I have written about the experience of getting overwhelmed before because it is a common result of being too busy and pushing yourself to get more accomplished than serves you. Our society as a whole has gotten so over scheduled that many times you are on autopilot rushing through your day. And when you are on autopilot it is easy to go unconscious and before you know it you might find yourself with too much stimulation or too much information or just too much. This is what you might experience as overwhelm.
Even if you aren’t overburdened by lots of tasks, having an experience of feeling overwhelm with emotion is probably not something new to you. It can happen when you are trying to make a big decision and frequently happens when you are having difficult or complicated conversations. Feeling overwhelmed certainly isn’t an unusual experience for me, though I have found that the benefit of consciously choosing to do less and spend more time just being has helped me tremendously.
Nonetheless, yesterday I had an experience of overwhelm that got me thinking about the process I go through to re-balance. And feeling re-balanced and calm is definitely how I want to feel instead of overwhelmed with emotion. Unfortunately, when you are overwhelmed it isn’t always easy to figure out what’s going on. As I unraveled my experience yesterday the first thing I noticed was that it took me some time to even realize that I was overwhelmed. And it is critical that you recognize that something is out of whack in order to be able to do anything about it.
Slowing down is part of that process. And by that I mean that you want to slow down enough to check in to determine what is happening in the moment. If you don’t do anything else, I highly suggest that you begin by taking a few slow deep breaths. That gives you some space to step back and evaluate your experience. Then you might ask yourself, what’s happening right now? What’s the situation? What am I feeling? What emotions are present? What body sensations are present? What are my thoughts? Easier said than done.
Yesterday it took me some time before I realized how knee deep in overwhelm I was. My husband and I were talking about problems we were having with our dirt road. Only when I literally couldn’t process what my husband was saying to me did I realize that I was melting down and needed to stop and figure out what was happening. At first I wasn’t able to articulate much and it took quite a bit of time before I could determine that I was triggered and feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, my husband was very supportive and was able to stay quiet with me while I figured out what was going on. Once I determined that I was feeling an overload of information, I realized that I needed some down time.
From past experience, I knew that the best next step for me was to take a soothing bubble bath to regain some equanimity. After the soak I felt calm and better equipped to go about the rest of the day. I had managed my way out of overwhelm and in the process got a little closer to my husband. I didn’t try to solve anything or think myself out of it; I sought out equilibrium by working to rest and relax my body. Once again I learned that the first essential step when dealing with overwhelming emotions is to recognize what you are experiencing. And then when you are more aware, get yourself out of your head and into your body to help move yourself back into balance.
I just finished reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and I really enjoyed it. I particularly loved her perspective on where ideas come from. As a writer, I certainly get inspiration from reading books and articles and watching TV and Film. Often my ideas come from discussions with other people. But in many cases my ideas seem to appear as if from nowhere. Gilbert puts forth in her writing that ideas are disembodied energies that are waiting to be manifest by someone. This applies to all endeavors, whether art, writing, scientific, political, religious or whatever. So when you create—and Gilbert and I both believe that we are all creative in our own ways—ideas seem to get pulled out of thin air. Ideas are in the ether and make their way to you so that they can be realized. Almost like magic.
I find this a fascinating viewpoint. When I described it briefly to my mom, she used the expression, “from the collective unconscious.” And I think that is a similar though more grounded in human psyche way to consider where ideas come from. If an idea is already part of the collective conscious then someone probably has already manifested it in some form. This explains why so many creative works aren’t truly brand new, but rather variations on a theme. Creative things many be unique and wonderful and beautiful and fantastic because of the person who brought them forth to the world, even if they were already part of the world in a different form. How many variations of Pride and Prejudice are there out there? Many—and yet they are all creative in their own way.
I do experience times when ideas float down to me as Gilbert describes. But I often feel like ideas are floating around inside me, living within me until they decide to come out to play. Like the ideas need to percolate and dance around until they have gathered up enough speed to make their way to my consciousness. Sometimes I can draw a line between the flow of ideas to my mind, but other times the words come directly from my fingertips without making a stop at my mind—or so it seems. In these cases it really does feel like a magical process where the ideas are simply being manifest through me. How lucky we are to have creative spirit run through us.
The first weekend of this year I helped out as the coordinator and support person for a retreat at The Garrison Institute. It was a great fit for me because I already knew most of the instructors, the location is very familiar because I go there every Wednesday morning for a community meditation group and I am very organized. My role was as the go-to person for the instructors and the participants. The voluntary position allowed me to witness and when possible participate in the sessions while making sure that audio was working and time was kept and everyone had what they needed. It turned out to be a lot more than I had anticipated and I was very tired afterwards. However, what really struck me about the weekend was how important it was for me to be of service. I truly enjoyed the sense that I was contributing something valuable to others.
Being of service is nothing new to me. I am a coach after all and the main reason why I enjoy my work is that I help others create more fulfilling lives. I love writing just for the sake of writing yet I also hope that my blogs provide direction, information, and food for thought for you, the reader. As I thought more about my need to be valued as someone who helps, I realized that I have been of service to others in all of my roles throughout my career. Whether I was in sales, customer service, research, education or management, I was providing my services to help others to learn, grow, do their jobs better and be more successful.
It doesn’t really matter what your position is in any kind of organization. If you take the perspective to be of service it increases your value as a contributor to your work and to others. Being of service means that you are not only working to get a paycheck and with focus on your own development. Being of service means that you are aware of your impact on others. Being of service means that you are ultimately thinking about what you are providing to your clients and colleagues and employees. When your actions are from a place where you are trying to be of service, you are showing that you care about others. You are spreading kindness and compassion by being helpful and supportive to others.
And being of service is contagious. When you do a kind act of service, others will be prompted to pass it along and ultimately you will be the receiver of helpful acts of service. So I encourage you to develop your skills as someone who anticipates others’ needs and helps others to be better at whatever they are doing. You will find that being of service helps to grow and expand your kind heart and that will only bring greater success and happiness to your life.
December is a difficult month in many ways while it is also a joyous month. Perhaps more than any other month of the year, it exemplifies that light and dark co-exist in all of life. The holidays of December bring a mixture of stress and exaltation, demanding organization and preparation for celebration while allowing for and encouraging relaxation and excess. Family and friends gather and love is shared. Family and friends gather and conflicts arise. There are usually such high expectations for the holidays, whether it is about gifts or food or relationships. It is easy to feel let down. Yes, you can absolutely feel both high and low this time of year—oh, the duality of dark and light in life.
The duality of light and dark also plays out more literally as this month is filled with long dark nights and lights aglow in the form of Christmas lights, Hanukah candles and other winter celebrations. Winter Solstice was on the 21st this year and it signified the shortest day and longest night of the year. And yet that day also marks the inflection point when daylight grows longer each day until it reaches its longest day on June 21st 2019. There is so much light to look forward to while also honoring the darkness of winter.
December also marks the end of the year and with that comes so much processing and reflection upon the year. The past year provides an abundance of light and dark to reflect on because you can’t go through a year without having ups and downs and experiencing the depths of joy and sorrow. Part of the difficulty of December is that we are all so busy with the holidays that we don’t have enough space to process and complete the year. I find that I always put time in my calendar to review and reflect on the year in late December but I don’t get around to it until early January. And that is okay. Rather than jumping too quickly into the next year, take all the time you need to bring a sense of closure and completion for the past year. Reflect upon the highs and the lows of your year to fully understand how lucky you are to have a rich and full life filled with both light and dark.
My friend Ann loaned me her Fitbit Alta HR so that I could track my steps and heart rate and other activities for as long as I want. I was particularly interested in my sleep patterns. And guess what I learned: My sleep isn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I have awake times throughout the night. But what I imagined vs. what actually was recorded on my Fitbit showed that I have been overstating how poor my sleep is. According to the Fitbit I have some deep sleep, some light sleep and some REM sleep all in good measure and adding up to enough total time to call it a good night’s sleep. And what I know about myself and we humans in general is that what we think and believe often has too much power over us. What we think often becomes true. Our self-fulfilling prophecies can be positive or negative. The Fitbit helped me to put to rest (I couldn’t resist the pun) that I don’t sleep well. So knowing that I am getting a good night’s sleep I am more relaxed and rested throughout the day.
We have an amazing ability to think ourselves into something. We might think ourselves happy, think ourselves relaxed, or think ourselves confident. The mind is an awesome thing and serves us well—when it does. However, there are times when our minds go places without us (to paraphrase the B-52’s) or to places that aren’t helpful. I was “thinking” myself into feeling bad about my sleep until I had some concrete data to suggest otherwise. Unfortunately we don’t always have real data to compare our thoughts to. Most of the time all we have is our thoughts so they can seem like the truth.
I am sure you have all experienced moments when something doesn’t go the way you want and your mind blows it way out of proportion. For instance, I recently added the Lyft app to my mobile phone. Lyft offered me a promotion as a new user. I looked at the promotion and thought that wasn’t very helpful for my purposes then looked online for other new user promotions. I found one that I thought looked good but then I accidentally chose the wrong promo when the time came to use the app. That error cost me $4.99! Not a huge error but it’s four days later and I have been beating myself up about it ever since. My mind automatically went to the place that I was stupid or too quick to push a button or something like that and I felt shame. Clearly not worth all that mental anguish. Since then I have been practicing letting go—that is I am practicing letting go of the unhelpful thoughts I have been having about the Lyft promo error.
Thoughts come and go of their own volition. But negative thoughts often linger so it takes work to let go of those thoughts. This requires a fair amount of awareness and it takes practice to be present and consciously acknowledge that you are having thoughts and not allow those thoughts to be more than just thoughts. While you are letting go of thoughts that don’t serve, you might as well add in some helpful thoughts. For me that means a thought like “I am glad that Lyft now serves our home area and I will use it successfully.” What will you think yourself out of and think yourself in to?