When You’re Overwhelmed and Want To Give Up, Should You? Or is it the Beginning of Your Recovery?

Here is how someone recently started her email to me:

 I am dying…I have lost my way in the jungle.

Does that sound familiar to any of you? While I know (from frequent experience) that this a horrible feeling and I am dreadfully sorry for anyone who feels this way – there are some upsides to your having expressed this aloud. And the good news is this:

Once you have come to this realization, now you can start to find your way out. Until you have a sense (or clear knowledge) that you are lost, you will not seek a way out. Granted, this is a positive way to look at this not-very-fun situation you are in – but it is not an unrealistic way to view it.

My friend continued her email:

I am so overwhelmed with what has to be done that I haven’t have time for me including some of the special learning situations and “self-help” opportunities I had set up for myself. I know it is a condition of being paralyzed more than being out of time…

The paralysis we feel when we are this frantic is a common state, symptom, and/or result of feeling overwhelmed. I hear this all the time – all over the country. Here is what we know:

Once this paralysis sets in, we become even more upset because we know we are not getting anything done in our paralyzed state and thus, we feel even more useless (believe me, I know).

Maybe you have wondered, as my friend did,

 “Should I simply forget all I have lost and begin anew today?”

Actually, yes, pretty much. Here are some thoughts to explain my response:

  • The feeling that we need to “catch up” is so common for women, in particular – and the reality is that we can not and we will not. It is not because we don’t want to catch up. Heavens knows we do. But the world and our lives never stop bringing us “new” stuff so there actually is not a “space” where we can do the catching up we think we need to impose on ourselves and our situation.
  • Some of what we think we need to “catch up” on just doesn’t matter and we are better off letting it go. Instead, we can start putting new behaviors and practices into place on what is current vs. with the “backlog.”
  • Some of what we think we need to catch up on does matter…but if we get bogged down in the backlog, we can’t move forward. If it is terribly important, it will pop up again. Or it won’t…and life will go on.
  • By starting “new” you have a sense that you can do it. Psychologically, it’s why we like the feelings of new semesters and new years and other new beginnings because we think, “Yes, I can do this.” We bring a positive energy to our work (life) that isn’t there when we’re mucking around in the old stuff. And we need that positive sense of what’s possible to carry on. Otherwise, we just want to (and often do) give up.

Consider the upside of feeling completely overwhelmed and voicing that emotion. You can now start the fresh and new behaviors and dispositions. That is SO much better than wallowing in self-loathing. Can I hear an “Amen?!”

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