How I deal with overwhelm
Let's zoom back to Friday last week, I'm sitting on the bed of my hotel room in Bali - crying. Now if you solely have heard about my trip to South East Asia from my blog, I'd forgive you for thinking that that's what I've been spending the majority of my time doing. Ironically, my so-called highlight reel has been more of a selection of trials and tribulations but that's probably for the best. Anyway, long story short my time in Bali has been full of ups and downs with mostly laughs IRL. So, why was a 22-year old crying by herself at the start of the weekend instead of tearing up the party capital of Indonesia?
One word - overwhelm. The lyrics to Hello Darkness My Old Friend were ringing in my ears, as I laid crumpled in a heap wondering how I'd gotten myself into such a mess again. If the feeling of overwhelm is alien to you, congratulations you must be one of those blissful people that actually allows enough time and mental energy for the tasks you want to commit instead of over-stretching yourself and procrastinating. But, I have a feeling there aren't that many of you reading this.
So, speaking to the overwhelm-regulars like me (should we get t-shirts?) you know the feeling when your chest feels like it could collapse and your brain is racing with to do lists and suddenly you can't decide whether to shower or re-arrange your whole life first. You see, overwhelm always creeps up on me when I have good intentions. Of course I will attend your birthday drinks the night before an important assignment. I can't wait to execute two months work in one month to please you. Is August too late to add a couple New Years resolutions? God, I hate myself sometimes.
Normally, when I hit peak state of overwhelm I spend the days before holding back tears. This time around I got lost down on an Ubud sidestreet before the floodgates opened and a poor Balinese elder had to watch as I started howling with tears streaming onto my Google Maps. Thankfully, I made my way back to the hardest hotel to find ever, only to add 'get better at directions' to my mental to-do list. It's easy when I get into these states of completely irrational emotion to start the familiar refrain of mental bullying. Everyone's bully sounds a little bit different, but I can't help but feel mine is a combination of Regina George and Simon Cowell. You're just not ______ enough.
etc. etc. etc.
Now, here's the much anticipated antidote you've all been waiting for. The antidote I take myself when I feel backed into a corner and there are no tears left to cry. Two steps (best in combination): firstly, I write everything down onto a scrap piece of paper. I call this a 'braindump' FYI I did not come up with this term, but I cannot be bothered to recall where it came from. This is soooo satisfying. Looking at everything on the page I realise that 'do more meditation' and 'book your flight home' are not on the same scale of urgency. It sounds obvious but those worries do love to piggy back on to one another and that's what causes overwhelm. Sticking with the list I circle everything urgent and put a star next to everything I need to do before sleep. SPOILER ALERT: very few items actually get a star. Next, I underline all the items on the list that I decided I wanted to do for fun. How often do you get stressed out about achieving something that you wanted to do in the first place? Madness.
After my breath has calmed down and I can look at my list with fresh perspective. I like to do some EFT (Emotional Freedom technique or tapping). Then I call someone on my trusted list of 'rational' people: the 'rational' element is of the utmost important. I have definitely screwed this up before and called one of my 'loose canon' friends (love you but we don't need to stress each other out together). My suggestion is it's probably your dad or someone incredibly emotionally consistent. Then I talk through my plan of action of the urgent tasks. I ask them to listen patiently and save any suggestions until the end. When everything is off my chest, this person usually calms me down further until I feel ready for sleep. Sleep is the final step. Tomorrow is a new day.
I love you and you can get through this and maybe write this down somewhere safe for next time you get overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong I love to wallow in the sense of panic for a good couple of days before I come to my senses, but that period used to be a lot longer. The goal for me is to reduce the time of craziness. It can feel good and addicting when you're overwhelmed, but overwhelm is NOT your friend. Especially, if you bully yourself like I do in that state.
Ps if you want a new 'rational' person in your life, I'm at your service. Just give me permission to decline if I'm not in the right headspace.
All my love, Sam