"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Kill Justificiation: How to Stop Feeling You Have to Explain Yourself


River at sunrise, with boat. Do you find yourself explaining your actions or feelings to others?

Do you feel that you are required to do so?

Do you feel that your answer won’t be accepted unless you do – or that YOU won’t be accepted unless you do?

Justifying our feelings or actions is an indication that we feel insecure about who we are. It is a form of seeking external approval. It comes from a fear that our actions won’t be approved of, or accepted – as though we feel we have to convince others of their validity, and on some level, of our own validity.

When we justify ourselves to others we give away our personal power. We give away our choice about how we feel or think, believing that unless someone else approves, we can’t either.

I would often find myself going into long drawn out explanations about why I did something, especially if I wasn’t sure if the person I was talking to would approve of it. It might be over something trivial, like a musician I liked, books I liked, things I liked doing, or something more in depth, like why I parented the way I did, why I had becomes friends with someone – always I felt I had to justify myself.

My mother always worked on the assumption that because I was her daughter I had to like everything she did, and if I didn’t she would create an argument about it. She would consider it a negation of her if I didn’t, and take it as a personal sleight and get upset. And the upset thus taught me that it was easier to pretend I did like what she wanted me to, to please her and keep the peace.

Unfortunately this meant I learnt a bad habit early on: to either pretend I liked something to please others, or go into detailed reasons why I liked it to try and validate it and gain approval. Sadly though, this resulted in me either not knowing what I really liked, or humiliating myself by over explaining, and getting a sense that it put the other person off, creating an awkward, tense situation. Often I would walk away feeling like I had said too much, and feel bad about myself.

Stop letting people that do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions. – Will Smith

This pattern of behaviour was highlighted to me when I realised I didn’t behave this way around everyone. There were some people I could be around who I expressed myself clearly with, defined my likes and dislikes, and who I felt accepted by, because they didn’t expect anything from me.

It was brought to my attention when I visited a friend with an ex-boyfriend. My relationship with this ex-boyfriend wasn’t good. I was always on tender hooks, unsure he was happy with me. I felt I had to live up to an image he had of me. He would often argue with me about my opinions and view. After we visited my friend he commented how relaxed I had been in their company, confident and happy, and he asked why I wasn’t that way with him anymore.

I realised my friend had never expected or wanted me to be anyone else; I could discuss my tastes and opinions with them, and they wouldn’t argue with them – whether they agreed with them or not. They respected me, and my thoughts and feelings, so I could be myself with them.
  
And if there were people that I had to justify or explain myself to then I had to move away from them, because they weren’t helping me, they were taking something away from me. They were the wrong people, possibly toxic people.

Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s fine. It’s not their journey to make sense of – it’s yours. - Zero Dean

It made me realise that I shouldn’t have to explain myself or defend my choices to anyone. I realised I had a right to feel and think any way I chose, as long as it didn’t hurt anyone. I was worthy, and I didn’t need to justify why.

But doing this is not so easy, so I broke it down into a step by step process.

1)    Listen to yourself – feel your feelings about things, and acknowledge them;
2)    Be honest with yourself – don’t alter anything to suit others. Being different is okay;
3)    Follow your heart when you make decisions by trusting yourself – and you do that by doing the first step;
4)    Believe in yourself - know that you are a good person;
5)    Be confident in your feelings and choices, then you won’t need to seek someone else to.

Be who you are. Think the way you do. Be who you are.

You are worthy, you don’t need to justify why!



Can you relate? Let me know in the comments. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Negative Emotion Addiction: How to Recognise & Release it

Clouds reflected in water. Do you ever feel anxious suddenly, and without reason?

Do you ever get a bad feeling come on, but you don't know why?

Do you get stuck feeling bad all the time, but don't really know why?

Much like any addiction, Negative Emotion Addiction can be both physical and mental. If we repeatedly experience a negative emotion, it can become habit forming, and our bodies can reflect it as much as our minds.

Through some personal work I was doing I discovered that I have a negative emotion addiction to emotions like Dread, Envy, and Inadequacy. These come up for me both consciously and unconsciously.

The one that I notice the most is Dread, as it manifests physically. On any given day it will appear out of nowhere showing up as a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as though something has gone wrong - or is about to.

I check myself: Am I missing something? Have I forgotten to do something?
I check the clock: Am I meant to be somewhere? Am I supposed to be fetching one of my children?
I check the calendar: Is there an appointment I should be attending, or a phone call I should be making?

I run through it all, making sure I haven’t forgotten something that will cause a problem later. When I realise I haven’t missed anything and I have no reason for feeling this way, I release it, letting the feeling go, reassuring myself that all is well. 

This is an emotion I felt as a child on a daily basis throughout my entire childhood until I left home. Being a child of domestic violence this emotion was present several times a day, or all day long. It is an emotion formed round a fear of knowing something dreadful is about to happen, coupled with a feeling of insecurity about the unpredictability of it - what will happen exactly, and when?

In my current life there is no reason for me to be experiencing this emotion any more, so I recognise it as being a sort of 'residual' emotion, like part of a withdrawal symptom, now I am no longer experiencing it daily. Each time the feeling arises I consciously undo it and let it go, and in doing that I work to end the recurrence of it.  

“If negative emotions arise you can watch them fly over you like debris floating in the wind.” – Unknown 

Some might say it is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and it may be, but as it is only a feeling and not brought on by a flashback or memory, I recognise it as something my body is so used to feeling it simply reproduces it without a trigger. 

However, when I experience Envy it’s more conscious. A steam of thoughts will fill my head: wishing that I had what others had, wishing I was doing what others were doing. It can be about a friendship, a personality trait, a job, but always comparing myself to others, either personally or their living situation. These thoughts can bring about a physical reaction too, again a sick feeling in the stomach much like dread. But I have to consciously stop the spiral of these thoughts otherwise they can grow into larger more negative emotions, like paranoia, anger, or sadness. 

To stop these thoughts I focus on what I do have, and how much I have. I think about all the things I like about my life, and about myself, and what I have to offer in any friendship, relationship, or job. And to continue moving away from these feelings I remind myself that what I believe others have is an assumption and not a reality.  

“Everything we see is a perspective, not a truth.” – Marcus Aurelius  

For me, envy is an emotion born out of a childhood of lack where I felt like I was the only person suffering, and others had much more than me – often not in the material sense, but in the emotional sense: love, happiness, security, sense of belonging, and stability. These were missing from my life as I was growing up and they led me into feelings of inadequacy: I felt I didn’t deserve these things, that I wasn’t good enough, that I was doing something wrong, or being punished. 

I spent a lot of time feeling this way as a child, and it caused a great deal of sadness, and anxiety for me. I got used to feeling that way too; it became my constant, and sometimes my comfort. I would fall into a victim mindset, and find it hard to see what a negative effect these feelings had on the rest of my life. I struggled to sustain friendships and relationships and didn’t understand why people didn’t want to be in my company. I had become toxic to them – and to myself – much like an addict.

But like any addiction it is possible to break the habit: there is a process. Although for a Negative Emotion Addiction it is not so much giving up something as becoming aware of it and letting it go.
Over the years I have changed my thought process and perspective, so now when I experience these negative emotions I follow these steps:

- Become conscious of them;
- Recognise what they are;
- Check they no longer apply;
- Release them, and let them go.

We must learn to question the validity of our recurring negative emotions. We need to ask ourselves: Are these emotions something I am simply used to feeling? Do I need to still be feeling this? Is it still relevant in my life now?

In doing this we can slowly recover from their effects and make room for more positive thoughts and feelings - ones we want to become addicted to.

Are there any negative emotions you might be addicted to? Let me know in the comments below.

I discovered NEA through my work with Norval Rhodes doing Energy Healing


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Releasing the Power of Choice: how to see you always have one

Close ups shot of a white/purple Rhododendron flowerHow often do you see the choice in what you do? Are you going through life believing that you don’t have many choices? Have you ever been put off doing something because you felt you had to do it?

How many of us tell ourselves we ‘should’ do something because we believe it is what our friends, family, or partner want us to do?

At my very first therapy appointment, my therapist told me that I didn’t have to like the village I had moved to. He told me I had a choice and it was okay not to like it. This came as a complete shock to me, because I had believed that I didn’t have a choice.

The most common way people give up their power, is by thinking they don’t have any. - Alice Walker

I am a city girl and I moved to a foreign speaking country and village, to be with my partner. It was where he had grown up and where all his friends and family lived – a large close-knit community. My husband loved it there, and so did all his friends and family, so when I struggled to settle there too – due to mixture of not feeling welcome or included - I felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was letting my husband down; I felt like a failure. These feelings were then compounded by my partner’s flat refusal to move to anywhere else, putting the onus on me to find a way to accept living there if I wanted to stay with him.

So when my therapist showed me that I didn’t have to like it there, when I realised there was a choice, and I was allowed not to like it there, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Suddenly I was able to make a decision about the place for myself, rather than feel it had been decided for me. I was able to think about it objectively rather than having it forced on me.

"Freedom is realising you have a choice." - T. F. Hodge

It had been expected of me to like living there. I had felt pressured and been given no time to decide for myself, which had made me resent the place before I’d even given it a chance. When I saw I had a choice, I was able to look at it from a whole new perspective and ask myself whether I did actually like it or not, something I hadn’t done up to that point (some six years later!).

This then extended into other areas of my life. Whenever I found myself feeling resentful about a ‘have to’ situation I would rephrase it in my head, asking myself what other choices I had.

Situations like:

- Going along to a coffee morning to meet other mother’s from my children’s school class. I felt I should go, to be sociable and friendly; I felt like it was expected of me. When I realised that I had a choice, and that I didn’t have to go, I changed my mind - I went and thoroughly enjoyed it!

- Taking my child to play football: I don’t like football; I felt that it was what my husband wanted; I felt it was expected of me as a mum. But when I realised how much my child enjoyed it, how good it was for him to be involved in a team sport, I changed my mind. I was happy to take him – I wanted to do it.

This new perspective also enabled me to realise I could say No, too.

I was able make a choice and stop doing the things I didn’t enjoy as well.

Every year my partner and his close group of friends rent a house and go away for the weekend - couples and children too. But I didn’t enjoy going along. They weren’t people I interacted with on a daily basis, so I found it hard. I was only going along to please my partner, who wanted me to go too. I felt I had no choice because I didn’t want to ruin his fun, even though I wasn’t having any.

When I realised I had a choice, I found the strength to say No. I told my partner I didn’t want to go anymore. And although I worried there would be a lot of upset about my decision, there wasn’t. I was firm and decided and he was happy to go along with just the children. And although I felt guilty when I waved them goodbye, I ended up having a calm peaceful weekend to myself, and they had lots of fun too!

"By saying Yes when you need to No, cripples the most important relationship in your life: the relationship between you and you." - Nea Joy

In realising I had choices, I released the power I had over decisions I made in my life. I was able to ask myself what I wanted, rather than do what I thought others wanted me to do – or expected me to do. I felt happy about the choices I was making and the things I was doing.

By releasing the ‘should’ I was able to change my thoughts from a negative to a positive. It enabled me to enjoy the moment, rather than resent it.  It gave me a sense of personal power and control over my life, enabling me to step out of victim mode and feel as though I was taking an active role in my life.

So if there are things in your life you are struggling with, or doing that are making you unhappy, as yourself these questions:
 
Would you change your mind about something if you had the opportunity to decide for yourself about it, rather than feel it was expected of you?

Can you see the choice within that releases your personal power, and helps you feel you are making the decision for yourself, rather than having it made for you?  

Embracing the things we do feels a lot better than resenting them. 

"No matter what the situation, remind yourself 'I have a choice'." - Deepak Chopra  


Friday, 4 September 2015

Changing the Question: How to Stop Self-doubt

Seeing through the split trunk of a tree, to a lake.
Do you often ask yourself questions like:

Why is this happening to me?

What am I doing wrong?

What is wrong with me?

Often when I’m stressed out, or in an anxious state, or life isn’t working out as I want it to, I start questioning myself. And the questions I tax myself with aren’t helpful, they only exasperate or perpetuate my already frustrated feelings.

These aren’t helpful questions, they are blocking questions. They stop us in our tracks, immobilising us, and even punishing us. They leave us feeling bad, and stuck in a cycle of frustration that can lead to further negative emotions like anger, guilt and shame.

There are two reasons why these questions shut us down:

  1. They make the assumption that there is something wrong with us, that we are at fault in some way if things aren’t working out;
  2. They ask questions that give no solution to the problem.

These questions would leave me sitting in victim mode feeling as though there was nothing I could do to help myself. What I learnt was that if I changed the questions I was asking myself, not only would I uncover the root of the problem causing me to feel stressed, anxious, or stuck in my situation, but I would also find solutions to help me feel like I could move forward again.

When we are blocked and trying to push in one direction, we need to stop and consider if what we are doing is helpful at that time and evaluate what it is really going on.

"Successful people ask better question, and as a result get better answers." – Tony Robbins.

A friend of mine recently experienced writers block. They expressed to me how frustrated they were about not being able to write, and went on to ask themselves if writing was really for them. They questioned their writing talent, wondered if they would ever write again, and asked if I thought they should give up on the entire thing. They then went on to validate these questions by going over rejection of previous work, and all the failures they had experienced so far in their writing journey. For them, personally, this was spiralling down into a very dark place.

Knowing my friend, and knowing some of the other, non-writing, issues going on in their life, I asked them if how they were feeling had anything to do to with their writing. If maybe other issues, like having to start caring for an elderly, sick parent, which then reminded them of the loss of their other parent, might have more to do with it, topped with frustrations at attempts to get fit being unsuccessful.

I told them to change the questions they were asking themselves about what was going on, and to think about what they could do to ease the pressure on themselves in their current situation; how maybe they were expecting too much from themselves at this time, and to ask themselves 'helpful' questions, rather than destructive ones.

Here are a few examples of helpful questions:

- What am I feeling right now?
- What is this feeling really about?
- How can I approach this differently?
- What is the lesson here?
- What can I learn from this?
- What small steps can I take today to feel better?

"When you finally understand why you’re asking this question – your life can change." - Mastin Kipp

Once I had introduced the idea of changing the question to my friend, they sounded relieved. They were then inspired and motivated to start moving forward again. They could see a way out of their present stuck, depressed mindset. By changing the questions they were able to free themselves from a perpetual negative internal dialogue.

I threw them a lifeline – but one they already had within themselves.

Changing the question can give us back our power, our strength, our desire to keep pushing forward. It can open up a whole world of possibilities. It helps us step out of victim mode and create a constructive plan, or idea, about how we can move forward.

It enables us to stop scolding ourselves and telling ourselves we are doing something wrong. It takes the pressure off and reduces the expectation that there is a need to change ourselves.

By changing the questions we ask ourselves, choices become visible that we couldn’t previously see, and in turn a sense of power that we can actively do something, allowing a fresh perspective on the situation.



This post was originally inspired by a blog post written by Mastin Kipp, over at the Daily Love early this year, called ‘How to overcome the 'what’s wrong with me' thoughts.’ Check it out for a more in depth view. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Finding the Balance: How to Avoid Living in Extremes



Bridge through high grasses. Do you find your mood swings between happy and sad with nothing in between?

Do you have to be walking on sunshine to feel you had a good day?

Or did the world fall out from under your feet if it didn’t go so well?

We are currently in a time of ‘urgent living’. Everyone seems to be in a rush, and everything has to happen today! Now! This minute!

Within that rush is an expectation, one of seeing our dreams materialising and all our hard work paying off, or getting what we believe we want/deserve. But if it doesn’t happen – if that moment doesn’t bring a rush of joy or success, we fall back in despair, sometimes so deep we struggle to recover.

We are either really happy or inconsolably sad. I call this living in extremes.

“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go, and knowing when to do which of the two.” - Rumi

Some people believe that if they are not happy all the time there is something wrong with them – or in their relationship, friendships, job; that if things aren’t working out as they had expected they are doing something wrong, or failing in some way. They don’t believe it is okay to have an ‘off’ day and find life a struggle. They have to talk about being happy ALL the time and only say and do positive things – nothing negative will be tolerated.

This can lead to feelings of anxiety and deep sadness – one they daren’t speak about, otherwise it risks falling into a depressed way of thinking.

It is an ‘all or nothing’ perspective – ‘I’m either happy or I’m sad’.

But the trick to riding the pendulum of life is not to let it swing too far in either direction. You have to find the balance.

“Balance is the key to everything. What we do, think, say, eat, feel, they all require awareness, and through this awareness we can grow.” – Koi Fresco

You have to accept that some days you might not wake up feeling full of energy, or looking forward to the day. And during those times it’s okay to feel sad or overwhelmed and disappointed with life. The trick is to not hold onto it and believe that it will be like that forever.

I was raised by a mother who wallowed in a negative mindset. If things didn’t go her way then there was something wrong and someone to blame. She was never satisfied with what she had in any given moment. She was always looking for something else, something better, and she had high expectations.

I unwittingly took on this mindset, creating drama whenever my life felt dull, usually of a self-destructive, negative kind: pushing people away, running away, starting over and again and again, each time believing I would find the happiness I so desperately believed was out there. It took me a long time to realise that it was only through stable living and finding a calm within that it would appear – and that it already resided within me.

“True happiness resides within you. Happiness is something that you are, and it comes from the way that you think.” - Wayne Dyer

A friend of mine asked me recently why it was that everyone around her seemed so happy all the time when she wasn’t. She expressed how hard it was to keep up the pretence that she was happy too, just to fit in. But I reminded her that it was an illusion and that it was unlikely they were happy all the time. It was an assumption she was making that reflected her own feelings of anxiety about not feeling happy all the time. She believed she ‘should’ be happy all the time, and that there was nothing to complain about, yet inside she didn’t feel it.

Many of us do this. I have often looked at others and their lives and felt envy, wondering how they were so content and happy. Asking myself, how have they achieved that; what am I doing wrong?  But in reality I was projecting the thought that others were happier than me to sustain the cycle of misery and feelings of failure I was experiencing. When I spoke to those people I found their lives were not as perfect as I had thought – and some of those people felt the same way I did.

“Comparison is the thief of Joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt

These feelings can keep us disconnected from each other, causing us to stand back and keep our distance, even withdraw from social interaction. But separation causes pain; it is only through connection we can feel love and a sense of belonging and contentment.

To find balance we need to connect to those around us, which in turn will enable us to gauge what is real. If we speak our feelings out loud and be honest about them, and share them, we can stop seeking unattainable highs through self-imagined ideals of other people’s lives.

By reducing expectations – both from ourselves as from others – we can start living in the moment, whilst allowing ourselves the ‘bad days’ and not pushing ourselves to some unrealistic, insincere emotion.

If we wake up one morning not feeling either happy or sad, we don’t have to push ourselves to feel any particular way. We can let the day unfold, accept who we are on that day and in that moment, without any demands, and be gentle with ourselves if things don’t go our way.

Once we take the pressure off we allow ourselves to live more balanced lives, and avoid dwelling in the extremes.  




Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Art of Being Present: How to Stop Worrying about Then or When


Sunshine glinting on water
Do you find yourself worrying about things that you did in the past?

Do you worry about how your life is going to be in the future?

Does it distract you from what you are doing now, today?

In the busy lives we’ve created for ourselves it has become an art to remain present and live in the moment. To truly greet each day and only think about what is happening on that day, as well as being open to everyone and everything around us.

We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the future and wallowing in the past – or even chastising ourselves about the past and fantasising about the future! And when we do this, it can put us in an overwhelmed or anxious state, making it harder to bring ourselves back to the present moment.  

By being distracted by either the past or the future, we rob ourselves of time in the here and now. We wish our lives away quite literally by thinking over the past and wishing we could change it, or what we want from our imagined future. And when we do this, we miss what is right in front of us: the people, the place, and the shared experience.

“The present moment is the only moment available to us and it is the door to all other moment.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

For me personally, I realised that whenever I found myself in a situation I was not enjoying, or wasn’t what I hoped for or expected, I would drift off, disassociating myself from the present life and living in a fantasy one inside my head. I would disconnect from the present moment entirely.

This is a form of escapism. When I was young it enabled me to survive a painful childhood, but once grown up I continued this pattern of behaviour resulting in me feeling like I was standing on the outside of my life, desperately wanting to be a part of it, but believing that I didn’t belong, which only perpetuated the cycle of disconnection.
 
I didn’t know how to be present, how to step into the life around me and find it satisfying and rewarding. But over the course of several years in therapy I started to work it out; I started to understand how I could change my way of thinking and start engaging in my own life.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow

These are the things I started doing:

1) Reducing Expectations
I talked in a previous post about how reducing expectations can enable us to enjoy events, and social interactions better. It also applies to the present moment. By not expecting or wanting a different outcome, and not fearing a repetition of the past, we can experience the here and now as it is, without any preconceived ideas, embracing the moments as they unfold.

2) Feeling Appreciation
I started a habit of appreciation. Some call this ‘living in gratitude’ and connect it to following religious faith, but it has no religious connotations for me, it is simply seeing the things I have around me, right there in that moment, on that day, and enjoying them and recognising how much I have in my life to be happy about.

3) Active Listening
This is the act of being present with people. It requires making eye contact, and taking the time to actually hear what someone else is saying. Registering it both physically and verbally, and engaging in a conversation, without being distracted either by other things, or other thoughts. Giving yourself over fully in that moment to the interaction you are having with another. This article on Changing Minds explains how to go about it in more detail. 

4) Recognising the Power of Choice
I recognised I had a choice, both about how I chose to look at things, and in what I chose to do about them – even if that meant only changing my reaction rather than a physical action. I decided I was not a victim of my past, I was here now, and I could take steps to achieve the things I wanted, no matter how small, today. I could focus everyday on what I could do in that moment to bring about my future desires.

All of these things help me remain present. I still struggle with it some days, when I become overwhelmed by all the things I have to do to take care of my family, and all the things I want to achieve for myself. But I remind myself I don’t have to do it all today. I bring myself back to the day by noticing something as small as a flower in the garden, or a bird in a tree, or a cloud in the sky, and taking the time to see it, smell it, hear it, and feel that day, be in that moment, and not anywhere else in my mind.

“In the present, when we allow ourselves to fully live there, we are restored, made wiser, made deeper and happier.”- Marianne Williamson


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Four agreements we all need to be in agreement with

I came across these four agreement, which were written by Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements. I haven't personally read the entire book yet, but I felt these were worth sharing. They help clarify the ideals we should all strive for, in our own thinking as much as in our actions.


The Four Agreements

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
 
Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
 
Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
 
Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Book cover of The Four Agreements by Don Miquel Ruiz


 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Overcoming Overwhelm: learning how to do it all, one thing at a time

A photo of a breaking wave. Overcoming Overwhelm.
Do you have days where you struggle to keep your mind on the task at hand?

Are you always thinking about the next thing you have to do?

Do you feel exhausted at the end of the day but feel you haven’t do anything?

Feeling overwhelmed is common in today’s world. We live busy lives, trying to achieve a lot in a small amount of time. We juggle several things at once, like a job, raising a family, managing a home, and all that that entails.

Being overwhelmed often shows up in a physical form under the header of Stress. It manifests to varying degrees in a number of symptoms, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, insomnia, even depression.

It is particularly prevalent in those of us with busy or ‘noisy’ minds, who struggle to stop thinking about all the things we feel must get done today! Or who have overactive imaginations that insist on playing out all the ‘what if’ scenarios.

“There is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own mind.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

When I moved to a foreign country to be with my husband, I suffered insomnia every night for six months prior to the move date. I would wake up at 3am and not be able to get back to sleep. Once my mind was awake and thinking about what was ahead of me, I couldn’t get it to rest again. The only thing I could do was get up, have a drink of water and sit and watch telly until I felt tired enough to fall asleep again. I was so overwhelmed by the thoughts of living in a foreign language and culture, and wondering how I would survive there, as well as being a city girl moving to a village. And after moving, the struggles and frustrations I went through trying to settle here continued to overwhelm me, despite trying to appear happy and satisfying everyone’s expectations of me – including my own.

Overwhelm can be a reaction to feelings that we aren’t able to express properly, either because we don’t have the time, or because we don’t want to feel them. If we don’t give ourselves proper time to process something, or take on more than we are capable of we can become overwhelmed. We continue pushing ourselves to do more, to be more, and tell ourselves we are fine, when often we aren’t.

For me it resulted in a breakdown. My inability to express myself and share my feelings without fear of upsetting or disappointing those around me, coupled with feeling completely unsupported, meant I became lost in a negative spiral of thoughts and emotions which eventually shut me down. I felt powerless to change my feelings or my situation, and disappeared into a black hole in my head.

Fortunately though, I had enough clarity to seek help in the form of a therapist.

Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place. – Robin Lee

I learnt to deal with one thing at a time, rather than tackle everything together. I learnt how to break my feelings down and look at them separately, identifying those that I needed to work with more than others.

I learnt to not look too far ahead and focus on the short term instead, to look at what I could do today, or this year, and deal with situations as they arose, rather than try and anticipate them all in advance.

I learnt how I could look at the things I struggled with differently, from a new perspective, and find a way that would help me accept and see that I still had power in the form of choices. And step by step I managed to start moving forward again, reassessing my priorities and focusing on one thing at a time, one feeling at a time, and one task at a time.

I slowed everything down.

I learnt to stop focusing so much on the big picture, and potential future outcome, and focus on the here and now.

“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.” – Thich Naht Hanh

I still have times that I find myself overwhelmed, and in those moments I ask myself what things I want to achieve today. I prioritise them, often by writing a list with the most important thing first. Then I strike everything below the top one and focus on that. I set aside specific time for it rather than try and squash it in between everything else. And when I focus on that one step I reduce the anxiety, and in turn the feeling of being overwhelmed. And often I then feel like I have achieved something and taken a step forward.  

“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” – Timber Hawkeye

Do you experience overwhelm? How do you deal with it, what works for you? I’d love to hear.