A simple way to prevent/overcome stress and overwhelm.
Many of my clients are women in their 30's who claim to "have it all". They have a nice job, a big house, a nice car, a husband, 1 or more kids, and a bunch of social activities. They “have it made” according to society's standards. Sounds great, right? The truth is: they come to me for a reason. They feel exhausted, disconnected and out of control. They can't figure out why they're unable to feel happy and ask me for help.
So what's going on? How can someone who "has it all" feel so miserable? That's the question that starts the road to self-awareness and change...
The first things we dive into are the expectations and values my clients have. Awareness of what we want and don't want is crucial when it comes to happiness, but who has the time to stop and evaluate their life? My clients all have busy schedules, and are often perfectionists.
Most people are just trying to make ends meet. They barely even exist. They do what they think they should be doing, because of their upbringing and society's expectations. But being the “good agreeable girl” isn't very fulfilling when you're all grown-up. My aforementioned clients demand of themselves that they are good mothers, wives, friends and co-workers. Their house has to be spotless, their children taken care of. They should make time for friends, sports and, preferably, do some volunteer work on the side with a splash of keeping everybody satisfied.
Sound familiar? I remember when I was a people-pleaser and wanting to be the BEST at EVERYTHING. Thankfully, after experiencing chronic stress, depression and a burn-out I managed to get out that frantic lifestyle. And now, even writing all of these demands down, feels utterly tiring, impossible, and, quite frankly, insane to me. It's inevitable to feel overwhelmed when your life consists of endless to-do lists!
It's time for the good news: we can get out of this predicament almost INSTANTLY by being aware of and changing our internal dialogue. Obviously there's more to it than I can describe in this article, but I believe you'll be amazed by the impact of what I'm about to share with you. The change in stress level you're gonna experience is brought on by replacing 2 common phrases we tend to overuse. The phrases are:
“I/something/someone have/has to...”and “I/something/someone should...”.
You see “should's” and “have to's” ALWAYS elicit a stress response. Your body thinks you're in a life-threatening situation and reacts by preparing itself for action. This can be a very small reaction, particularly when you're a healthy human being. But when you're already feeling overwhelmed and stress-out, each time you use those words, you're gonna add stress to your already struggling body.
So what can we do to change that? By simply replacing those words! Instead of the stress-inducing phrases, you can use “I want, I will, I'm going to”. Does that really work? Yes! You're welcome to try it:
Say out loud and feel into it: “I have to pass my exam today”.
Even if you don't have an exam today, you'll probably feel a slight tightening in your throat, an increased heart rate and a sense of rush throughout your body.
Now say: I really want to pass my exam today.
Feel the difference?
The phrase “I have to” means you're obligated to do something and you don't have any choice. Most people don't like to have their freedom restricted. They start to feel uncomfortable, tense and anxious. Those are the nerves and black-outs people often experience during exams. The body can't concentrate and reproduce knowledge when it's in a state of panic. It's preparing to fight or flight!
“I have to” also has a terrifying ring to it. As if something catastrophic will happen if you don't do it. But what do you think will actually happen when you don't do what you feel obligated to? What are you afraid of? Those are underlying issues that we address in great detail in my programs and sessions. But that's besides the scope of this article.
When you say that something should be done (in a specific way) this also elicits a stress-response. For instance, when you have the belief that “people should follow through on appointments”. Having this belief, means you're a trustworthy person that honors commitments. There's nothing wrong with that. These are YOUR core values. They are different for everyone. So what happens when you meet people with other values? How do you feel when you think something should or shouldn't happen and the opposite happens? Or when something happens that prevents YOU from being on time for instance? Exactly: you feel stressed! Each time reality doesn't meet our expectations we either get disappointed or frustrated. So thinking that things should be a certain way, causes us stress. Each and every time!
Let me tell you ones and for all: there's nothing in the whole wide world, for anybody, that has or should be done (a certain way). There's just no such thing! There are only self-imposed rules that act as a straitjacket. You ALWAYS have a choice. Even if it means doing something you don't like to avoid negative consequences. It's still a choice! Now consider WANTING to be a good wife, a good mother, striving to do your best as opposed to demanding perfection? There's nothing wrong with aspiring to greatness. But there's a big difference between feeling obligated to do something or making the choice for yourself.
Feeling overwhelmed can actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It can be the trigger to change our ways and go from surviving to thriving. Is your life headed in the direction you desire? When was the last time you checked in with yourself, meditated, taken some time out just for yourself? Overwhelm can serve as a great reminder to slow down and take a good look at what you're doing and why.