Whelmed

"Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. " Fred Rogers


Some days we're overwhelmed, while others we are underwhelmed. When are we just well ... whelmed? I think of how often I hear from others that they are overwhelmed, and that feeling leads them to paralysis. It's that moment of having too much, excess, or more than we can bear that scares us into submission. We shut down. We break down. We stop moving. The irony is what we really need to is to keep moving but do so strategically, in ways that give us back control. We just need to do or handle one thing, and one thing only before moving on to the next thing. I think about what happens when my laundry piles up. I've done one load and need to fold it, but then here comes another, and another, and suddenly I have a mountain of clean clothes that seems so insurmountable that I cannot even begin to imagine tackling it. So I don't. And it stays there, reminding me of its existence. A visual representation of how I'm feeling. Two things help, breaking it into smaller loads and/or sorting things by item type; and setting a goal/limit. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and fold whatever I can in that time period. Usually that's enough to help me overcome that feeling of being stuck. I'll play music I love, make it fun, and sing. Suddenly, what I thought would take me days has taken me less than 45 minutes. 

There's a few things going on there. I made what was overwhelming more manageable by changing what it looked like, and also changed my mindset about the task at hand. Instead of a chore, it became a game, or a break from everything else. Once I finished I realized it did not take me as long as I thought it would, and looking at a perfectly put together closet made me so happy. If we want to be whelmed we need to practice parsing out issues into bite-sized morsels that are easy to digest; and transform those bites into something we love or at least can tolerate going down. We have to do. That is our biggest barrier to getting ourselves unstuck. Just starting. Whether it be cleaning the room we haven't used in years, writing the paper we've been dreading, or having that difficult conversation we've been avoiding. We throw some things away, we write out an outline, or we say that this is hard for us to talk about, and we go from there. That's how we work our way to whelmed. Then we look back say - why didn't I do this sooner.


We are creatures grasping at some semblance of control in a world that oftentimes feels or seems chaotic. We need to control what we can, and more often manage our responses to what we can't. The question becomes what can we let go of. We are not omnipotent as much as we can believe ourselves to be. Why do we crave control - sometimes to our detriment? Maybe we've had experiences or been cared for by people who didn't give us structure, made us feel helpless, or took away autonomy from us so now we hoard control instinctively as a prolonged response to that past stimulus. Whatever the reason, the more we can adapt to being without control, and focus on instead managing ourselves, the less we have to be impacted by the things around us. That's power. Calm in the middle of chaos. 

Make a list. Make a list. Make list. Whenever we are overwhelmed we need to make a list. Putting what we believe we must do, or how we're feeling on paper takes it out of heads, and brings it down to size. Then we can properly assess what do actually have to do, or what are we deciding between. Then what can we prioritize, and get to doing. Even better, can we do things we enjoy alternating between things we dislike. The questions we need to ask on this list is why does this matter, and why does this matter to me? If we can't justify it or explain to ourselves why we're supposed to do things, or bare minimum do them now, in the moment, then maybe they aren't as important as we imagined them to be. If this doesn't matter than we can let it go, move on, and spend our energy elsewhere. 


Perspective shifting is a grossly undervalued but rather imperative life skill. Our entire worldviews can be different if we learn how to change our vantage points. If we can control how we look at things, and even more deeply, how we feel about things, then we can have mastery over what whelms us. Do we stop enough to ask the questions of why is this impacting me, and why in this specific way? What's the root-cause of my feelings? If can figure ourselves out, then we remedy the situation. Is it because we have too much going on and don't know how to say no, that we're afraid of failure and disappointing people who matter to us, or that we don't know what to do and have built our entire self-perceptions around always knowing what to do? Getting close?

If we can learn to dig, to recognize patterns of behavior, and to parse out issues, then we can get faster in not just responding to ourselves when we're overwhelmed but even do preventative work to compact those feelings before they manifest themselves. It's like doing routine checkups to ensure we're well instead of only going to an urgent care or emergency room when we're in crisis. We can identify issues before they arise and handle them as they come instead of waiting for everything to bury us. Do we know ourselves enough? Have we spent enough time with ourselves? Do we sit in our discomfort? Do we dig deep enough? Do we even want to know ourselves in that way? If not, why? Most things don't have to be terrible when we control our experiences of them. We get to do ...; I'm looking forward to ...; I'm grateful for ... experience. 


We don't know who we are. Is that true? We have a superficial understanding of ourselves predicated on movable traits, flimsy connections, and amiable experiences. Who are we? Truly. Who are we? Why? How did we come to be this way? How did we understand ourselves this way? When we get overwhelmed and we don't know who we are we can act out of fear and out of character. Who are we when things aren't going our way? When we feel helpless, lost, or alone? When we're in pain, feeling shame, or hardship? It is of the utmost importance, especially in adulthood, for us to know who we are so we can be grounded in immovable facts when external forces rage around us. What about us is essential? What is our essence? When everything else is stripped from us that is left? What need to know identities, beliefs, experiences, and relationships do we have. We have do some self-determination so we can hold on to it when we need it most. Being whelmed is about having our truth solidified before it needs to be tested. X

Who Are You Activities:
  • Essentialized you (list of traits & cross out down to essence)
  • Connection Web (center yourself & all who matter to you)
  • Talents & Abilities (what can you do/where do you thrive)
  • Favorite Things 
  • Timeline (important things - good/bad that you experienced)
  • Words to Live By

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