4 Steps to Being Calm When You're Overwhelmed

Written by Jamie Greenwood

It must be noted that in the middle of writing this glorious post about overwhelm and calm, my server ironically shut off. A good chunk of the awesomeness I wrote for you was lost and worse, my entire website was down. In that moment I had to decide if I was going to let this sh*t sandwich of a morning overwhelm me or use my calming techniques to breathe and move forward.

I did both.

My knee-jerk freakout had me frantically trying to fix my site while naked and dripping wet from an abruptly-ended shower. When that didn’t work I got dressed, hopped in the car for a meeting and, while tearing down the freeway, rang up the host provider to be informed the site would be down for another hour due to emergency maintenance. That I could live with. I took a deep breath and slowed my lead foot. I dropped my phone in my lap, glanced in my rear-view mirror and found a police officer on my tail.

My heart stopped. My stomach sank. And as he turned off the freeway, I burst into laughter. I could have cried or been angry with myself for stupidly speeding but instead I let out a laugh, took another breath and thanked my lucky stars for the gentle reminder that overwhelm can be the key to calm. You just need to see it before the copper pulls you over.

Lastly, you will notice I absolutely ignored step #4 during my above mentioned escapade. No judgment. Just more room for practice.

Ever notice how every time you think you have a handle on your work/kids/body/life some new “should-do” pops up? In the blink of an eye you go from feeling pretty good to full-blown overwhelmed overload.

Welcome to being human.

We all have moments (OK, sometimes months) of overwhelm when our lives feel like a spin art project with colors flying everywhere. It’s exhausting to maintain the pace we set for ourselves yet everyone seems to be running the same frenetic race. In fact, you may even think you are doing, working, or accomplishing less than others and subsequently push yourself even harder to keep up.

How awesome would it be to trade in your overwhelmed, overworked state for cool as a cucumber calm and still get sh*t done?

So here’s the deal. I know you wish you could press a magic “end overwhelm” button to have everything fall beautifully into place. Though that button doesn’t exist (if you know otherwise, please share), the overwhelm you feel is in fact the key to calm. Here are 4 steps that show you how to find the calming key and use it to unlock your overwhelm.

1. Awe in awareness - Surprisingly, overwhelm is not a perpetual, unavoidable space, yet you think it is when mired in the dark, blinding muck. To begin to find calm you must first step back from the stickiness. When things are going bananas, take a deep breath (or two) and ask the imperative awareness questions, “What is my choice in this?” and “How can I experience this differently?” Notice how by stepping back into these questions, you are able to shed light and relief on the deeper feelings that drive your overwhelm rather than being mired in them. You find choice, which is everything.

2. Clear the mental clutter - Part of what drives you straight into the arms of overload is the fact that you keep everything in your brain. I know you are brilliant but there is no way to keep it all straight in a cluttered cranium. Pull out a piece of paper and write out everything that’s in your head. To-do list, shopping list, fears, worries, reminders. Whatever is taking up brain space, write it out. By clearing the mental clutter you can begin to feel lighter, more focused and see what actually needs to be done.

3. Go red-pen crazy- Often what comes out when you clear mental clutter is your “SHOULD” list. These are things you feel compelled to do that don’t foster fun, excitement, growth and joy. With a red, or other brightly colored pen, make a line through everything on your list that is a should or a have to. By weeding out the things that don’t serve you, you suddenly create space to focus on the things that do.

4. No glory in going crazy - Even though you say you don’t like running around with your hair on fire, you kind of do. It’s your badge of honor, the sincere proof that because you are busy and stressed you are getting stuff done. Here’s a flip. Overwhelm is like strapping on 50 pound weights before running a marathon. It slows you down and wears you out. It may feel like you are moving faster because your heart is racing and cortisol is pumping but in fact that physiological response stifles your creative flow. Let your ego be OK with just being in whatever moment you are in. If you are in a meeting, BE in that meeting rather than in 15 other places in your brain. If you are in the car, BE in the car rather than calling your mother because it’s “the only time you have.” By trading in your overwhelmed honor badge, notice things soften and how what you “needed to do” takes care of itself.

In the comments below, here’s what I want to hear from you. What pushes your biggest overwhelm button? What is your attachment to feeling overwhelmed?  What’s the biggest change you’ve made by using these keys to calm?

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