As this extraordinary year draws to a close – it feels like time to get your warm boots on and learn to take overwhelm by the hand.
You know the feeling a dark, rainy day. The unexpected kind – because you’re wearing the wrong jacket, and flimsy summer sandals. So you spend the day shuffling, your toes curling downwards, trying to keep your foothold.
The laundry won’t dry, the boiler’s playing up and you can’t find your door keys. Overwhelm doesn’t just happen. It’s an accumulation. A layer of tartar along the gumline of your life.
As a coach I’ve had so many conversations about overwhelm. In different guises, different flavours, all the same similar texture.
And what I can say for sure is overwhelm is the opposite of cosy and clear.
It’s the uncomfortable cluttered edge of your life.
So I’ve been leaning in, and I’ve learnt that first you need to notice it.
Like an infected tooth which starts as a dull ache. The kind of low-level pain you leave to the bottom of the to do list.‘Til it suddenly wakes you at 3am.
You need to catch it early!
When you feel it coming just over the brow of busy. It turns up harried and angsty with the merest whiff of ‘poor me’ and it wants the guest room and 3 meals a day.
And well you just want it out. But here’s the paradox – when you lean in – breathe in.
You get the chance to put your warm boots on!
You need to meet it at the threshold with a hot drink and a smile ready to chat for a morning – at most. And whilst she’s there, you want to make sure she feels welcome, cosy and clear on the time you can give her. There’s an art to that balance. And you’ll get the gist the more you practice it.
When you know she’s due, you pop on that bright, cosy fleece.
Because, remember, the opposite of overwhelm is cosy. So you’ll need to carry your cosy with you!
When you feel warmer and your feet are dry, you can breathe a little deeper.
The next stage is to ask yourself a simple question.
How can I get cosy and clear right now, right here in the midst of this moment?
And you might say I can’t – the kids haven’t had dinner and the washing machine is bleeping, and the car has a flat tire. And yes, all this is true.
But right when you notice overwhelm – right then – you need to stop. And commit to turning up the most cosy and clear thing you can do.
You need to do it urgently.
Sit down and ask yourself what you need most in that moment – not what you’ll do later on this evening – right now. And if your mind goes blank, think of a friend, your mum, and ask yourself what would I do for them right now?
And because overwhelm is in your head. You need to get out of your head, and into your body.
Simple is wise.
Simple needs to be so simple that you can find it even in the chaos of an overwhelming day.
For me it’s about nature. I use this often and sometimes repeatedly.
A walk to the park or place of green. A pebble, a leaf.
It’s the difference between looking down at the churned-up footprints on a muddy winter’s path and seeing the outline of leaves at its edge. And just past this immediate view, one leaf held onto the end of a dark branch catching the light through it’s spindle veins – that particular pattern extended outward from the central spine.
A distant splash.
If you’re lucky, when you glance again to see a wider expanse of earth with a line of trees, frosted and ethereal, breathing out their oxygen – just for you.
So if today you feel a sense of overwhelm. I ask you:
Where do you hang your cosy fleece?
Where do you keep your warm boots?
Where do you find your pebble, your sky, your duck on water, or whatever keeps you grounded and sane in the moments of overwhelm?
And when the big stuff comes. The larger overwhelm – loss, grief, pain – as it surely will. You will find that you’ve already created an indent, a safe space from the storm.
Keep practicing with the little overwhelms of your day and you will be stronger, safer, and you will carry your calm wherever you go.