My childhood summers were carefree ones. I stayed with my best friend at her beach house, and we spent our days running barefoot to the beach, taping (yep, it was that long ago!) songs from the radio and learning to bodyboard.
It took some practice. The waves were big enough to dump us, leaving us disorientated and not knowing which way was up. We had to learn to anticipate the wave as it came, to know when to jump on, and to paddle hard enough to stay afloat.
Overwhelm can feel like this. It's certainly a powerful enough experience to completely disorientate us, to leave us gasping and not sure how we might get through to the other side. But like a wave, we can learn to ride it. I've been dumped by the waves of overwhelm before, and know that enough waves one after the other can lead to longer term stress, anxiety and burnout. Learning to ride overwhelm is pivotal to staying afloat in our lives.
First, we need to become better at seeing it coming. For me, it creeps in by stealth through coping strategies like escapist TV/ social media, craving junk foods or feeling tired at the thought of what I feel I need to do. I now know these are my warning signs, and use them as a cue to cut back on projects and expectations, prioritise sleep and keep life simple.
Next, we learn our limits. I used to say that I had only 2 states at work - boredom or overwhelm. I always wanted more projects, more working parties and more clients to stay engaged and excited. But it was the finest line between engagement and becoming stressed and counter-productive. Too many projects and this adrenaline-junkie approach to life is intertwined with stress. The answer is not boredom! It lies in engaging more deeply rather than more broadly. Instead of flitting over 100 projects, deeply connect to a handful. Be present and practice mindfulness to draw fulfilment from life, rather than the pursuit of shiny objects.
We practice managing the expectations of others. I used to assume that those in both my personal and professional life expected me to bend over backwards for them, the way I expected this from myself. So imagine my surprise after a period of grief and burnout, when I set new limits in all my key relationships and no one battered an eyelid. Try it for yourself, you'll be amazed how the world keeps turning as before.
And finally, I surgically removed the word "should" from my vernacular. True, it tends to grow back from time to time, but I just cut it out more vigorously than before. If you take nothing else, try at least this. A large part of overwhelm lies within our own thoughts. When we remove the "shoulds" from our thinking, we allow ourselves room to fall short, to breathe, to be gentle to ourselves.
When we do these things, we see the wave becomes smaller and more manageable as it rolls towards us. We find strength to paddle, and may even enjoy the ride.
If you'd like to reclaim your time and learn to surf the overwhelm, I have a great 3 day video program, completely free for you below. And I'd love to hear from you - which of these strategies will you be using to surf the overwhelm? Let me know below! xo