This is the first in a two part series. You can find Part Two here.
The Christmas decorations are up. Have you noticed? Well, maybe not at my house (or probably not yours either). But at the Big Box Stores? Yep, at midnight on October 31st, the Halloween stuff disappeared and Santa arrived. The irony of this exchange of one kind of scary tradition for another isn’t lost on me. Yes, dear reader, the countdown to the holidays has begun and the season of impending overwhelm is upon us.
Oddly, I have a bit of a specialty in overwhelm—both in experiencing it and helping clients develop some resilience to it. For the rest of November, I’m going to divulge some of my secrets in this series of posts entitled The Overwhelm Diaries, sharing with you what I’ve learned about overwhelm, and its mommy dearest: anxiety.
In The Overwhelm Diaries, you’ll learn:
- How to identify overwhelm and anxiety – In other words: What are the red flag moments that signal impending overwhelm and anxiety?
- What tools to use to ground yourself in the immediate moment – One of the most important survival mechanisms you can develop is the ability to get fully present.
- Steps you can take to underwhelm your life – I’ve discovered some powerful tactics for toning down my sensitivity to overwhelm and anxiety; I want to share those with you.
OK, so let’s dive in with Part One!
What are the red flag moments that signal impending overwhelm and anxiety?
If you’ve attended one of my workshops on the topic of coping with overwhelm and overload, you already know that I make a distinction between these two. Overwhelm is not another term for overload. Overwhelm is characterized by frantic rushing, moving faster and faster in an attempt to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of unrelenting demands on your schedule and your energy.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is good old fashioned fear. Fear is a felt emotion, not just an intellectual experience. When I feel anxiety, it shows up in me as:
- Dread: I have a sense of impending doom. Often, I feel especially strong dread in the evenings, just before bedtime.
- Insomnia: My difficulties with sleep hit in the middle of the night when I awaken at one or two in the morning and can’t return to sleep. Instead, my thinking turns into an unrelenting litany of worry.
- Obsessive planning: One of my all-time favorites! Deep down, I believe that if I can come up with a sufficiently detailed and ironclad plan, my anxiety will diminish. When I start craving a new plan, that’s not a good sign for my emotional health.
- Excessive frustration: I feel deeply impatient. Little irritations suddenly seem immense. Small inconveniences are almost impossible to tolerate.
- Reactivity: As the dread and insomnia take their toll on my coping skills, my darker responses to frustration get closer to the surface. The worst of these is anger. I get very angry, first with whomever is irritating me at the moment and shortly thereafter, with myself.
Anxiety’s symptoms eventually erode my coping behaviors to the point that whatever skills and tools of productivity (i.e., software, methods, approaches) I’ve been using to hold my life together are no longer helpful. That’s when overwhelm sets in. I go from managing the pace of my life to becoming a victim of life’s demands. I start to rush and to hurry. With my inability to keep up, I feel powerless and I feel shame.
Of course, these twin demons of anxiety and overwhelm can descend at any time of life or any season of the year. Personally, I’m coming out of a season of anxiety + overwhelm that was brought on by fall (the shortening fall days are always troublesome for me) coupled with the pressures of completing the final details of my book. However, the last two months of the year are often times of heightened anxiety and overwhelm for many people especially with the pressures of traditional holidays, the demands of year-end work duties, and dark and cold winter days.
I suggest you take a few minutes to identify your own warning signs. What are some of your own signs and symptoms of anxiety or overwhelm? Anxiety, especially, can hide in plain sight. If you don’t mind sharing in the comments, you’ll be sure to help someone else see themselves and gain some insight into their responses to the pressures of life.
In Part Two of The Overwhelm Diaires, we’ll explore some tools I use to ground myself in the immediate moment. These are some of the most important survival mechanisms I’ve discovered that help me to gain some sanity when I get hit by an especially strong blast of anxiety or an intense wave of overwhelm.