Why is it that so many people lock themselves into a state of chronic, recurring overwhelm? It's because they tell unhelpful, unhealthy stories about their own experience. They don't set strong enough boundaries against the pattern of greeting ordinary life circumstances with helplessness. Think about the last time you felt suddenly and powerfully overwhelmed. Maybe you were assigned a difficult project at work. Or stuck waiting in a long line at a chaotic retail store. Or you simply woke up in a frozen state of helpless terror and panic. Consider this. It may have been true in that moment that your nervous system was in a heightened state of anxiety. It may have been true in that moment that your cortisol was peaking and your serotonin was being depleted. It may have been true in that moment that your breathing was shallow and your pulse was racing. But what was also true was that you could have told yourself a different story. You could have consciously responded in a way that served you. That would have helped put the overwhelm in its place and given you access to more choice.
DEPRESSURIZING — Consciously respond to panic a way that serves your creative efforts
Maisel, the esteemed existential psychologist and philosopher, writes that the majority of people will succumb to overwhelm because of cultural gravity. He says there is indeed a pessimistic tradition that argues that unhappiness is not just unavoidable, but the dominant experience of our species. In that tradition, unhappiness is viewed as constantly nipping at our heels, threatening to overwhelm us with despair. However, we can speak up for our existential responsibilities. We can pick a better story. Here is a sampling of cognitive reframes that can be helpful. Use them to inspire yours. Instead of telling yourself that you're overwhelmed, announce that you trust your resources and are equal to this challenge. Say to yourself, you are the one who can do this. Instead of telling yourself that you're overwhelmed, remind yourself that you have plenty of time, money and ability to do everything you want to do. Say to yourself, you are the one who can do this. Instead of accepting yourself as another helpless flotsam on the current of life, decide that your environment does not create your peace, your peace creates your environment. Say to yourself, you are the one who can do this.
When anxiety was at its highest in my life, depressurizing literally saved me. But what I learned was, the reframing techniques won't make your pain evaporate. But they will give you access to more choice around how you experience that pain. And that's a win too.
Which one small action might keep you from the condition of helplessness? Find your version of this, practice it regularly, and soon you'll find circumstances will bother and unnerve you less. Remember, few things are more demoralizing than the believing we're running our life the wrong way and helpless to change it. But each of us can manage to escape the vicious cycle overwhelm creates. We can all passionately advocate for an end to unnecessary pressure. What new story about helplessness could you start telling yourself?
Challenging circumstances will bother and unnerve you less
Set strong enough boundaries against feeling of helplessness
Put the overwhelm in its place and give yourself access to more choice
Escape the vicious cycle overwhelm creates so you can return to your creative work