Overwhelm: What’s Really Going On?

You overslept and skipped breakfast. Your co-worker just gave you a bad time about a deadline you missed.  Your daughter’s recital is tomorrow, and you can’t take time off until this piece is complete….

So much to DO!!

The world seems to be spinning faster and faster.  Things you need to keep track of have increased exponentially, so much so that we now need technology to help manage our attention and tasks.  Even choosing toothpaste is insanely complex with so many options that you don’t know where to begin.

And when technology came on board we were told our work would become so efficient that we would have more free time than ever!  Didn’t quite work out that way, did it?

Demands on our attention have skyrocketed. 

For the millions of years that humans have been on the earth, our worldview was shaped by scarcity.  Anything you needed you had to make, find or grow yourself.  There was no grocery store to pick up a slab of meat – you had to track it, kill it, clean it and transport it back to the fire before you had a meal.

Even knowledge was scarce.  When writing was created ~5,000 years ago, it was a rare and wonderful thing.  During the Middle Ages, books were scarce because they were so labor intensive to create.  And who could read anyway?  Our brains didn’t have to deal with massive information because it didn’t exist.

Today, we are bombarded at every turn with information and choices, while our brains, instincts and social norms are wired for lack.  We automatically say yes to something we don’t need because, hey, you may never get that chance again.  We automatically agree to help someone when the real lack is available time, not social connection.

Bottom line, we make choices based on scarcity then feel overwhelmed because we have overloaded our brains with unrealistic expectations.

Overwhelm is a feeling, not a condition. 

The truth is:  overwhelm has nothing to do with being busy or having too many choices.   It’s a “be-ing” state of mind not a “do-ing too much” state of activity.

You can feel busy when there’s not much to do and you can feel relaxed in the midst of chaos.

That’s good news.

By paying attention to our feelings first and making adjustments to support them, we can make different choices.  Instead of “Sure, I’ll bake 4 dozen cupcakes for the class party!” you’ll check in with your feelings (I don’t even LIKE to bake) and make a better decision.  (I can send paper plates and napkins.)

If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know how to choose what will support you, this blog post from last fall offers a different way to think about it.  It also helps to get yourself a coach!

I’d love to hear your side of the story.  What is it about overwhelm that has you in its grip?  What would you tell someone about how to handle their overwhelm?


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