAT place to start doing some of this work and help you feel less frustrated. You’ll be on the road to busting through and doing something – doing what you want!