I am no stranger to overwhelm; in fact, we go way back. As myth would have it, I first showed signs of being hyper-sensitive to the too-muchness of life even before I could walk. While kicking back in my baby recliner, apparently I would suck in my breath and flutter anxiously when anyone walked by me. That dis-ease with my surroundings would be my companion throughout my childhood and adolescence.
While living on auto-pilot for the several decades that followed, I found myself married, with two school-aged children and in the emergency wing of the hospital in the middle of the night with severe heart-palpitations, hyperventilating and struggling to breathe evenly. The doctor with the salt-and-pepper hair and warm eyes looked at me with a deep, knowing expression and said that my heart was very strong but that it would definitely not stay that way unless I made some serious changes to the way I managed my stress. He advised me to cut out as many stressors as I could, not try to do it all on my own, then to consider meditation and yoga.
Several years followed with me experimenting with what less stress could possibly look like. In that time, I lost my father to cancer, changed careers, ended my marriage, and, with the help of body and breathwork, became acutely aware of how my body responded to being overwhelmed. I’d develop certain health concerns at the same time each year or in response to similar events. My energy levels nosedived and my body felt as if it was transparent. My choices came from the fear I kept stored in my ever-clenching abdomen and, not surprisingly, digestive issues. I wore my shoulders like earrings by keeping them hunched up so tightly to my ears and suffered from chronic head and neck aches.
When I was overwhelmed, I became defensive and stuck in self-preservation mode, my relationships were full of conflict and I relied on over-indulging behaviours to pacify the panic. My life’s work was not satisfying and I felt trapped in an ocean of multiple emotions.
Most strangely was that even in times of calm I’d still feel the familiar panic begin in my body and I realized how addicted I’d become to the state of being overwhelmed. I was born there, raised there and apparently was planning to die young there.
Something had to change. The auto-pilot had to be switched off. Each moment had to have its own attention. The old stories from the baby recliner days and beyond had to be scrapped, re-written and re-framed in such a way that serenity would be the result. If I was to consistently overcome the overwhelm, I had to change things at a cellular level. Create experiences of calm so many times that my body can recognize them, deeply and intuitively.
Things have changed. Incredibly. I’ve discovered methods that work wonders for me and for those around me. They’re just simple strategies to settle my scattered thoughts, re-write the tired old stories and to consistently overcome the overwhelm.
I still occasionally step in puddles of projection or choose panic over peace as I continue to learn, shift from the old, reactive patterns, grow and share my discoveries with my students and their parents as well as with my coaching clients but a shift has certainly begun.