Stressing out? You're going under —overwhelmed, swirling ever deeper into the whirlpool with no way out.
Your stressed brain has said, ‘enough!’ and shut down.
“No!” you cry. “You will not defeat me! I can think of a way out of this.”
Unfortunately, and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but, no. You can’t will-away stress.
I know because I’ve been there and have the sick days to prove it.
When anxiety, stress or overwhelm throw their weight around, thinking is only going to make a miserable situation more miserable.
You continue to stare wildly at your monitor, your shoulders tense, your jaw clenched, your deadline looming and hands poised over the keyboard.
You might even plead inwardly for inspiration so you can finish the report on time.
In fact, here is why it refuses to surface.
Overwhelmed? Why Grit and Determination Won’t Make a Difference
You came out of the box with two complementary nervous systems. They are both great when working together, but they get out of whack.
When you experience stress and feel overwhelmed, you automatically trigger the system commonly known as the fight, freeze or flight reflex. And, because it is primal, it is rather simplistic in how it interprets a threat.
Why does that matter?
This survival reflex makes no distinction between a physical threat (stress caused by noticing your pants are on fire) and more ephemeral threats (stress caused by an approaching deadline) or even imaginary ones (stress caused by listening to your inner critic).
If you feel under pressure, then this reflex system will take control over your mind whether you like it or not. When severley overwhelmed, it shuts down your ability to think straight or creatively.
If you’re a visual person, picture yourself in that whirlpool, caught in the pull of the current, swirling inexorably deeper. The good news is you can totally free yourself from the downward drag.
You reduce your sense of being overwhelmed by using proven strategies. In doing so you rebalance your system . Once your lower your stress you see your current situation in perspective.
And so from this calmer place and with your new perspective, you reflect on the situation using your freshly released problem solving and creativity skills.
Then you wait. And then wait some more.
Eventually and with patience, solutions are likely to arise. Sad to say, if you chase after them, you will leap right back into the whirlpool
Here is how you can reclaim control.
How to Pull Out of the Whirlpool and Resurface from Being Overwhelmed
Decide you are going to give this your RAPT attention and it will be easier to remember.
Recognize: First thing is to recognize you are helplessly swirling around the whirlpool.
Acknowledge and Accept: Next step is to acknowledge and then accept that is the current situation.
Permission: Then you give yourself permission to do something about it.
Try: Try one or more fixes until equilibrium and perspective are regained.
The following quick fixes will pull you out of the swirling whirlpool so that you can resurface and regain your equilibrium.
1. Take a Structured Breather from Being Stressed
There is a lot to be said for taking a pause for the cause when overwhelmed. Just close your eyes or look at something innocuous and inhale and then exhale slowly. Make your exhale longer than your inhale to trigger more relaxation. You can supersize the benefits by sighing out loud as you exhale and sink into the feelings of release in your muscles.
2. Do a Mini-Meditation
This 3-minute guided meditation is to help you reset. Follow along these guided instructions to interrupt your stream of stress to relax and refresh. You’ll feel renewed energy to continue your day.
3. Take Note of These and Then Experience Them
Think about recent successes, big and small and allow yourself to physically experience the good feelings that arise. Stay with the feelings for several breaths. This provides immediate relief. When practiced regularly, you rewire your brain towards a more positive outlook.
4. Find Pleasure, Real or Imagined
Being overwhelmed can blind you to your surroundings. Interrupt your busy stream of worry by redirecting your focus to something pleasurable. What do you see, hear, feel, taste or smell that is pleasant? If nothing suits, call up a favourite memory. Allow the pleasure of the moment to sink in.
5. Straighten Up
A routine chore can create a moment of Zen. Take a couple of moments to straighten a corner of your desk. Do the dishes. Sweep the floor.
6. Listen Up
Pull up a favourite play list. Close your eyes or focus on something calming and wallow in the soundwaves of your favourite music.
7. Be with Nature
Step into nature for a few minutes to downgrade your stress. Is it not practical? Good news for those of us who can’t dash out to the woods when a deadline looms. Research shows that looking at pictures of nature has a natural de-stressing effect.
8. Strike a Pose
The value of yoga cannot be underestimated but do give it your full attention. Practicing yoga moves while mentally writing your grocery list is not helpful. This short video shows your some yoga for the office.
9. Shake That Thing
Pump up your heart! Dance and prance around your living room or whatever else appeals.
10. Surprise Someone
Do something altruistic. Buy a stranger a coffee, hold open a door. Help someone else with no regard to being thanked. If you expect thanks and none is forthcoming you are just going to be annoyed which will add to rather than reduce your stress.
Unlock Your Freedom
Now that you understand the science behind why you can’t just wish your way out of a stressful situation you have unlocked your freedom.
Have a look at these 10 quick-fixes to being overwhelmed and pick one that most appeals to you.
And, the next time you’re feeling like you’re going under, give it your RAPT attention.
Recognize when you find you are helplessly swirling around the whirlpool.
Acknowledge and then Accept that is the current situation.
Give yourself Permission to do something about it.
Try your preferred fix until equilibrium and perspective are regained.
As a result, you'll be healthier and more productive.