Five Steps to Overcome Overwhelm Using Mind-Body Awareness

Little MermaidA number of years ago, one of my colleagues asked me to help her deal with feelings of overwhelm and the resulting judgmental voices that left her feeling very bad about herself. I am sharing the story she wrote and the steps she moved through to get to the other side of overwhelm. I know that many of you deal with feelings of overwhelm on a daily basis and I am confident there is a way for you to shift yourself out of that pattern. The Story

Overwhelm has plagued me since the first day at my first job. That first job was being a mermaid at Marineland and when I stood in my damp concrete dressing room, under the fish tank, I hyperventilated. I had to get into the cold wet costume (put the shells here, the tail there), clean my breathing tube, review which creatures to avoid, which I could pet, make sure the sharks had been fed, and wave. Always with a smile.

I think, “If only I knew then what real overwhelm is!” But, in looking back, I know it was “real overwhelm”, because it felt very real. That feeling of overwhelm continued in a very real way when I started my next job in a law office and the next in an ad agency. As real as it felt when I walked into my office this morning and saw the piles of files, and the To-Do list, and my overflowing email inbox. I am overwhelmed!

The Biz Diva heard my wail across the miles. And she had the solution. Really. It's not that complex, but as you may have guessed, she had a different spin. She didn’t tell me to get those tools or try that system. The Biz Diva said “Forget what you're thinking. What are you feeling?” What she taught me changed my life.

Five Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm

Step 1: Identify the sensations in your body. What are you feeling?

When you’re stuck in overwhelm, one feeling you’re likely having is self-judgment. You’re feeling bad about yourself. What you hear from your internal voice is: “If only if I was [smarter, better, quicker, made better decisions…add your judgment here] I wouldn’t feel this way.” Overwhelm is often about not being good enough.

Once you've identified the judgment, discover curiosity and wonder about the voice—whose is it? Where did it come from? Are the words true? Be open to the possibility that the voice is not accurate and does not determine how you should feel.

Step 2: Locate the discomfort in your body. Identify it, feel it, stay with it. It's not pleasant, but it's not going to kill you. I promise. The judgments and the sense of overwhelm actually protect you from experiencing the “real” discomfort. The real discomfort is whatever old story is attached to your negative thoughts and the feelings you use to beat yourself up with. Stepping into the core is the way through to the other side.

Step 3: Trust your intuition. Let your brain chatter recede to background noise. Stay with your feelings, even if it is difficult or painful. Ride the wave.

Step 4: Ask for help. Asking for help is a great way to come out of overwhelm. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, be real, and get the support you deserve.

Step 5: Look for the “aha” moment when you feel clarity in your body. When you feel the release of tension and your breath comes easily. Paying attention will gradually lead to relief and revelation.

If you put your focus on practicing body awareness when you are feeling overwhelmed, you can learn to move through those feelings with grace and ease. The result will be more calmness, more balance, more productivity and a sense of being in tune with yourself and your environment.