Managing Overwhelm

By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC  

It’s one o’clock in the morning.  I wake up, for what reason I have no idea but immediately my mind is racing with everything I need to do, everything I didn’t get done, everything I want to do, the worry about everything I’m not doing, and even some things I am doing!

I hear an announcer somewhere in the back of my head shouting, “and we’re off to the races!”  And that’s exactly what it feels like. My thoughts are on overdrive.

I’ve been so busy trying to keep up with everything I have on my overflowing plate all day that I actually luxuriate in having time to contemplate life, even though it’s 1 AM.

At that moment, it feels good to think through everything that’s been on my mind.  And all my best ideas seem to come to me in the middle of the night.

In fact, in those moments of solitude in the wee hours of the morning, it feels like my IQ actually jumps a level. I race through all the problems and challenges that I face each day, coming up with seemingly brilliant solutions.  The downside is that although I think I’m going to remember these gold nuggets the next morning, I rarely do.

At the same time that I’m solving all my problems, somewhere in my sleep-deprived mind, I am also aware that I am likely blowing situations out of proportion and making things up.

The middle of the night is a prime time for exaggerating negatives,  overanalyzing, and jumping to conclusions. I  find myself ruminating over struggles in relationships and engage in pretend conversations with my partner, my children, and coworkers to name a few, working through challenges that are causing stress and strife.

I want to feel like I’m solving the problems that occur all day in my mind in what seems like the only “free time” I have.  And suddenly it’s 3 am and I have now manufactured countless scenarios to manage all the “to-do’s” and “what if’s” I have conjured up.

To try and shut my mind off I find myself transitioning to scrolling through social media which backfires.  Now I’m feeling more guilty about all the things I’m not doing and all the things I could be doing better.  Finally, now at 4 am I decide I better shut off my brain so I don’t completely destroy the next day with exhaustion, knowing it’s too late, the day is screwed. Another anxiety-fueled sleepless night!

To be transparent, I am a Class A worrier and have been always.  As my Dad lovingly and humorously commented after one of my lamenting sessions with him, “you sure can make up some s@#! to worry about!”  Yes, I can!

I am a single mother of 2, one special needs, and the owner of a growing counseling practice.  This gives me plenty of fuel for overthinking, over-analyzing, and feeling like I’m not doing enough on any front. Managing overwhelm is definitely a challenge

The good news, I am a therapist and I spend all day helping people with managing overwhelm, so I do have some idea how to help myself.  Although it can at times be hard to practice what I preach, I have a stellar list of strategies at my disposal.

So, when managing overwhelm gets out of hand and I find myself struggling with insomnia, here’s my recipe for “getting myself back on track”.

Call in the calvary – reach out to my support system

Kick up some dust – go for a run

Get some air – take deep breaths and get outside

Comedic relief – have fun plans on the calendar

Me timetake time to be alone and reduce the noise of the environment

Take it down a notch – evaluate whether my expectations are realistic. Do I need to eliminate or delegate? It’s ok if everything doesn’t get done.

(Kiss) Keep it Simple Stupid – avoid over-analyzing and complicating things.  The simplest answer is often the right answer!

Tame the inner critic – self-disparaging thoughts be gone

All work and no play – practice work/life balance

Beat the clock – time management, scheduling, keep a calendar

Stop and smell the roses – Stay present by focusing on your 5 senses

When in doubtask an expert (even therapists have therapists!)

Only fools rush in – be mindful and planful in decisions and actions

Tame the dragon – manage frustration with communication and compassion

Cluck like a chicken??hypnosis works and no there is no clucking

What’s in Your wallet? – organize your finances and budget.  $ is a top stressor

It’s like riding a bike– have routines for self-care.  Routines lead to habits.

I could keep going but you get the point!  We’re all human beings, wading through the best we can.  When you notice things have built up and you’re up half the night thinking and worrying like I do, or having trouble concentrating at work or forgetting where you’re supposed to be when…Stop, Slow Down and Reset.  Know that overwhelm happens in waves, it ebbs and flows.  Managing overwhelm is an important life skill. Enjoy the low tide and have your toolbox ready for high tide.

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