Know to stop. Stop. Take a deep breath. Slowly regulate your breathing.
Our mind and body is an amazing system. Breathing is the most simple, immediate, no-need-for-tool intervention available to us in times of panic. By the time we are overwhelmed, our body has gone through a cascade of hormone releases and bodily reactions that caused the severe stress. Breathing reduces the production of stress hormones such as noradrenaline and cortisol, and brings us back to our normal state.
2. Check-in with your right brain: Feel
It’s important to check-in with the right brain first, before the left brain. If we check-in with our logical left brain first, we tend to over-rationalize and it fuels the overwhelmingness, which is counter-productive. The right brain, the visual and intuitive side of the mind, helps us tap into our feelings and rhythm.
Meditation and mindfulness is largely a right brain side of exercise, so if you already have a regular routine, activate it. I practice Vipassana which is a meditation of “seeing things as they are.” So when I feel overwhelmed, I scan my body to find where that overwhelming feeling is, and once found, I just stare at it. It’s a quelling technique that works well for me.
3. Check-in with your left brain: Rationalize
Again, at the risk of over-rationalizing, it’s probably still a good thing to think through the rational behind that overwhelming feeling.
Many questions you can ask yourself. Where’d it come from? What was the trigger? There’s probably a reason why I am reacting like this, is there any insight I can learn from? Is it the end of the world? What would happen if…? What’s the other side of the coin? What’s pulling me back? Anything I can let go? Can I give myself permission to let go?
And you can go on and on, so the importance is to put a break on yourself at some point.
Thinking is helpful, but too much thinking is not healthy either.
4. Speak to someone close
It’s hormones again. Speaking with someone close who we feel safe with releases a series of relaxation and feel-good hormones, such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. It’s incredible how we have this natural pharmacy in our body (and no prescriptions needed!).
The feeling of trust and intimacy is a strong antidote to anxiety and overwhelming feelings. It’s built in our biology: when our needs for belonging is met, our needs for safety and survival are typically met too (Maslow).
5. Speak to a coach
Professional coaches trained in the ICF (International Coach Federation) discipline are proficient in psychological safety and active listening. Active listening involves both right and left brain communication. Masterful coaches are often effective in helping find breakthroughs in stuck feelings and stuck thinking.
If you haven’t tried coaching yet, it could be a good opportunity to reach out to a coach the next time you feel overwhelmed. Experience yourself and see if coaching is helpful for you.
6. Seek psychiatric help
If the overwhelming feeling persists and anxiety doesn’t go away, consider that as an important signal from yourself to seek professional psychiatric help. Mental health is as important as physical health.
VUCAO — there is a reason why I add “overwhelming” to “volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.” When we become overwhelmed and panicked, we make simple things complicated and complex. And even worse, chaotic.
The awareness for overwhelmingness, and the awareness that we have ways to de-overwhelm ourselves, already helps us feel less overwhelmed.
This too shall pass. Trust in yourself and your ability to handle the overwhelmingness.