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Stressed? That’s ok, try this…

We all have moments when we feel overwhelmed, fed up, exhausted, angry, anxious, you name it. While the exact emotion we feel might differ, the feeling of being overwhelmed is alien to no-one. While some of us tend towards anxiety, others towards anger, others still towards sadness, we all have moments when we just had enough.

While in those moments what we feel can seem very personal and chaotic, it might be less so than it appears. When you are overwhelmed, no matter which emotion is dominant, chances are you are going through one or more of the below:

  1. Stress: we are unable to relax.
  2. Restless mind: our mind goes around and round about why we are feeling overwhelmed and what to do about it.
  3. Feeling stuck: we think that this feeling is never going away.
  4. Dislike: we dislike how we are feeling and are not a great fan of ourselves in this situation.

Addressing these underlying mechanisms, rather than just tackling the emotions your feel, will help you manage the emotions in an empowering way. You will quickly feel better while also getting insight into how your mind might have co-created the ‘overwhelmedness’ – and making sure you do not fall in the same trap the next time (or at least, are less likely to!).

Let’s look at these four mechanisms a little more closely.

1. Unable to relax

Our body reacts to everything, especially in moments when things are tough. Sometimes what we feel is so obvious that we cannot help but notice, like feeling physically exhausted or strong anxiety. However, sometimes the sensations are more subtle. Often people describe these more subtle sensations and feelings as being unable to ‘relax’. We feel restless and wired, and this is not very pleasant. We don’t want to feel it and we try strategies to not feel it, or to get rid of the feelings. This actually makes it harder to relax, because the strategies actually reinforces the state of agitation. Relaxation can only come when we allow our bodies to feel how they feel – yes, even when we do not like it.

We practice this through sitting with the unpleasant sensations and allowing them space. We can do this with meditation and by ensuring we do some basic things to take care of our body – like eating, going for a walk and expressing the emotion in a ‘controlled’ environment.

This acknowledgement of what the body is feeling, not forcing ourselves to relax or stressing out even more because we cannot relax, gives us more options to manage our stress.

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Meditation

Try a meditation now that supports you to relax into what you are feeling

Start meditation

Meditation

Try a meditation now that supports you to relax into what you are feeling

2. Restless mind

Our mind is a busy place in the best of times, but when we struggle with things it becomes a very, very busy place. It can go up and down, left and right, and many times over. Our mind is trying to find solutions for whatever is going on. It registers a discrepancy between how we want things to be and how they actually are and tries to find reasons for this and solutions to overcome it.

In its attempts to find a solution, our mind can go to the past and tell us how we should have done things differently, or to the future, planning how to tackle things even before they arise. It might tell us we did things badly, should be stronger, should not whine about our current situation. It might fantasize about different outcomes, revenge, getting even. The options are endless.

If we get carried away by these thought streams, we are keeping ourselves stuck in our stress, and can even make it worse. There is no situation so bad we cannot make it worse by how we think about it. This was said by Mark Williams, the founder of the Oxford Mindfulness centre. He is not wrong, and without wanting to, we often do make things worse with our thoughts. So how to stop doing that?

We can do that by stepping out of our thoughts and into sensing the actual moment. With meditation we can do this by focussing our attention on our body, or breath, or sounds, and bringing our mind back to this when it drifts off into thought – which it will do, very often.

Another great thing we can do is become aware of the thought patterns we have, name them, and just let them come and go, without getting lost in them. You can say to yourself ‘ah, here is my ‘I should have done this differently’ thought story’, or whatever your story might be.

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Meditation

Try this meditation to experience it yourself.

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Meditation

Try this meditation to experience it yourself.

3. Feeling stuck

In the moments when things suck, we often have thoughts like ‘I always feel like this’ or ‘this will never go away’. These thoughts often stem from the fact that the feeling of ‘overwhelmedness’ are more dominant and obvious than all the feelings that are ok or even good. Simply put, we experience all the negative so much more acutely, that it seems like it is always there and it is never going to go away. However, when we pay closer attention, we will find that there are many things that are still ok, and many moments when we do not feel overwhelmed. They just make less of an impact on our experience and we don’t notice them.

This negativity bias of our brain can be a real challenge when things are difficult, because then we do have lots of feelings we do not like. Also, in these moments we can steer our minds towards the small things that are good, or even the bigger things, and really appreciate them. This might sound trite, but it is in fact very powerful to train your mind in this way, because the more you train it, the easier your mind will find it to see the good. In a way, you are balancing out your negativity bias.

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Meditation

Take 5 minutes to balance out your negativity bias

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Meditation

Take 5 minutes to balance out your negativity bias

4. Disliking

This is a big one. There is no mystery that feeling overwhelmed is not pleasant, and we have discussed this above. How we deal with that fact makes all the difference. Unfortunately, we all too often take the route of disliking the overwhlemedness and we blame ourselves for the situation in which we find ourselves. In other words, we put injury upon injury.

Remember that we said that there is no situation so bad we cannot make it worse by how we think about it? Well, you can say the same for how much we resist the situation. So, the more we resist a situation, the worse we make it. For example, you get stuck in the rain. There is nowhere to take shelter. The more we curse the rain, ourselves for forgetting our umbrella, or our general bad luck, the worse we make it for ourselves.

This is true for getting stuck in the rain as it is for whatever challenging situation, we find ourselves in. Resisting it does not lead to better outcomes, accepting it does. Now, accepting does not mean rolling over and doing nothing, quite the contrary. It means taking meaningful action with the full acknowledgement of what is going on for you and allowing that to be.

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Meditation

Give yourself a break with this meditation

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Meditation

Give yourself a break with this meditation

Take a different route

We can best learn the skills described above when we are not feeling overwhelmed. This means that when things become challenging for us, we can better manage them and not get to a point of feeling too overwhelmed.

However, even when we are in an overwhelming situation, we can find a lot of relief by practicing the above, and changing the way we approach the difficult situation.

One of my favourite poems describes this well.

Poem

By Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.