When we feel overwhelmed, even small things can seem like big things. Someone asks for a favour, you can’t find your keys or you get stuck in a traffic jam and it feels like too much to handle. When we are already feeling stressed or under pressure, we have a tendency to get upset, frustrated or angry a lot easier than usual. We’ve reached our limit and don’t have the capacity to take on any more. Following are some simple and effective ways to feel less overwhelmed, so that we can more easily manage what life throws at us.
When we feel overwhelmed, it is usually because things are not going the way we want them to and/or there is more going on than we feel we can cope with. We may be overwhelmed by grief or trauma, or by study and work commitments, our health, relationships, family, being busy, other people’s expectations of us, or feeling just not good enough.
When we are overwhelmed, we have gone into flight, fight or freeze response. Our sympathetic nervous system has gone into overdrive. We feel anxious, stressed and overloaded.
It can feel like the answer to overwhelm is to push through, or think our way out. It’s not. It may seem counterproductive, but the answer to overwhelm is to stop.
Health worker and trauma specialist Steve Haines, has created a simple and effective strategy for dealing with activation or overwhelm. I have found it works perfectly for anyone feeling overwhelmed. Steve calls it OMG – Orientate, Move and Ground. I use this strategy a lot, both for myself and with many of my clients. Although simple, it takes into account an extremely comprehensive range of contemporary trauma theory and practice.
The idea is this: when you notice you feel overwhelmed, stop.
Then orientate yourself to your surroundings. This means looking around and really paying attention to where you are and who you are with. Look at details. Notice the colours you can see, what can you hear, feel and smell around you? When we are in panic-mode, we tend to have tunnel vision. Noticing our surroundings widens our awareness, bringing us back into the present moment and giving us sensory information about exactly where we are.
Next, move your body. Stretch, walk into another room, wriggle your toes, whatever feels right for you. Moving gets us back into contact with our body, rather than being stuck in our head. It also allows us to release some of the tension we’ve built up through being stressed.
Ground yourself. This simply means connect with the ground. It is a way to ‘come back home to yourself’. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we tend to ‘lose ourselves’. We are off centre, unbalanced and not thinking clearly. When we ground ourselves, we become calm and centred within ourselves and in the here-and-now. To do this, we can take a few long, slow, deep breaths. We can notice our feet touching the solid ground and the weight of our body being supported by our legs or the chair we sit on. To extend on this sense of grounding, we can gently push our feet, one at a time, into the floor. In this way, we are literally connecting with the ground.
While we are in overwhelm, our rational thinking, higher brain (our prefrontal cortex), is running on limited capacity. Once we calm and centre ourselves, this part of the brain can come ‘back online’. We are then in a much better position to think clearly. To ask ourselves, ‘what do I need right now?’
For further support, you may wish to see a counsellor, psychotherapist or other health care professional. This article provides general information and cannot respond to the therapeutic needs of specific individuals.
About Toni Jackson
I am a psychotherapist, counsellor and creative therapist, in Perth, Fremantle and Mundaring, Western Australia. I specialise in working with women around the issues of self-worth, anxiety, body image and personal power. I am a certified Gestalt Therapist, with a BA Psychology and a Grad. Dip. Women’s Studies. I have a strong interest in trauma therapy and use both body awareness and art therapy in my work.
If you would like to book an appointment, please contact Toni Jackson.
Phone: 0439 995 302
Steve Haines’ Trauma is Really Strange
What To Do When You Feel Anxious
Daniel Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain
Daniel Siegel’s Window of Tolerance
Photo credit: Paulgi via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND