I’m SO Overwhelmed…



Are you spinning plates of spaghetti over your head?  Are you in the sandwich generation, caring for children, parents, or other aging loved ones?  It has been manageable “enough” until now but has reached a tipping point.  It’s a crippling place to be.

The word stress gets bad press. 

Stress is a motivator.  It makes us study for a test, prepare for a big presentation, and get ready for a difficult discussion.  When stress becomes distress, we need to pay attention.  I’ve often heard a similar comparison; “ease turns to disease.”  Both have toxic ramifications. I’m no master at managing distress, but I have some expertise in seeing how living in prolonged distress turns into disease.  

It’s all about the mind/body/spirit connection these days.  There are countless opportunities for “cleanse or detox” baths, music, diets, and numerous other experiences intended to get the toxins out.  The practices of yoga and meditation are perhaps more widely embraced than ever.  Just in the NYTimes alone, there are daily articles written by those in Caring Professions aimed at helping individuals whose distress has reached a pinnacle. 

I often meet people at what I call “their worst moment.” 

They are faced with a need that they cannot and do not know how to personally meet.  Perhaps it’s an ailing parent, sibling, or child with a limited life expectancy who can no longer care for themselves or manage their affairs.  Maybe it has been manageable but not ideal for a long time, and then… SLAM… a sentinel event changes everything: the sense of not knowing which way to turn, what is needed, and how we will possibly get through this.  We’ve all had so much on our
cosmic plate that we can end up in a zombie state, unable to move.  It’s completely exhausting. 

When meeting with families, I see the value in discussing “what we can change and what is beyond change.”  Often, certain aspects of the crisis monopolize thinking and feeling.  The feeling of being completely “stuck” is that of being stopped and unable to move forward.  Paralyzed.  Awful.  We must ask, “What is beyond our control, and what is within our control?” even if it’s a detestable reality.  Getting to where we can even ask these questions is the first step out of the black hole.

If you have a total of eight ounces of energy to give your situation per day, and you are using up six ounces with continued disbelief that this situation is happening to you, guess how much you have left to deal with it?  Very little. 

We all have lots of well-meaning others in our lives who offer kind platitudes of “chill,” “breathe,” and my least favorite, “let it go.”

If it were that easy, we might well have done it already. Sometimes, we find ourselves captive in situations where we can’t find our way out—laden with layers of pain, confusion, and helplessness.  Let’s go back to “what we can change and what is beyond change.”  Giving this some real effort can help reduce the six-ounce donation to what can’t be changed. 

Our leftover energy needs a focus, so focus on what can be done.  Be very specific.  Start with imagining what it would look like if the needs in front of us were totally met.  Where are we now? Initially, we’re likely far away from where we want to be, but creating a plan with a measurement attached will (trust me) help you feel some relief.  IF you could say today that whatever situation you are facing is 50 percent better, doesn’t that feel good?  Phew.  Relief. 

If the house is on fire, we aren’t talking about new window treatments.

When we are in distress leading to disease… we are needing relief. Sometimes, this is in the form of a weekend away, a walk on the beach, dinner, and a movie.  That might do it, or it might help at the least.  Taking care of ourselves in a crisis or long-term distress sometimes seems like a luxury we can’t afford.  Considering our wellness when our stressor situation is ramped up seems absurd.  Like the oxygen mask on the plane, put yours on first. 

I make lists.  I don’t always use them, but the practice of putting action items on paper is clearing for my clogged head.  I can see what needs doing.  I can strategize how fast this particular situation needs resolution. Maybe it’s today, perhaps it’s next month.  Find a way to clarify what feels like chaos.  If you find yourself or your loved one saying, “I just don’t know how to approach it… it’s too big,” maybe a helper or trusted other who has successfully managed their own “life circus” moments is needed.

Like in any good terrible situation, getting our head together is the place to start.  If you feel totally overwhelmed, it’s time to peel the onion.  Name things, and label what you are afraid of.  Most of us hate change and rail at it, yet here it is.  If we ignore the disproportionate amount of time and energy we give to the
unwanted or unacceptable situation, we are left with very little in the bank when we need to make an “action withdrawal.”

People you see every day are in this place.  Perhaps they don’t share it (or maybe they overshare).  Perhaps they are stuck, going round and round on the hamster wheel.  It’s hard to be that person, and it’s hard to watch.  Maybe we can lead by example and then share with others our experience on the spinning wheel and how we got off.

Guard your cup of coping and choose wisely how you’ll spend it so you can afford what’s needed, at least for today.