Recipe to Ease Overwhelm

Recipe to Ease Overwhelm 20150805


Sometimes, in spite of all of the self care practice you can muster, your day just goes off the rails.

Maybe it’s because a bunny chewed through the fuel line on your car.

Maybe it’s because you didn’t get enough sleep.

Maybe it’s because you took a few days off for vacation or because you’ve been ill.

Maybe it’s because you mixed up the dates on a deadline.

Maybe it’s because someone else mixed up their dates and suddenly hands you a deadline.

Maybe it’s because life can just get life-y and throw a whole lot at you all at once.

You look up and you’re in overwhelm. It’s a horrible feeling — having a whirling dervish of panic flying around in your head — and just makes a difficult day even harder.

My hubby was in overwhelm recently and told me so. I couldn’t remove anything from his proverbial plate, but I could help him walk through the process of collecting his thoughts and sorting through them so that some of the anxiety could be set aside. Having a clear head and remembering to breathe makes those pressing tasks much easier to accomplish.

When we’re worked up, we just don’t think clearly. We feel like we don’t have time to stop and make a plan. The reality is that we must pause and assess before we can get anything of value done.

So, when I encounter someone in overwhelm — or am feeling it creeping into my day — here’s what I do.

(1) I tell them to breathe.

It’s essential. You’re going to do it anyway. Give it your attention for a moment.

(2) Then I walk them through a dervish dump and sort.

Basically, you get it all down — everything that’s flying through your head — and then sort those items into what really must be done today and what can wait.

(3) Then come more reminders to breathe.

It’s amazing how our bodies respond to intentional, slow breathing.

At that point they are usually calm enough to take it from there. If not, we rinse and repeat.

Overwhelm happens to the best of us. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure. It’s a sign that you need a moment to pause and plan. So, next time you hit overwhelm, remember to stop, breathe, list, breathe, sort, and breathe.

The image is a colorful, painted background with the Recipe to Ease Overwhelm written on it.

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About Gina Lynette

I have been called a, "PollyAnna, sugar-coated idealist." I like to think of myself as more optimistic than that.


  1. I was the hubby in overwhelm! I actually really enjoyed this process, and I have used it the last couple of days. I love the “Later” sheet, because I know I won’t forget the tasks – they are written down – but I don’t have to have them staring me in the face.

    I’ve gotta remember the “breathe” part – I was much better at getting the tasks down on the correct sheets!

    • I’m thrilled that you found it helpful, Ned Andrew! I know how uncomfortable overwhelm is and wanted you out of that mode as quickly as possible.

      Part of the anxiety that feeds into overwhelm is the fear that we’re forgetting something or that we’ll drop an important ball in the midst of getting something else done. If you can give your brain a place to put all of that extra stuff — where you know it won’t get lost — then you can relax a little about that part.

      Another piece of the dervish that increases overwhelm is that we tend to exaggerate what needs to get done and make them into enormous tasks. Just the act of writing them down and sorting them forces us to face what really needs doing… and gets us into the mode of doing something rather than flailing about all the stuff that needs to be done.

      That helps with a third piece of overwhelm which is that it often triggers the fight-fright-flight instincts in our brain. If you’re flailing or getting ready to fight or run away, nothing productive will likely come of it. Giving your frontal lobe a task — writing and sorting — wrests control away from your reptile brain and gives it back to the thinking part of your brain.

      Focusing on your breath — as essential function, right? — doesn’t have to be another task to add to the overwhelming pile. If you can remember to do it (perhaps, by writing it down), then you’ll be helping to keep yourself grounded in the now and not flying off into the “later” pile that can wait.

      Hopefully the overwhelming days are few and far between.

  2. Great thoughts, hon.

    I really like this: “If you’re flailing or getting ready to fight or run away, nothing productive will likely come of it. Giving your frontal lobe a task — writing and sorting — wrests control away from your reptile brain and gives it back to the thinking part of your brain.”

    It’s like “redirecting” yourself!

    • You’ve got it!

      Taking control of our brains is a big job, but once we’ve mastered self regulation in the midst of a panic, the other stuff is relatively easy.

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