In the last month or so I have repeatedly heard people speaking about being overwhelmed – (by life, the universe and everything….) Not just people in my community but people interstate and overseas – from friends and colleagues to strangers I’ve chatted to in airports and coffee shops. It’s a theme that keeps reappearing….. Possibly because I’ve been feeling a bit the same way! (Funny how that happens don’t you think….:)
Recently I wrote about putting aside the urgent things and focusing on the important things. (Urgent vs.Important) If you look at my list from then you’ll notice that all of the things on there are well within my control – I can do them all quite simply if I so choose. (Even though I may make excuses about why I “can’t”!)
Important Things: (My list)
Doing things I love like:
- Hanging out with my family and friends
- Spending time in my garden and growing my own food
- Creating stuff
- Writing every day
- Laughing ‘til it hurts- often
- Learning new things- investing in me
- Being outdoors- fresh air and exercise
- Camping and going bush
But what happens if those important things, those things that really matter to you, are big things that are out of your control?
If my list contained things like:
- world peace
- protecting my community from mining
- stopping unsustainable fishing practices
- preventing animal cruelty
- eliminating child abuse…
Phew. Different sort of list, different sort of feeling…One list makes me feel good….and one doesn’t.
Now, all of these things on the second list are important to me but if they were the things I focused on in my personal “important things” list, then I am immediately in trouble. My feeling when looking at my list is one of overwhelm and powerlessness. These are all issues that I can definitely have an input into, but in the big scheme of things they are, in all probability, pretty much out of my personal control.
When our attention moves from those tangible things we can directly influence to the big picture issues (and there are more and more of them each day) one of the dangers for us is that we can become swamped with the crush of overwhelm and we are stopped in our tracks. Overwhelm robs us of our momentum, our motivation and our resilience. It robs us of the ability to function in a way that serves us well. Overwhelm is the lead weight that sits on your shoulders or the helpless feeling that makes you want to retreat to the Bat Cave and pull the covers over your head… Overwhelm can contribute to anxiety and depression-both of which seem to be out of control in modern society.
Two other side-effects of overwhelm are ignorance and apathy-the inability or reluctance to “see” and the unwillingness to take action-and, if you check out the world around you, you will notice that it has become an all-pervasive issue. We live in a world of “It’s all just too hard…..pass me the bottle/smoke/pills/remote/chocolate ice cream…”
Now, I’ll admit, having a global or “big picture” preference in my thinking style, overwhelm and the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies it, are something I have encountered. (The more abstract and generalised thinking becomes the harder it becomes to take action- ie: lots of “thinking” taking place and not so much “doing”! :)).
Also, if you care about people and issues, if you have compassion and empathy, a desire to do good, to save, help and assist the world and its inhabitants (and I hope that is most of us to some degree) then you’re pretty much a sitting duck when it comes to overwhelm. You look around and see so much that is broken, so much that doesn’t seem to be working effectively, so much that needs to be fixed-that you don’t know where to start, so you don’t.…
So, what can you do about it?
In my next post I will share some of the strategies that work well for me and for some of the people I have worked with.