When you are feeling the "too much" syndrome
As I sit here writing this blog, I realize how much “feeling overwhelmed” blocks my ability to really get anything done. You would think that feeling overwhelmed would be motivation, it would trigger the ability to do something about it and get things done so the feeling goes away. NOPE...at least not for me. It does the opposite and makes me feel like procrastinating even more and I’ve noticed it does the same for many others as well.
Feeling overwhelmed is when you have too much of something.
It's when your body and mind are taking in too much and can cause an “amygdala hijack”. Instead of your mind saying, “Its ok what I feel, this just means I need to organize, prioritize, and act on what is causing me to feel overwhelmed”, your mind really goes, “I’m freaking out right now...nothing is helping...everything is falling apart...how will I ever get any of this done...where do I even start...I CANT DO ANYTHING!” In those moments you might feel like it is hard to identify any feelings. It feels like all you want to do is cry, procrastinate, complain, blame someone, yell, say things you'll regret later, take it out on others, take things too personally, etc... For younger children behaviors could look like tantrums, intense crying, throwing or destroying toys, asking for help but then not wanting help, yelling, hitting, or blaming.
As a parent you may feel like anything you do or action you take only makes the situation worse. You can feel defeated and think you are doing something wrong, when really you are just trying to help.
If any of this sounds relatable, then here are some tips of what to do if:
You are experiencing “feeling overwhelmed”
If you are a parent, husband/wife, family member of someone who falls into expressing being overwhelmed as described above
So often what you see isn't what's really going on. The "overwhelming iceberg" people only see what's above the surface. The drawing below portrays the visual of the "overwhelmed iceberg". As you can see, what's below the surface is often what is causing the feeling of being overwhelmed.
In therapy a lot of the work is to try to figure out the below the iceberg stuff. We first work on identifying the emotion (overwhelmed), then what is that emotion telling us (below the iceberg), and lastly, what can we do with what the emotion is telling us.
It can be helpful to get a full idea of what currently happens when we feel this. What do we do? For example, being overwhelmed for a wife/mom could mean blaming her husband for coming home too late and getting angry at him feeling that he works too much. Another example could be a student feeling overwhelmed when at school when a teacher is teaching a new, difficult concept and student feels lost so doesn't ask questions. The student may be afraid of looking stupid if they ask. Then later at home, the student tries to do homework, ends up yelling at their mom and getting in a huge fight about their homework.
So what to do instead? Think of what is really going on and choose alternative. The under the iceberg stuff for the wife is that she may be feeling overwhelmed because the kids get extra demanding when they are tired and hungry (dinner time), feeling alone in helping them, and feeling bad asking her partner for help. An alternative would be to communicate to the husband that she needs help and support during that time.
The under the iceberg for the student is identifying feeling confused and insecure. Then an alternative would be to internally say, "smart people don't just know stuff, they know how to get the answers to stuff and that might mean asking information and clarification. I might be feeling insecure but I'm not stupid, I'm actually really smart." And push yourself to ask the question, even if not in front of the class then during breaks or after school.
I like to use social stories with children to help explain this. I typically use their interests to assist in explaining the story. In this example below, I used Pokemon. I have them help me create the story and then use it on a regular basis, though we change it as we learn more about what is helpful and what is not.
The story helps to create a framework to talk about feelings and then brainstorm together what may help when someone is feeling overwhelmed. It's just an idea and next week will include more on how to address this with ADULTS who often feel overwhelmed.
Thoughts or comments or ideas of the concept of "being overwhelmed? Would love to hear them!