Scene: Just another day for the emotionally overwhelmed
A man coughs into Janet’s back on the subway, so she whirls around to give him the death stare. He ignores her, but she’s ready for hand to hand combat if need be. At her stop, she realizes that it’s 9:05 am so she breaks into a light jog. She ducks into the closest Starbucks because let’s face it—no amount of ill will from boss man can come between Janet and her morning caffeine. Fifty people wait anxiously in front of her. She steps in behind them, mentally crafting a reasonable excuse for the big cheese. Then out of nowhere an obviously overly-entitled man in a jogging pant steps right into the spot in front of her. She bursts into tears and runs out the door, like Jan in every episode of the Brady Bunch.
Poor Jan. We’ve all been there. The odd behavior, the overly sensitive demeanor and the alarmingly disheveled appearance.
What exactly is emotional overwhelm?
In extreme cases, I would describe it as a state where you cease to be able to function. You are so overly stimulated and overloaded with stressors that even day to day tasks seem completely unmanageable. This is the crisis point—when we can’t get through the day anymore. This is when we take to our beds and hide under the covers. More about that in a minute. First of all here are some of the ways that emotional overwhelm can manifest in our lives.
Emotional overwhelm can look like many things: pain, anger, irritability, withdrawing from friends and family or avoidance of all other human beings. Maybe we lash out at others. Maybe we don’t talk to anyone and stop answering the phone. There is no single picture of this state—everyone can bring it forward differently. The point is not to judge ourselves or beat ourselves up about it. We all have different ways of coping in life.
How does it happen?
Now I’d like you to examine the instances where you were overwhelmed-whether it was a mild experience or a full-on crisis. What were you doing two to three weeks before that? Did you have a lot on your plate? Had you moved? Taken on a new job?
My typical pattern in life is to keep taking one more thing on until I feel overwhelmed. That is the path to hell for me. If I don’t see it coming I end up with the covers over my head. My practice in life is to pick up on the signals or the warning signs that come in and listen to them! For example, as I move into this pattern I start to feel a slight uneasiness or a bit of generalized anxiety. I don’t go outside or exercise. I start to feel more anxious and then I can’t sleep. See where I’m going with this? That is my path to emotional overwhelm. What is yours? Sit down and take a good long look at your ride down the slippery slope. Then you can be better prepared for next time. To course correct; to stop the train wreck. You do have the power to do that. It just takes a little bit of awareness and kindness to yourself.
How can we prevent it?
This is where we take the road map and signal system and put it to use. When we see ourselves going into the danger zone—do the “course correct”. Start the self-love! Have a bath, postpone your appointment or project or have a nice cup of relaxing tea. Sit in your back yard and watch the world go by. Just slow down and let your body catch up.
Oops there it is
What if we’re all up in it already—in full crisis mode? Now we need to be with our experience and let it happen. Let the emotions have a say—just give them a nod don’t have a two hour conversation with them. Have a good cry. Or sit with the feelings of frustration, resentment and jealousy. Whatever it is stop resisting it. The more we resist, the more we start to suffer and collapse. Our body and mind shuts down because we don’t want to deal with what wants to come up. Allowing things to come up and lovingly giving them attention helps to dissolve them out of your system. Less resistance, less pain and suffering.
The bottom line is that we are all doing the best we can in every moment. Our bodies and minds are intelligent and will give us the messages we need at the right time. Tune in and listen and we won’t feel blindsided by our experiences. We will be prepared for them and able to process our emotions in a way that won’t cause overwhelm.