By Jenny Peterson
(For an audio version of this blog, listen to episode #20 of my podcast)
Do you have a tendency to get overwhelmed easily? Does the simplest task for others seem daunting to you? When you think about where you are now with your health and where you want to be, do you get overwhelmed by all the options out there?
If you said yes to any or all of these, I can guarantee that overwhelm is a well trained pattern in your brain. It has been with you for awhile.
I know this pattern of overwhelm well, in-fact, it's been a major part of my healing, as well as many of my students.
Today I’m going to discuss where overwhelm comes from, how it shows up in your body, how it affects your healing, what you can do about it and how Pia, a student of the MBR Program, was able to kick it to the curb.
WHAT IS OVERWHELM?
Let’s define overwhelm.
The Webster definition is: to overpower or overcome in thought or feeling :: overwhelmed with grief; overwhelmed by terror. A sense of inadequacy overwhelmed me. Overwhelmed with guilt.
That’s the dictionary definition. It doesn’t really quite capture what I experienced in my body when I felt overwhelmed.
So, I’m going to define overwhelm as a generic, over-arching term for whatever we experience when our nervous systems are triggered into fight, flight, or freeze.
If we can bring it back to the nervous system, we can understand it much better than a Webster definition. Simply put, overwhelm is a nervous system response.
SIGNS YOU MAY BE OVERWHELMED
Now let's look at some signs that you may have if you are overwhelmed.
procrastination or lack of follow through on ideas, plans, projects
feeling scattered, forgetful, distracted
being unable to feel your body, or to know what you need
chronic exhaustion and/or chronic pain
ongoing busyness but with little to show for your efforts
difficulty making decisions
continual mind-spin, replaying conversations, obsessing over the past, worrying about the future
tendency to turn to numbing behaviors – tv, social media, shopping, other addictions…
Overwhelm occurs when a combination of external pressures and internal thoughts, feelings, and sensations remind our bodies, our nervous systems, of some previous pain or trauma.
As we all have different trauma stories, what causes overwhelm for you might be quite different than what causes overwhelm for me. This can lead to feeling alone, misunderstood, and unseen which compounds the sense of overwhelm.
Some possible overwhelm triggers include:
work or project deadlines (or our to-do lists!)
conflict – whether internal or external
crowds, loud noises, being touched without permission
attempting to play too many roles (perfectly) at once: mother, business owner, wife, friend, community organizer, volunteer
the news and/or social media
painful memories surfacing
transitions – new job, injury, marriage, divorce, baby, buying a home…
I recently took a poll and it turns out that 74% of people with chronic illness are overwhelmed with trying to heal.
So if you are feeling this way, you are not alone.
I get it, there are a lot of options out there and not understanding why your body is doing what it's doing can trigger this feeling of overwhelm.
A FEELING I KNOW WELL
Like I mentioned, overwhelm is a feeling that I know very well. Back when I owned my health and wellness store, I became overwhelmed with running my business and because I didn’t have the tools at the time to help me move through it, I sold my business.
While I learned a lot from that experience, because I didn’t learn how to work through that feeling by just selling my store, that pattern continued to show up in my life.
It showed up as a parent. I got overwhelmed with the simplest things, from cooking dinner to doing the laundry.
It showed up just prior to all my symptoms starting, when we were moving.
Then it showed up in my healing. I would get overwhelmed with not knowing what I should be doing, why my symptoms were not going away and just trying to figure it all out.
It wasn’t until someone asked me, how does trying to heal these symptoms make you feel?, that I made the connection that overwhelm was a common pattern in my life. It didn’t just start when I got sick, it was there before.
Once I learned that the way we operate today as adults, is programmed when we are children, I was able to trace back to where it started. I didn’t have the emotional resources to deal with certain situations and this is where overwhelm was rooted for me.
WHERE IT COMES FROM
Let’s dive a little deeper into the overwhelm-trauma connection.
What happens when we become overwhelmed? Our brains shut down, clear thinking evaporates, and our sympathetic nervous system takes over sending us into fight, flight, or freeze.
Fight, flight, and freeze are all nervous system reactions that tell us that we don’t feel safe …. That something is happening that is potentially dangerous for us.
There are times when are lives truly are in danger and our nervous systems are responding appropriately through engaging the fight, flight, or freeze response. The standard example for this is encountering a tiger in the wild.
Most of the time, however, when we feel overwhelmed there is nothing truly life-threatening happening.
Rather, something is happening in our external or internal environment that reminds our nervous system of some previous, not-yet-fully-resolved trauma. Our nervous system then responds AS IF the dangerous situation is happening in this moment. And, just like that, we are triggered into overwhelm.
Overwhelm can be triggered by either our personal unresolved trauma or by the unresolved trauma that lives in our lineage.
Two examples of personal traumas:
being in a car accident and then feeling overwhelmed and panicked every time you get into a car.
being yelled at or shamed repeatedly by a caregiver when young and then feeling overwhelmed and being unable to speak up or respond appropriately when your boss (or anyone really) speaks to you in a raised voice.
Overwhelm may also be triggered by unresolved trauma that lives in our ancestry and thus in our bodies/lives as well.
This is often the case when we find ourselves repeatedly overwhelmed in situations where there is no noticeable connection to our own lives.
The overwhelm can be stemmed back to your grandmother, then passed down by your mother to you for example.
It's also important to note that feeling overwhelmed can be a learned behavior if you saw a parent or someone that you grew up with respond that way to situations. If they responded with overwhelm, that’s how you may have learned to respond as well.
HOW IT SHOWS UP IN YOUR BODY
In GNM, overwhelm is connected to the heart program. Symptoms such as tachycardia, irregular heart beats, and heart palpitations are all connected to this program.
This was one of the many symptoms that I had.
Its also very typical for someone who is overwhelmed to feel like they don’t have enough time to “get it all done.”, which is related to thyroid symptoms.
Then from there someone may fear not getting it all done which is directly connected to anxiety.
So from this one feeling of overwhelm, there can be many other conflicts connected to it, which manifest several symptoms. It's not uncommon in the world of chronic illness to have heart palpitations, thyroid issues and anxiety all at the same time.
HOW FEELING OVERWHELMED AFFECTS YOUR HEALING
When your nervous system gets the message of overwhelm, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. This means that the biological response in your brain is going to be to freeze, run or fight.
When we are in this conflict state within our mind, logic gets thrown out the window.
When you’re overwhelmed and trying to heal your going to feel like you are spinning your wheels.
Your days will have no focus, you may procrastinate on taking action, you may try a healing protocol and then stop or look for another one, you may feel scattered and forgetful, turn to numbing behaviors like tv, social media or shopping and may even experience exhaustion.
These are all signs of overwhelm.
Overwhelm stops us from healing because our brain is too worried about the tiger that is chasing it than focusing on healing.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT
In the moment when overwhelm occurs, whether it stems from personal or multigenerational trauma isn’t so important.
In the moment overwhelm occurs, we need a way to:
come back to and safely feel what is happening in our bodies,
acknowledge that its an old reaction and we can choose a different response and then
return to the situation knowing how to take effective action.
We have to train ourselves to respond differently.
For long term relief from overwhelm we need to do the deep work.
To fully dissolve both personal and generational overwhelm, it is necessary to resolve the underlying patterns of trauma both in our bodies, subconscious and in our lineages. The whole goal with this is to communicate safety to the nervous system.
This includes learning about boundaries not only with others but ourselves. A lot of overwhelm comes from taking on too much and putting too high of expectations on yourself. Learning how to be comfortable with saying no and also holding yourself to the boundaries you set with you are key components to resolving overwhelm.
Our feelings of overwhelm are rooted beyond the present moment, so to resolve any type of pattern we need to pull it out by its roots. Then making conscious effort to shift in the moment is so much easier.
So for example, one thing that comes up often for women students is the need do it all. Be the mom who does the cooking, the laundry, the volunteering, have a clean house, etc. These women are typically overwhelmed. But it's not the “list of things to do” that is causing their overwhelm, it's something deeper.
It could be a belief that they have to be the doer of all things because that is how they were raised. Or it could come from the desire to be a high achiever which usually has a subconscious reward, like praise. Or like I mentioned, it could be that when they were younger they were yelled at often when trying to do something.
Each person is very different because it's the nervous system AKA the subconscious mind that puts meaning to “the list of things to do”. The list of things to do is a trigger connected to something bigger.
If overwhelm is a common feeling that you experience, you are not alone, but it also doesn’t have to get in the way of your healing. If you have chronic symptoms and feel overwhelmed with trying to heal, the first step is taking one action in the direction towards lasting healing. You don’t have to figure it all out right now. Just take one step.
In fact the reason why the MBR program is such a success is because we take the overwhelm out and have everything laid out for you. You don’t have to think about what you should do today or what old patterns and programs you need to identify that are connected with your symptoms. We have it all done for you. Rather than trying to figure everything out, you can focus on healing.
So what is one step that you are going to take today towards your healing? Not 5 steps, just one.
Maybe it's buying a book on mindset. Maybe it's making a promise to yourself that you are going to go for a walk everyday. Maybe you will start a gratitude journal. Or you decide to book a 30 minute health breakthrough call with me. Whatever you decide, just pick one. From that one you will be led to the next. Small nibbles are much easier to swallow than a big bite.
If you're ready to identify and resolve the unconscious patterns connected to your symptoms so you can finally heal for good, fill out an MBR application to see if you're a good fit for MBR.
You can also Download my free healing guide, “Why Can’t I Heal” where you will learn the 5 reasons that you haven't healed despite everything you've tried. These are the missing pieces to your healing and the key to resolving your symptoms for good.
Jenny Peterson is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Rewire (MBR). She teaches those with chronic symptoms how to stop fearing their body, identify the root cause to their symptoms and how to be their own healer. Learn more about MBR here.