On Feeling Overwhelmed

I suppose that we all know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by all that need to get done in our lives; to be snowed under by a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter; or swamped by the need to make important decisions that could alter our lives irrevocably, yet without the time to think them through properly.  Sometimes we are overwhelmed because we have positively chosen to add something to our lives (an evening class, a training course, voluntary work), at other times, we have situations thrust upon us.

In some of us this feeling might inspire anxiety (accompanied by shortness of breath, sleeplessness, tense muscles), others might fall into a kind of torpor (low mood, hopelessness, lethargy), or feel confused and unable to navigate through maze of things we have to do.  Perhaps we start to ignore the problems or things that need doing in the hope that they will magically disappear.

Whatever your response to feelings of being engulfed by problems or by the work you have to do and the stuff you need to get done, here's the thing that yoga has to teach us: the past and the future are your imagination.  Only the present is real.  All you can do is what you are doing now.  So do that one thing and do it well.  Try not to rush halfway through one thing, only to stop to begin something else and all the while your brain is on tomorrow's appointment or yesterday's meeting or that essay you need to get finished for the end of the week.  Engage fully in this moment - it's an exercise of mind and the more you practice, the more you are able to do it.

What else?  Try to keep things simple!  I can't tell you how many hours I wasted baking cakes into the night for school fetes; making sure that my house was immaculately clean for an in-law's visit, thinking everything had to be perfect.  Henry David Thoreau said: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail."  I couldn't agree more.  I wonder if my desire for perfection had more to do with my fear that others would find me lacking than anything else... and really, why stay up all hours making things look perfect only to arrive in the midst of that 'perfection' frazzled and lacklustre and unable to enjoy it fully?

That we don't need to do everything is a fact that some of us find hard to encompass.  I know people who can't sleep on aeroplanes because they need to keep concentrating on keeping the plane in the sky!  That we don't have to do everything ourselves is an equally important lesson to learn.  How does it feel to help someone out?  To give someone a hand when they really need it (without needing or wanting recompense or thanks)?  The truth is that it feels pretty good to be of service to someone.  Think about how you can empower others to share that feeling of generosity by asking them for help; do you dare to show them your vulnerability by telling them that it would really help you out if they took Johnny to school or sorted your laundry so you can catch up with yourself?  And if you have children, you can teach them to be the independent and generous souls that you hope they will become by asking them to help you when you need a hand.  Sometimes asking for help can be the hardest thing; rather than ask, we try to demonstrate our needs and then compound our pain when those needs are not met.  Try asking clearly for what you need (from your colleagues, your boss, your partner, your kids) and see what happens - if you're still disappointed, you might have some work to do with them, that's all!  For the mostpart, people don't know you're feeling swamped unless you tell them.

As for your yoga practice... you already know that the days when you feel like you have no time for yoga are the days that you need yoga the most.  You already know that yoga will give you what you most need when you are busy: serenity, a relaxed body, mental clarity.  You already know that if you practise being present, just living this one moment fully, that things go better for you.  I would add to this that yoga helps you to leave aside the stuff that doesn't matter and identify that which does, so that you have more time for the things you need to do and the people that need you to be around.

If you're overwhelmed just now, good luck.  Keep breathing.  Keep doing the things you need to do (in your heart, you know what they are) to stay sane. And do them every day.  Apart from that, do the only thing you can ever do: your best in this moment, right now.

“There is nothing perfect...only life.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees


  1. Why is it ok for other people not be "perfect", but you have to be perfect yourself?
    Why is it that you don't mind if someone asks you for help, but you daren't ask for help yourself? V.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts