As I work through my transformational tidy-up, going through everything I own, I definitely notice the truth in the old saying, “It gets worse before it gets better.” That certainly was the case when I did my Studio Refresh, both online and off (pictured above). Finding my way through the overwhelm has led to some beautiful results and reminded me of just how much I am capable of.
Overwhelm can show up in so many ways at so many junctures and it can shut us down. It’s like our circuits get flooded and we just kaput. How do we find our way through without pushing our way through, which so many of us have tried and so many of us have paid for.
When does overwhelm show up?
On a practical level, overwhelm appears when there is a disconnect between what we feel needs to be done and the resources we have to meet the task(s) at hand. When the demands are greater than the time, money, energy or emotional capacity we have, we get overwhelmed.
One of the things that can be surprising and discouraging, even distressing, is when overwhelm shows up around something you love.
You’re invited to a party or out to dinner and you’re looking forward to it until the day or the hours before when suddenly you find yourself overcome with dread. What do I wear? What do I say? What do I do? How do I get there? What if I don’t know anyone? What if I don’t like anyone? What if they don’t like me?
Or you finally sit down to create some art and are hit by a wave of unexpected emotion. What the heck?! I thought this was going to be fun! Where are these tears coming from? I don’t know what to do or where to start! I’m finally creating and I hate what’s coming out of my fingertips!
When that happens, our natural protective instinct is to “Shut it down. Shut it all down!” (Think C3P0 stopping all the trash compactors!)
How do we respect the truth of where we are in this moment while moving towards what we love and desire? How do we deal with overwhelm?
Strategies for Facing Overwhelm
As conscious creatives, we can actively respond to overwhelm. We can show up like actors doing improv, seeing what is offered up to us and responding lithely to what’s present.
The first thing to do is to stop. Just stop. Stop the autopilot. Stop the habitual response. Stop the whirling dervish. Let the world slow down for a minute.
Take a Moment
There is time for you to take a moment, to feel your feet on the ground, to come back to yourself instead of being caught up in the tornado. Take a moment. Breathe.
Then move. Move away from what you’re doing, even if it’s just getting up out of your chair and walking down the hall and back. Changing your environment changes your perspective. Moving your body helps the built-up energy release and pass through you and that will help you function well and think clearly. Often just going for a quick walk can shift something, clear something, open something. There is magic in movement.
Pour the Chaos Out
Next, sit down with a piece of paper and pour all of the chaos onto the page. Pour out everything that’s coming up, every idea that’s niggling at you, every to-do that’s asking for your attention. Let the page hold the work. You don’t have to hold it all. Once these things have their due on the page, they can stop nagging you for attention. They won’t be forgotten so they don’t need to keep reminding you that they’re there.
Now that you’re a bit more grounded and you’ve cleared your energy and your mind, come back to the task.
What’s the next step?
Maybe the next step is a baby step, something small and simple and easily achieved.
Maybe the next step is the one that’s stressing you the most. With it out of the way, you’ll be able to relax.
Maybe the next step is the one you have time for.
You don’t have to figure it all out. Just the next step.
Take a Step
Next (you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?), take the step.
It is a powerful grounding practice to end the cycle of overwhelm with an action, no matter how big or how small. It grounds you and builds your confidence when each interaction with the whirlwind of overwhelm ends with you moving forward.
I know you can do it.
There’s one more step in this dance with overwhelm: the pause. Take time to recuperate. Listen to a song you love. Spend 3 minutes looking out your window. Chat with a friend. Make a cup of tea. Yes, stop and smell the roses.
It’s a big deal to face the challenges in our creative lives and to do so with awareness and intention. Taking a few minutes to refill our well will give us more resources to draw on the next time our life demands something of us. Resting and recuperating is a part of the work.