Child holding head and screaming
Image by ninjapoodles

Many of us feel overwhelmed. It seems to me that this is worst for parents. Parents are expected to be ideal parent’s, partners, lovers and providers as well. The expectations are ludicrous, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel them. (I’m not a parent, this is my observation from the media and the people I know.) And we try to live up to all these expectations: to at least make an attempt in all these different areas. All of them demanding a full-time commitment. And so we are too busy, and, simply overwhelmed.

I think there are two ways to respond to being overwhelmed. You can do both, and they both include many different things to do. What are they? To defeat being overwhelmed the two options I see are: get organised, or, don’t care.

1. Get Organised.
It may be that we can do more in less time – and this with ease. This is possible. When we get frantic and try to do too many things we end up doing them all badly. It can even make our lives more chaotic and unpleasant. This is where all that good advice about organisation can come in handy.
Lists. Making a list of all the things I have to do I have sometimes found that actually they are all fairly little and can be got through pretty quickly.
Priorities. It’s also true that there isn’t time to do everything and having a good sense of our priorities is very useful. And knowing our priorities may well help us to say, “No” and stick to it.
Planning. Having a good sense of what a task involves and how long it is likely to take is only sensible (if only we were sensible more often).

There are other ways of being organised too.
I like to have what I am working on visible. This works better for me than a list. If I can see what I need to be working on I don’t forget it. Lists I easily overlook.
Having a routine can help. Making the coffee and checking my email after I get up helps me start the day and have a sense of what I need to do. Doing some things at particular times can give a sense of rhythm and how much time is available.

2. Don’t Care.
By “Don’t Care” I don’t mean being callous or indifferent. I mean not letting all the stuff dictate our emotional life. I mean that we need to get some distance from all the expectations and demands. Those with a more Eastern spirituality I suppose would call it “non-attachment”.

Somehow we need some kind of buffer between ourselves and all the demands we feel.
Sitting and breathing is one very good way to do this.
Another is finding what the activities represent to us. Washing towels everyday for my mother means that even though she is old her house is not becoming derelict. Feeling exhausted at the end of the day may mean we have done a worthwhile job. We may find that the activity we feel we must do really represents something else.
Our childhood influences us more than we are usually aware of. It may be that we are still trying to please a parent or live up to some childlike hope or ideal. Once we know what this is then it is possible to start meeting the real needs of the child inside us.

3. Beyond the Overwhelm
It is possible to live in touch with the here and now. Usually being overwhelmed stops us being here and now, instead we are only half here and half somewhere else – perhaps in the future or trying to solve a problem.

It’s worth asking what we would be doing if we weren’t overwhelmed. It is worth asking if being overwhelmed has a benefit for us. That perhaps we feel we would have to do something we don’t want to. This may not be the case, but sometimes it is – our franticness means we don’t have to be with something we don’t like: a job, a relationship or even a part of ourselves. When it is not then we can usually organise what we need to do and not worry about what we can’t do.

The world is vast. The expectations and demands are endless. We can’t change the whole world and we can’t live up to all the demands and expectations. But beyond trying to change the world or live up to these things we can slowly build an attentiveness: a quiet centre. This may mean saying “No” to some people and demands, it may mean setting aside time to do new things (hobbies, meditation, time for a warm bath), it will almost certainly mean up-dating some childhood beliefs and healing of old wounds.

The reward: a growing stillness. And with this an expansion of our ability to welcome others. Beyond the overwhelm life is waiting.

How do you deal with those times of feeling overwhelmed? I’d like to hear in the comments. Any tips or tricks you have are very welcome.

If you liked this post you might also like:
How to Update Your Past
Follow Your Pain

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8 Comments to “Overwhelmed – two ways to deal with it”

  1. Expectations frequently get in the way of fulfillment. True fulfillment comes rfom internal things, not external, so expectations can be ruinous..leading to feelings that are overwhelming..Never finding satisfaction in ones self I think..

    Thanks for your insight and suggestions Evan.

  2. Evan says:

    Thanks for your comment Kimberly.

  3. Sarah Luczaj says:

    Lovely post and most well timed for me 😉

    To go back to where you started, with parents, the problem with organisation is that toddlers cannot be organised beyond a basic routine. You cannot possibly forsee how long it may take to do something as “simple” as leave the house.

    Laughing, overwhelmedly!!!


  4. Evan says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m not a parent, but from my observation you are absolutely correct. Children can be delightful – but they do show us the limits of our attempts to be organised!

  5. HI Evan,
    I’d like to add that in order to stay out of overwhelm another way might be to take your TO-DO list, find the 1 next thing TODO, circle it, or write it on another page, and THAT is the only next thing that needs to happen. We go into overwhelm because we think ahead, of everything that we think needs to happen, but if we can stay in the moment, in the energy of now, and only focus on what is happening now, we won’t go into overwhelm

  6. Evan says:

    Thanks Michelle,

    Doing the one next thing sounds an excellent way to respond.

    Thanks for you comment.

  7. John D says:

    Evan – I must say that reading your posts in itself has a wonderfully calming effect. That must be your own inner balance embodied in the writing that comes through. I might find myself wanting to quibble over a point you make here or there, but by the time I get to the end I’m just feeling too soothed to take issue with anything. That is an active state of feeling and mind, contemplative, certainly not unconscious. What a great quality to have in your writing!


  8. Evan says:

    Thanks John,

    I am very touched by this comment. I was a bit anxious half-way through your comment when you talked about feeling too soothed to argue with something. But then you said it wasn’t unconscious so now I’m just very pleased.

    I don’t aim for this effect, though it has been commented on before – so it must be me coming through I guess.

    For other readers of this blog, John writes a great blog which you can go to by clicking on his name at the beginning of the comment.

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