Overcoming Overwhelm: Do You Believe You Can Do It?

mental health

 Did you catch the motivation "hack" I shared in my last blog post?


It was all about summoning your willpower when you're not feeling up to doing something, which is an important skill to have in your back pocket.


But the willpower trick only works if you have the energy in your system to summon it. 


If you're already stressed out, overworked, and overwhelmed, you have no more willpower left to use.


You need to solve your overwhelm problem first.


What Is Overwhelm?


Ugh, overwhelm--when the world feels on top of you. 


There's a bunch of stuff going wrong and you don't know what to do to make it better. You try everything you can think of, but it's never enough. For every problem that gets better, there's another one around the corner eager to give you hell.


Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes, and that's okay. As embarrassing as it is to admit, there's been seasons where I've felt totally underwater. It happens to the best of us.


Recently, I decided that I don't want to feel overwhelmed anymore. Someone said something on a webinar or a newsletter or a YouTube video along the lines of: I don't do overwhelm. 


And boy, that hit me in my soul bone. When I heard it, I could almost feel it brand itself into my psyche. I connected with it right away as something I wanted. 


Overcoming Overwhelm


Since then, I've been thinking a lot about overwhelm. 


It's been interesting to try and catch myself at the first hints of the feeling, rather than a few hours down the road when steam is blowing out of my head. When I do catch myself, it's been hilarious to try and figure out something else to do in those moments besides my usual habits. When I don't catch myself early, I try to spot the down-the-road feelings when they crop up, like anger and resentment.


I've discovered a lot during this process.


First, overwhelm is a very specific scenario. 


It happens when there's a situation that I don't know how to handle. But it's not just that. It's that I believe that I don't have what it takes to master the situation. I only feel overwhelmed when I combine a new situation with a lack of belief in myself.


Because there are other times when a new situation is in front of me, and I believe in my ability to figure things out. I don't feel overwhelmed during those times. I feel engaged, in the zone, challenged at the just-right level. These types of situations are what build my self-confidence. To be in a new situation and believe in myself is a really fun place to be.


The difference between feeling overwhelmed and not feeling overwhelmed is whether I believe in my ability to overcome the problem. 


This has been wild to figure out.


I've learned that I can decide to believe in myself or not believe in myself in a given situation. 


When I don't believe in myself, the thing feels on top of me and I feel sorry for myself. When I believe in myself, new ideas come to the surface about what I can do to try and solve my problem.


What the Process Looks Like


It's simple, but it's not easy. 


To put it into context, I recently wanted to get a handle on my overwhelm in the kitchen. When I confront my overwhelm, I can see that underneath it is the belief that I'll never figure it out. 


This doesn't make sense. I am smart enough and sane enough to figure how to manage my kitchen. But I have a belief that I can't. I've believed in that for years, but it was hidden from me this entire time.


The moment I realized I was doing this, the belief shattered. I realized with absolute conviction that I can and I will figure this out.


As soon as this new belief got its roots, I started relating to the kitchen in a whole new way. I started researching how to plan meals, prep for the grocery store, cook new recipes, keep the place organized. 


It's funny. I had these ideas all along, but I never let myself take action on them. 


Believing in myself allowed me to take action. 


Action brought me wins. 


It's also brought me frustrations. Frustration is a normal part of the learning process, but it's no fun to deal with when it comes up. When I hit a frustrating moment, there's a fork in the road: do I give up or do I do what it takes to overcome it? I'm drawn to giving up like a magnet, but because I believe in myself, I can't justify it. I can only justify doing what it takes. So I do what it takes, and it's hard. But I learn and I make some more wins, and although it's not all sunshine and roses, I no longer go to sleep at night feeling the sting of resentment that builds up when I let things overpower me.


Not only do I feel more confident in the kitchen, but I feel more confident about overcoming other things that overwhelm me.


It turns out, the key to overcoming overwhelm is to have absolute faith in my ability to figure out my problems. That belief paves the way for the logistics to work their magic. 


Of course, the path is not always this straightforward. I was in the fortunate position to be able to firmly believe in myself based on a past history of accomplishing things. That's not everybody's story.


I recently heard the story of a man who was buried so deeply inside his overwhelm that he could barely function. He couldn't bring himself to shower or leave the house. He moved back in with his mother and shut himself up inside his room. He lived like this for months. One day, during a virtual appointment with his therapist, he agreed  to take one baby step in a new direction: he agreed to vacuum his room. Over the next week, he was able to bring himself to moving the vacuum from the closet to the doorway of his room, but he wasn't able to do anything more than that. All week, he stepped over the hunky machine. It taunted him at the doorway, reminding him was an utter loser he was that he couldn't bring himself to follow through on his promise.


At his next therapy appointment, he confessed what had happened. He confided how useless he felt at not being able to go further. Together, he and his therapist discovered that a baby step for him was much less than vacuuming his room. A baby step for him looked like just taking the damn machine out of the closet. The next baby step involved him bringing the vacuum over the threshold of the doorway and into the room. The next baby step involved him tidying up the floor so that he could actually vacuum. After three weeks of teeny tiny baby steps, he was finally ready to vacuum.


Sometimes this is how it goes. Sometimes you need to break down the beast into the most laughable baby steps you can think of in order to instill belief in yourself. And that's okay, too.   


If you're feeling underwater right now, I hope this helps.