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Making Decisions from Overwhelm

You start to feel fuzzy and tired and can't imagine doing one more thing.  You just want to withdraw into a quiet, safe space and be alone, or go to a movie and forget about the world.  You find yourself cutting corners, dropping agreements, and not responding to phone calls and emails.  This is overwhelm.  

When you make decisions from overwhelm, you tend to make relationship messes which then trigger more overwhelm.  If this happens regularly, your life can seem out of control.  You might be having dreams about driving a car with no brakes or careening off the road at high speeds.  Making decisions from overwhelm costs your needs and the needs of others.  

As with any reactive state, the first intervention is simply to be able to name it as it shows up.  Just naming that you feel overwhelmed helps you to get a little distance from it.  

After naming it, you can choose to allow the feeling of overwhelm.  You might say to yourself, "I am feeling overwhelmed.  It's okay to feel this.  It's uncomfortable but I can sit still and just notice it."

Next, you can ask yourself, "What do I need right now?"  This is the tricky part, because if the voice of overwhelm answers, it will almost always tell you that you need to withdraw.  Be very suspicious of the impulse to withdraw, it's usually about an unconscious sense of threat that is based on the past and not what is presently happening.  For example, you might have a fun activity planned and if you take yourself to that activity against the impulse to withdraw, you will likely find that you are glad you went.  Needs that are often alive in the midst of overwhelm are rest, support, clarity, groundedness, and structure.

Lastly, communicate with others about your overwhelm.  Rather than leaving emails and phone calls unanswered for days and weeks, respond with a simple, "I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and will get back to you Saturday (make your best guess at what would work for you)."  There have been periods in my life where I could have put the above quote as my email signature.  Letting others know you are overwhelmed isn't always easy.  You might have an inner critic that says you should have it all together.  Accepting and owning that none of us have it all together every moment is a big part of creating authentic and trustworthy relationships


Take time before you are overwhelmed to make a plan for the next time it arises.  Make a guess at needs likely to be up for you and what you might do in the moment to meet your needs.  Watch for the next time overwhelm arises and experiment with your new intervention.


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