Overwhelm

Feeling overwhelmed? | Condé Nast Traveller India

This week has been a busy, hectic, nightmare for me. Thankfully, I’ll have a few moments to collect myself this afternoon since our evening appointment at work canceled. At a certain point, it feels like my brain just completely checks out. There is no helping myself when I get to this point. Despite everything in your body telling you to keep going, that there is so much to do, the best thing to do is actually take a moment to rest.

It’s difficult to negotiate with a tired brain. It reminds me of a toddler throwing a tantrum, impossible to reason with. The overwhelming sense of urgency and dread that consumed me in these moments is nearly impossible to ignore. All of my bodily systems are screaming out for my attention. Telling me that the world is falling apart around me and that I need to fix it somehow. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with these types of brain states.

Given that our minds are the window through which we see and interpret the world around us, it’s not an easy task to override the messages our brains send us, even when logically we know they are false or exaggerated. I’ve only recently started to learn how to overcome my evening anxiety, for example.

For some reason, every evening, I have a huge spike in my anxiety levels. I start to ruminate and worry about what happened that day or what may happen the next. Problems that seemed minor in the morning, take on an eerie urgency in the evening hours. Even though this pattern has been apparent for a while now, it doesn’t make it any easier to dismiss. For some reason, when we find ourselves in these anxious states of overwhelm, it feels like life has always felt this way and it will always feel this way. Yet at the same time, there is a sense of unrest, like in some way we are supposed to address and “fix” whatever is causing this unpleasant state.

At times like these, the only thing I’ve found helpful is just reminding myself that even though I am feeling rushed and ruffled, the things I’m experiencing inside of my head are not an accurate representation of reality. We forget that our mental states aren’t solely effected by the world around us. Our moods and ability to cope with stressors are also effected by what we’ve eaten, how we slept, the time of day, hormone fluctuations, etc. Just because a situation seems overwhelming today, doesn’t mean that the same scenario won’t strike you in a completely different way tomorrow. I’m not telling you to completely disregard your feelings, but sometimes it’s enough to just notice and acknowledge them, without reacting. Perhaps try saying to yourself, “I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and that’s okay. This feeling will pass. I’m doing my best.”

Sometimes I also find it helps to make a list. There are days when it feels like I have so much to do and more tasks just keep accumulating. The fear that I may forget something important really adds to the stress. There is an immediate sense of relief once I’ve written down everything that is on my mind. Often it even seems silly how short the list looks compared to how long I imagined it would be. Getting this to-do list onto paper and out of your crowded mind makes a huge difference. It allows me to find some much needed space inside my own head.

It seems counterintuitive, but taking a moment to set aside the thoughts that are overwhelming us, is actually the kindest thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Part of the reason the stressors seem so urgent is the false sense that things will only continue to get worse if we don’t address the issue immediately. Most of the time, this is simply an illusion. While slowing down seems like the worst possible option when you feel rushed and overwhelmed, it’s actually the most beneficial option. Taking a moment to just be, to just breathe, will allow you to step back and gain some perspective.

Dealing with chronic anxiety, I always notice myself searching for a “cause.” “I’m feeling anxious. There must be something wrong.” This is what I’m unconsciously telling myself. And in a normally functioning brain, that makes perfect sense. Our fight or flight response is there to keep us safe. Ideally it is only activated when we are in immediate danger that we need to either overcome or get away from as fast as possible. When this natural defense system is distorted however, it becomes a never-ending feedback loop. I feel anxious. I find a “cause” or something to blame my anxiety on. My anxiety is justified, reinforcing my brain’s idea that it was correct to feel anxious.

One of my favorite mantras recently is: It’s okay to feel anxious. Instinctually we try to escape from anxious states, but when you have an anxiety disorder, trying to escape only increases your anxiety. You become anxious about being anxious. The next time you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try simply allowing yourself to experience these feelings rather than running from them. Say to yourself: I am feeling anxious/overwhelmed right now. *deep breath* It is okay to feel anxious/overwhelmed sometimes. *deep breath* I am okay. *deep breath* I am safe. *deep breath*

Everything is going to be okay. I promise. You’re doing the best you can, even if that might look different from the way “doing your best” has looked in the past, or how you expect it to look. The state you’re in right now is temporary. It will pass all on it’s own. Just breathe.

The Importance of Patience

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I’ve mentioned before that my mother is practically the holy saint of patience. At least when it comes to my sister and me. I have seen her lose her temper at my grandma or my dad a few times, but whenever it comes to her kids, she seems to have a limitless supply of time, compassion, and understanding. I have always been dazzled by this impressive character trait. I’m not sure why, but I certainly didn’t seem to have any of that passed down to me.

I can still remember my mother playfully commenting on my lack of patience when I was younger. I didn’t think much of it. I’ve always known that I am a very impatient person. I guess part of me just assumed that I’d get better at it as I got older. And that has happened somewhat. I certainly have more than I did as a child, but still no where near as much as my mother or my grandmother.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have been spending time with my mom doing various tedious adult things like taxes and looking for a new car. She is very slow and meticulous with everything that she does. That’s how she drives, that’s how she eats, that’s how she communicates. I would imagine almost a serene, monk-like state existing behind her eyes if I didn’t know how anxious she actually is a lot of the time under the surface. When I spend time with her like this, it really emphasizes our different levels of patience.

Although, I generally restrain myself for as long as I can, I always feel the urge to start rushing her through things. Her slow pace makes me feel even more frantic for some reason. I begin to feel like jumping out of my skin. I’ve started to wonder how different it would feel to be a more patient person like her. She never seems to be rushing herself like I perpetually am. This sense of urgency really exacerbates my anxiety and it is ever present. Even when I find myself doing something for the purpose of killing time, I notice myself flying through it as fast as I can.

This lack of patience even comes up in my yoga practice. Most people would assume that the faster vinyasa flow classes or power yoga would be the most challenging, but really it depends on the person and what it is you’re wanting to challenge. Sure, those types of classes may be more physically challenging, but the slower classes are far more mentally challenging if you ask me. I am able to easily lose myself and surrender to the fast-paced movements of strenuous flows, but holding a seated forward fold in a yin yoga class can really test my ability to relax and stay with the breath. I notice a lot of students who also really struggle to relax and just lie there at the end of class in savasana.

Life already seems to be flying by at break-neck speed without the added stress of internal urgency. Sometimes it’s important to stop and ask ourselves exactly why we are rushing. Occasionally there is good reason, maybe your running late and need to get to work on time for a meeting, or you have to squeeze a lot of important tasks into the few free hours of your day. I’d imagine most people are able to relax after meeting whatever deadline they were so frantic to meet, but for me that sense of “not enough time” will keep following me long after.

It’s almost humorous how much I rush myself along. I rush to make coffee, to brush my teeth, to cook dinner, to workout, to get dressed, basically anything you can think of. I’ve gotten more speeding tickets than I’d like to admit. Earlier today I realized that I am also rushing myself in other ways. I never allow myself the time and space I need to meet my goals or aspirations. Because of the unrealistic time frames I always give myself to make changes, I always end up feeling like a failure or that I’m just not good enough. I end up giving up on what I set out to do before I’ve even given myself a fair chance. I never let myself simply enjoy the process.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been a wonderful help to me. They help me remind myself that I am exactly where I need to be. I am doing exactly what I need to be doing. It is worth more to do something well than to do it quickly. A rushing mindset is practically the opposite of mindfulness. I am always focusing on the next thing I have to do, ignoring the task I’m currently engaged in. Always struggling to be ahead of the current rather than letting it carry me. Most of the time when I ask myself what the purpose of this hurrying is, I come up blank. It is so easy for me to forget that life truly is about the journey rather than the destination. After all, I’m not really sure where that destination even is or if I’ll ever actually reach one. What would I do if I did?

There is no starting or stopping point in this mess we call life. Like I’ve said before, everything is a cycle. We can’t waste our time worrying about what lies ahead or behind. All that matters is taking the time to enjoy wherever we are in that cycle right now. There is really nothing else we can do. So today I’d like for my intention to be patience. I want to challenge my automatic movements. I want to slow down and take the time to really savor each moment, especially when it feels like I don’t have time. Time is just an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves. This soul, however, is infinite. This mind is limitless. This love is ever present and all consuming. Everything is as it should be. Now is the perfect time to revel in that truth, to be joyous, to be mindful, to be fully present.