It can be dangerously creeping and build up over time, but it is possible to tune into the signs of overwhelm to more effectively manage it.
We all have stress and stressors – often invisible – creeping into our lives and each one of them takes a toll on our resilience.
Signs of overwhelm can appear in different ways. Whether an exceptionally stressful period at work, traumatic experiences in life or a combination of events. Sometimes, this rapid succession of challenges can trigger us to feel overwhelmed with emotion.
Trigger stacking is a term most associated with dogs, but it totally applies to us humans too. We’ve all been there before, where we experience of string of stressful events. When we’re dealing with just one ‘trigger’, we can shrug it off pretty easily and get on with our lives, but when several stressors ‘stack’ on top of each other, it can lead to signs of overwhelm where we wonder how much more we can take…
…and that was my January – already a miserable enough month as it is – and there was a lot going on. *SPOILER ALERT* what follows may well read as a list of first-world-problems to you, but it’s all relative, right? Those stressors that we all have, they’re unique to us, our surroundings and our situation.
My stressors on the road to overwhelm – in no particular order – included:
- Let me introduce 10 month old she-devil, butter-wouldn’t-melt puppy Frankie. She looks cute, right? Yes, she’s a bundle of fun and brings lots of love and laughs, but she is also a VERY loud nightmare a fair percentage of the time.
- You’ve seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? The one with wi-fi attached onto the bottom to reflect how much we need that before any other fulfilment can be achieved in life. Yep, I get that now. It went off just before Christmas and we’ve only recently switched providers, so that led to…
- …a fun month and a bit of two of us trying to work from home (not to mention managing our Netflix-withdrawal). A serious stressor though, when you consider the amount of virtual coaching sessions and workshops I facilitate on a pretty much daily basis, not to mention the meetings and calls that we’re all clicking on to every day.
- I’m a huge advocate for personal and professional development, but it can get in the way when we’re all doing our best to juggle the work stuff and have a bit of a life at the same time. I’m nearing the end of the second year of my counselling qualification and the evenings and weekends where I would normally do my best to de-stress from much of this stuff are but a distant memory.
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- I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but even something so ridiculous as my car stereo not working properly has wound me right up (hey, I warned you about first world problems!). Seriously though, I strongly believe that music can be the most amazing de-stressor so even something as trivial as this has played its part.
- An unexpected addition has been the utter frustration and despair felt with the state of the country as it is. I keep up to date with the pings on my phone, yet make a point of consciously avoiding the majority of news because I know it can impact my mental state. That said, I have found myself following the daily political shambles much more; enough for it to have contributed to a general sense of hopelessness when I’ve gotten too embroiled.
- Last but by no means least, Beloved Other Half finally succumbed to the C-word after two years of us successfully dodging it. A terrible patient at the best of times, this time he had a cast iron excuse to leave everything up to me (which I was happy to do and amassed many brownie credits that will absolutely be invoiced for when the time is right).
There were other bits and pieces as there always are for each of us, but you get the idea!
The best thing about doing what I do is that I truly practice what I preach and if I say so myself, I’ve developed an innate ability to tune into these signs of overwhelm.
The signs and symptoms are different for each of us of course. To give you a flavour of my signs of overwhelm, my auto-pilot takes over and I go into head-down mode just to try and get through. This leads me – an already hugely introverted and reflective person – to isolate myself, my thoughts and my feelings from others. My sleep becomes disrupted, both in finding it difficult to obtain and at other times sleeping much more than I usually would. I get weirdly irritated by the smallest things and take it out – often on Beloved Other Half – then feel bad about myself almost immediately. Whilst my exercise routine tends to stay pretty consistent, it more becomes a case of going through the motions with no real motivation or intent behind it.
For me, the first step to managing is to get good at consciously switching to manual to identify the signs of overwhelm. From there, we can tune into an acceptance of the anxious feelings – rather than what we tend to do in auto-pilot mode, which is to suppress – this in turn helps to give us permission to feel the feelings and claim back some empowerment and perspective.