Getting Overwhelmed? Catch Yourself Before You Fall

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Learn your personal signs of becoming overwhelmed, so you can get back on track

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on how to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

What does it feel like to be on the edge of being overwhelmed? For some people, being overwhelmed can feel like sinking into a dark hole, being stuck in mud, having a weight on their shoulders or on their chest and falling off a cliff. Some of this might sound like fun if you are at an amusement park or competing on a TV show for a cash prize, but as an everyday experience, these feelings hold much less appeal

Being overwhelmed is both a physical and a psychological state. You can feel a range of physical and emotional sensations associated with “stress”, including feeling tired, frustrated, irritable, restless and more without being overwhelmed. Sometimes, the physical and emotional feelings associated with stress can have a positive effect in that they can motivate you to action and give you a burst of adrenaline. However, once you have reached a state of being overwhelmed, the benefits of these feelings have been lost and you can become stuck.

It’s important to know how to catch yourself before becoming overwhelmed and then make minor changes that could enable you to avoid getting to the point of shutting down.

An Individual Matter

There are many reasons people become overwhelmed. Our personal makeup – including personality, emotional resilience and biology – positions us to be affected differently by factors that cause stress and then by the stress itself. You may have personal circumstances from your past – including childhood experiences or present circumstances – that contribute to having more or less ability to manage your physical and emotional health. In fact, certain individuals may have more resilience built into their DNA that when combined with their level of family and community support can contribute to a greater ability to manage stress.

Search the words “stress” and “resilience”, and you will find many scholarly articles discussing how the brain and body react to stress, and how different individuals react and recover differently based on various factors. This is the same story we get when we read about the impact that exercise, diet and lifestyle have on body weight.

Someday, we will have better science that will allow us to pinpoint our own individual stress and resilience factors. For now, however, we have to learn to understand our own triggers. Fortunately, there are some common triggers we can look for as we seek to understand our own reactions and responses to stress and life’s challenges.

Identify the Signs

As you reach a point of being overwhelmed, your emotions and negative thoughts can cause your performance at work and home to noticeably suffer. When you are overwhelmed, you may find yourself making frequent mistakes and errors in judgment, even lashing out at others or withdrawing from people and activities you previously found time for.

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