Overwhelm and our Assessments

Have you ever had the experience of being a part of a work team when a new, large project was assigned?  It’s fascinating to watch the varied reactions of individual team members.  There’s a good chance that at least one person in the group will come away saying something like, “This is too much! We don’t have the capacity to do this! We’re already in over our heads!”.  Interestingly, there will be other members of the team who have decidedly different reactions, such as excitement, anticipation, curiousity.

Why is this?  Why the different responses?  

The narrative our overwhelmed team member has created relative to this new assignment is just that, – a story that she has crafted based on her sense of the current reality.  It is the way she is seeing things within the context of the rest of her life.  These assessments are not truths – they are simply assumptions that we come up with based on our past experiences and current situation. (Commonly known as the way we see things…)

Imagine if, instead of having the automatic response of “I can’t handle this!”, we gave ourselves some time to check in to see if that assessment is actually grounded in any way.  If your go-to reaction when you start to feel ovewhelmed is panic or anger, that is an excellent cue that it is time for you to relook at the way you are ‘seeing’ things. It is easy to enhance our sense of being overwhelmed by creating mental scenarios that don’t serve us very well (and there are often plenty of people around you who will join in), but with practice we can begin to notice when this is happening to us and take deliberate steps that allow us to write a different script.  

Some suggestions for shifting your assessments about being overwhelmed…


  • find a trusted partner who can serve as a ‘check-in meter’ – tell them your story and ask them to help you ground or shift it
  • be aware of times when you are at risk for stepping into that overwhelmed space – this will put you in a much better position to do a self-check in around your assessments 
  • change the environment you find yourself in, even if it is only for 5-10 minutes.  By this I mean, get up, move to a different space, attend to something else – like your breath.  It’s amazing how this can help us shift our gaze just enough to realign our thinking and perspective.

Patterns of behavior don’t change on their own.  They require awareness and new actions.


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