Overwhelm – What is it?

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear a prominent woman in Wisconsin speak at a conference about her past role as COO of a large company.  The focus of her talk was mostly about the many competing commitments she juggled and what this meant to her, her employer and her family and friends.  One thing that really struck me when listening to her was that –

  • looking back now that she is retired, she believes she was in an almost constant state of overwhelm most of her waking hours

This is what those of us in the audience wanted to hear – “Look!  Even this powerful woman struggled – just like me!”  

In my work with individuals and organizations, I find that this topic – Managing Overwhelm – is one of the most sought after.  This isn’t a surprise really.  We all feel overwhelmed at times.  It’s a part of the human experience.  But knowing that we are not alone typically brings only nominal comfort…  

Over the coming weeks, I’d like to explore with you some ideas and practices I have around overwhelm and would appreciate hearing your thoughts, stories and strategies for dealing with it.

Let’s start by getting a bit more clear about what overwhelm really is.  I propose that it is: 

  • An Assessment – that I have more to do/handle than I can manage.  The voice in our head is saying, “This is too much!”, “I can’t do this”, or “I don’t have what it takes to accomplish this.”
  • A Condition of the Body – we feel sensations such as tension, nausea, lethargy or frenetic energy
  • A Mood – of being completely overcome
  • An Emotion – of anxiety, fear, anger, irritability, etc.

During the coming week, give this some thought and let me know if you agree.  If you find yourself in a state of overwhelm, pay attention to the signals your body and mind are giving you.  Consider what kind of mood you are in, what is happening to your body, or what conversation is playing in your mind. Next week we will continue this conversation by expanding our perspective on the causes and costs of overwhelm not only to individuals but organizations, teams and families.



One thought on “Overwhelm – What is it?

  1. I agree with your four characteristics or things that define overwelm. I think we all suffer from it. For some it comes sporadically, for others it seems to be a constant state. But I also think that most of the time we bring it on ourselves and that we can control it vs letting it control us. There are exceptions to this such as times of unexpected life events and tragedies. But most of the time, at least for me, the times of overwelm come when I set unreal expectations for myself.

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