Overcoming Overwhelm With 3 Easy Interventions

By Teresa Starr

April 14, 2016

Overwhelm, Positive Psychology Interventions

Recently a friend reached out and posted on Facebook to say that he was feeling overwhelmed by all of his life’s busyness. This man’s life is full of great things. He is an administrator at a local college, he has a beautiful wife and 3 adorable kids and he also serves as a volunteer clergy in his church (in this role he puts in enough hours weekly to equal a second full time job). He stated that he wasn’t feeling depressed, necessarily, and he acknowledged that his life was full of incredible blessings, which he greatly loves and values. At the same time, his feelings of overwhelm were interfering with his ability to thrive and to completely enjoy all of the richness in his life.

Does this story sound familiar? Certainly we have all felt the same way, at some point in our lives. To say we live in a busy world is an understatement! Sometimes life is so full and so rich that we don’t even have time to savor the goodness of it. Positive Psychology offers a multitude of practical and effective tools to help people thrive and flourish, even amidst the busyness, the challenges, and the chaos. If life has kept you hopping and if you find yourself drowning in overwhelm, here are 3 positivity interventions to help you increase your overall wellbeing and life satisfaction:

Self-Awareness, Self-Compassion and Self-Care.

The first step is self-awareness. Recognize when you are tired and don’t expect yourself to run faster than you are able. Your wellbeing requires you to be mindful and take notice of how you feel (if you don’t, chances are no one else will).

Self-compassion is the second step. Often people ask themselves variations on the following questions: “What’s wrong with me, I should be able to handle this?” or “What’s wrong with me, my life is full of good things, why am I not as happy as I want to be?” First of all, you need to delete all questions that begin with “What’s wrong with me…” and give yourself permission to be human. Research shows that beating ourselves up with negative self-talk is not an effective way to succeed in life. It only makes us feel worse and robs us of the motivation we need to accomplish our goals. A better thing to say is, “No wonder I’m overwhelmed, look at all of the important responsibilities I’m carrying on my shoulders.” And “Of course I’m tired (or stressed or depleted), I’ve got a lot going on and I need to allow myself time to rejuvenate.”

The final step in this intervention is self-care. This is about taking time for the 4 R’s: rest, relaxation, replenishment, and rejuvenation. If your cup is empty, you must refill it so that there will be something more for you to give. Think about the little spiel you hear, every time you fly on a commercial airline. The familiar counsel is this: “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own oxygen mask first and then assist the other person.” This is not being selfish folks, this is being realistic. We cannot effectively serve others if our own reserves are depleted. Therefore, it’s essential that we practice Self Care and take time to unwind and renew each day. Here are a few 4R ideas you might consider: Take a vacation or even a “staycation,” take up a new hobby, take a nap, listen to music, do relaxation breathing, pray or meditate, exercise, make time for laughter, enjoy some social interaction and, when necessary, reach out to your social network for support (just as my friend had so wisely done). The ideas for rejuvenation are endless and only you can decide what best refills your cup.

Reframe Negative Thoughts and Revise Self-Talk

Negative thoughts and unkind self-talk are often our biggest sources of overwhelm and self sabotage. For example, if your “to-do” list, is a mile long, it’s okay to acknowledge that it feels overwhelming. In fact, noticing the problem is the preliminary step to fixing it. Then, try to dispute your inner-critic voice. Your brain might say, “I’m NEVER going to be able to get all of these things done today. It’s IMPOSSIBLE!”  Those negative affirmations will only add to your stress, so challenge and reframe your thoughts by asking the following: “Is that an accurate statement? Am I really NEVER going to complete my to-do list? Is it really IMPOSSIBLE? What else is true?” Then look for ways to think yourself through and build your feelings of confidence. Perhaps you could say, “Although it is true that my to-do list if overwhelming, it’s really not impossible. Although I may not be able to accomplish everything on my to-do list today, I can still work through my list, one step at a time until I finally get it all done.”

Gratitude – a Tool That Inspires Optimism

On our friend’s blog post he first talked about feeling overwhelmed but then concluded by talking about all of the good things in his life. I was impressed. This friend had never heard of Positive Psychology and didn’t know that he was actually using a proven intervention, but he was (good for him)! Scientific studies reveal that those who practice gratitude, on a regular basis, enjoy upgrades in their life satisfaction. When we are overwhelmed, we sometimes feel like we “can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Gratitude helps us to affirm the good in our lives and gives us feelings of optimism and confidence in moving forward. It also brings us hope that more good is yet to come.  Gratitude may not erase all of life’s challenges, however, it does increase our resilience during stressful times and give us the optimism we need in order to succeed. One common intervention is to write down three “gratitudes” per day. This can be done in a gratitude journal, in a gratitude letter or in a “what’s good jar.” It’s interesting to note that, on the very day that our friend reached out to post about his overwhelm, another friend reached out on social media to share the benefits of gratitude in his daily life: He wrote: “Remember those ‘what’s good jars’ we all started last December? Mine is so full, that I’m having difficulty stuffing more slips in. Just stuffed in 3 more. Such a pleasure to see my ‘what’s good jar’ on my desk between my laptop and my phone. Through this practice, I feel love’s presence so palpable in my life.” While he didn’t say that gratitude melted all of his life’s stressors away, he did indicate that his life’s satisfaction had greatly improved because of it.

It’s important to remember that everyone gets overwhelmed from time to time, so don’t beat yourself up! You are NORMAL! In fact, if you’re one of those people who (like our friend) is overwhelmed because of all the good you’re doing daily, then you are EXCEPTIONAL! Just remember however, to balance your exceptional service with a little self-awareness, self-compassion, self-care, gratitude and reframing/revising your thoughts and self-talk. These interventions may seem simple, but they’re also time-tested, backed by research, and they’ll pay off in big ways. Here’s to your happiness!


Teresa Starr

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