Are you ready to stop feeling overwhelmed?
1 in 4 Americans reported feeling under a great deal of stress in the past month. That’s a lot of people! And those are just the people who are aware they are under stress. Chronic stress isn’t always easy to recognize because when something is constant you just sort of accept it as normal.
Chronic stress takes a big toll over time. But how big of a toll? Because if you don’t notice it and it just creeps up on you how are you supposed to recognize the signs? Of the 26% who said they are living in a state of stress, 27% (another 1 in 4) reported it being due to chronic illness. Now that is a nasty loop.
But I want to offer some insight - stress is the illness. When left unmanaged stress will cause chronic pain, headaches, chronic stomach problems, chronic fatigue, arthritis, chronic inflammation, brain fog, and overall crankiness. Stress is inevitable. We live in a world of fast and constant change. This means coming into contact with situations daily that are “stressful”.
The problem is this – we are adverse to discomfort and we have a very sensitive survival instinct in our brain. I don’t want to focus too much on the brain here however I think it helps to know a few things so you don’t feel crazy when you’re in overwhelm.
In a teeny, tiny nutshell this is what happens – your limbic system is the oldest part of your brain and is responsible for fight or flight reactions. Your limbic system also houses all your hormone secretion like adrenaline (for getting you out of pain) and dopamine (which is pleasure). Its sole purpose is to keep you alive in the event of a threat. For example, pulling your hand off the stove before you even register pain. Jumping back from the street when a car comes around the corner too quickly.
The part of your brain that enjoys rationality (your prefrontal cortex) is terrible at keeping you alive because instead of pulling the hand off the stove it would sit and ponder the reasons why. So your survival brain is a good thing but it’s pretty sensitive.
It also relays messages back and forth with your temporal lobe, which houses memories, emotion, stories, fears, etc. They make for an interesting duo. It doesn’t just put you into fight or flight when a real threat is present but when an emotional threat is present such as a looming deadline, seeing an ex, arguing with your best friend, being in debt, and more.
I am oversimplifying but in summary we are overly reactionary beings and most of us are living chronically from our survival brain. When we learn to sit with discomfort without reaching for habits to numb it then we teach ourselves that we are in fact safe and there’s no need to be anxious. You can read more on how fight, flight, or freeze show up in the body here.
When you don’t feel safe or are experiencing high levels of stress you reach for things outside yourself to ease it. For example, grabbing for your cell phone while waiting in line, eating too much sugar, or needing lots of stimuli at one time. You seek pleasure because your brain knows it will feel better.
These can turn into habits like addiction, compulsion, illness, insomnia, and avoidance behaviors. But what if there was a way to tune in to your inner resources, reduce stress, and feel better? The 15 steps below are a great place to start. Although they won't eliminate the roots leading up to overwhelm they are certainly adding to it.
15 Steps to Rid of Overwhelm
Now 15 may seem like a lot. But in truth they are worth the effort and if they cause discomfort then what a wonderful place to begin! These were developed by Dr. Marc Schoen. His book, "Your Survival Instinct is Killing You" is a good read if you want to know they why behind each step.
- Take a technology time-out at least 2 hours before bed
- Value imperfection
- Limit sensory input – try not to have the TV on, checking email, making dinner, and talking on the phone all at the same time.
- Make bedtime a sacred ritual
- Slow down
- Stop procrastinating
- Stop trying to get it all done
- Embrace the unknown
- Let go of anger
- Create a schedule with sleep and eating
- Try new things
- Take deep breaths 1-2x/day
- Let go of the need for instant gratification
- Go with the flow
In light and love, Andrea