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Easing the stress of overwhelm

Spam Filter For Your Brain - Episode 50

Overwhelm is your brain's quickest and easiest way of keeping you safe. It is a little systematic shutdown to stop you from venturing further than you've already gone to try and make sure that we hunker down, gather our resources near and don't go out there into the woods where there might be bears.

I just wanted to speak a little bit this week about the idea of how we can acknowledge that being overwhelmed is a very natural reaction that our bodies have to try and keep us safe rather than something that we need to chastise ourselves for, which I think is quite common. We sort of think of overwhelm quite often as "Why aren't I able to handle this?" Or "Why are there so many things on my plate, and I just can't manage it all?"

I think quite often, we interpret overwhelm to be a personal flaw rather than a very wise functioning response that our bodies have developed over hundreds and thousands of years to keep us safe. And the idea from our brain, basically, our brain isn't so interested in our to-do list or our inbox or how many things we've committed to this week. It's generally interested in trying to keep us alive. And when we have an awful lot of things to do, a lot of those things are going to involve expending energy, they're going to involve taking some risks, they're going to involve pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. None of these things are what your brain wants to do. Your brain wants to conserve energy, it wants to rest, and if it has an opportunity, it probably wants to seek pleasure, and your inbox probably doesn't have an awful lot of pleasure in it. Your idea of joy is probably not going on a grocery to the supermarket after work. Your brain is out there trying to help you survive in the world and keep your body alive. And that doesn't often align with the kind of society that we're in where we have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of things on our to-do list. Our brain wants to keep us small and safe so there is more chance that we're going to be alive and breathing.

And of course, the other side of this is that it is only outside of the cave. It is only where we stretch ourselves further that there is room for adventure and play and curiosity and exploration, and none of those things are possible if overwhelmed has just come and slapped us like a massive fire blanket.

Overwhelm is our body's response, saying there's too much here, we can't take a single other thing on. We will not dabble in anything, even if it is fun. It's just a stop. It's a massive stop sign to anything that you want to do. And then we compound that by saying that we are not good enough for not having managed to do all of the things at once, or all of the things on our to-do list, or all of the things that need to get done.

And I personally can't do very much about your to-do list and the amount of things that are on there right now. But I can offer you the little nugget that no matter what is going on, it will all feel a little bit lighter if you just stop being mean to yourself about it. You can take a whole anvil of pressure off by going rather than, "I'm overwhelmed", "I've got so much to do", "why can't I handle this?" "This is really terrible." "I'm a dreadful person". You could go, "This is exhausting", "This is quite a natural response to be having", "There's a lot to do here", "I think probably anyone would feel overwhelmed", "I can see that there could be some of these things that I might be able to take off my list" or "some of these things just aren't going to get done. And that's just going to have to be okay".

Right now, when you can approach yourself and your life with just a slight redirection of more compassion, more kindness, more gentleness in the way that you speak to yourself, you alleviate so much pressure and so that even though your to-do list won't reduce, it will feel lighter, your whole days will feel lighter. And all of the things that you have to do, ironically, you will have more energy to do them with. So I hope that that little if short circuit there little tip is useful for your days.

I look forward to speaking to you next week.


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