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Overwhelm and Expectations

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

I often hear from clients who feel overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them. Whether it's from family, friends, or the broader society, expectations can leave us feeling like we're constantly falling short. But it's not just the expectations themselves that are a problem.

Our nervous system is designed to monitor priorities, respond to change, and alert us to danger. Change or the fear of getting things wrong is perceived as a threat. Our brains have evolved to respond quickly to potential threats. When we're faced with expectations, our brains see them as a possibility for failure, and failure feels like rejection, and rejection feels like death. Our response can range from a minor stress response to full-blown anxiety, depending on how our brain perceives the threat level and the stories we have stuck on auto-play about this particular scenario.

It's these stories which give us clues to the escape hatch from this constant feeling of dread. When we can identify and isolate the stories that we have been telling ourselves, we can work out whether they are really something which we wish to continue to believe. Is your attendance at the party really going to make Auntie Doreen sad, or are her emotions linked to her own thoughts and her own stories? Are you really expected to do all the household chores on your own, or are we actually the ones who get bored of the mess first? Are you really expected to work through your lunch break? Or does your contract say otherwise? When something makes us uncomfortable, it is usually a great time to pause and check in to see if we really believe the story we're telling ourselves.

Feeling like you're in constant peril can have a significant impact on your nervous system. When our brains perceive a threat, they activate a response known as the "fight or flight" response (and the often-forgotten freeze or fawn). This response prepares us to respond to the perceived threat, either by fighting or fleeing.

When we constantly stack up obligations, and we know full well that we will give ourselves a terrible time when we get things wrong it feels dangerous. Our brains are constantly perceiving a threat. Over time, this chronic activation can lead to a host of health problems (which mostly get umbrella’d under “burnout”.)

When you stop in pools, check in with the truth of the story you tell yourself. You also get to make clear decisions about which ones you want to keep. It is your story or writing. You get to decide which obligations to fulfil, but you also get to decide when rest is an expression of kindness.


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