Do you ever get working on a project or idea or maybe a complex set of tasks, and it’s so perfect for you that you whiz along, adding more, going off on side tangents to make it better, cleaner, more interesting, useful, or needed? The options are endless. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, you start to feel like you just need to hold your head in your hands and make it all go away?
You might have just sped into feeling stuck.
When it happens to me, sometimes I think I’ll just work right through, ignoring my sense of overwhelm (as if I could), and somehow get back on track. But then I just end up feeling worse. I figure it must be a common thing because there are so many metaphors for it: treading water, spinning my wheels, swimming through mud, flailing about, running in circles, getting nowhere fast. Notice each metaphor is about fast movement going nowhere. That’s exactly what it feels like.
Overwhelm feels like running in circles: Lots of action but no progress.
In my case, to break out of overwhelm, I need to stop everything. Fewer options are better. I need two things to choose from, and no more. I start with my physical sensations and ask myself: What do I need first, to drink water or breathe? And that’s it. Yes music might relax me and meditation might zen me out. But I need just two options for now. I choose water. Cold water shifts something in me more than focusing on my breathing. Maybe it shifts something in you too. No ice, no lemon, no heating for tea, just cold tap water for me.
Pick from two options
For you it might be needing to move your body physically, or smelling lavender or lemon. Anything that gives your mind a break is the right thing for you.
- Walking the dog
- Jumping jacks
- Singing or dancing
- Eating something crunchy like celery dunked in peanut butter
- Even watching a kitten video
This is usually enough to break the spell, giving space before figuring out where to go next.
Back to the larger project (no looking at tangents at this point) or a bigger, more impactful break? Again, just two options. If I’m still feeling stuck and overwhelmed I try really hard to accept that and give myself what I need. I can close my eyes and just check in with my emotions, physical sensations, and try to notice what my body and mind are trying to tell me.
Do I feel tightness anywhere? Frustration or dis-ease?
A friend once told me that emotions are just messengers trying to get us to pay attention to something we need. I believe it.
If I truly feel relieved after my break, I’ll go back to the project. But I try to remember we are, each of us, the only person who knows what’s going on with our own body and our own emotions. We need check in periodically, to give ourselves permission to do something else if the feeling of overwhelm comes back, and to continue on when we’re ready.
Like walking a stone path
Back to the project or idea or task, you can look at it with fresh eyes. Mapping it out, making an outline or sketch, or listing components can help. That makes a visible path, without tangents, and also helps make the project more concrete and less abstract in your mind. There’s time later, there’s always time, to revise the plan. But getting it out on paper feels like forward movement. It’s progress. And when you have forward movement, overwhelm turns to satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed or stuck? Post below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.