Coping With Overwhelm- Controlling the Uncontrollable

journey 1000miles

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.


Bushfire Update

A quick bushfire update:

The fire was declared “contained” over the weekend and some cooler weather and even a few light showers have helped to calm things down again. It has been a busy time though (well, that’s my excuse for not posting sooner!)

I noticed a lot of cars driving around all week filled to the brim with all of “the important stuff.” There were lots of conversations about what people had selected to take and why.

Some people made practical choices, including basic food supplies and clothing. Others did the sentimental thing with a car stuffed full of memories. Still others took almost nothing because they were simply unable to decide in the stress of the moment. Everyone I talked to took their pets. One friend told me she had run back to her house and grabbed the two new dresses she’d recently bought –she was damned if they were going to be burnt before she’d had a chance to wear them! Most said they’ll make some different choices next time- some quite profound, some minor.

I guess on a practical level it’s given us all yet another practice run to prepare for next time.

When I re-read my last post I realised I’d actually forgotten to include the original positive learning that had prompted me to write the post so I’ll share it now.

It came from a lovely lady who lost everything she owned in the 2005 bushfire. When I talked to her soon after she said:

“I used to have all of these nice things- things that were too special to use. Things like family heirloom crystal, expensive sheets that I used for special guests and lovely collectible things that were locked away in cupboards so that they didn’t get broken. I had art materials that were too nice to use and “good” clothes that I saved for special occasions. Now I have nothing. If I had one piece of advice it would be to use your nice things- take them out and use them every day. Wear the things that make you feel good and enjoy what you have- every single day.”

It was a great piece of advice and one that had a profound influence on the choices I make.

As for her, she has thrived and actually considers that event a major positive turning point –she is loving life!

So, break out that precious stuff and enjoy what you have.

After all, that’s what it’s for..

Bushfire-What Would You Save?

Have you ever done the hypothetical “If there was a fire, what would I save?”

Well I live in a bushfire zone and yesterday was given a “catastrophic” fire rating by the fire authorities due to high temperatures, strong winds and the possibility of lightning strikes. Unfortunately, by mid-morning, the worst happened and soon a large bushfire was raging out of control-our fifth large one within the last seven years or so.

So, there I was, following my bushfire action plan and preparing myself to evacuate. After grabbing my survival box and rounding up a bewildered dog and a very grumpy duck I stood there and asked myself the question I always ask: “What should I take with me?” I had in my hands my three standard no-brainers: my laptop, my camera and my ukulele. As I looked around I saw lots of things that are important to me-mainly family things, some favourite artworks, childhood photos, presents from friends, childhood collections… Lots of things that I love and that have great meaning to me. But it felt okay to close the door and walk away.

I used to be a person who was very attached to my “stuff”. As I sat in my car in the heat and watched the billowing clouds of smoke over the hill I had time to think about the impact that living in a bushfire zone has had on me.

Obviously a lot of the impact has been negative (and that is something I may talk about at some time) but there have also been a lot of positive things that have come from the fires. I thought I might share some of those. They are things that I have learned from my own fire experiences and from the courageous and inspirational people I have worked with. I have watched those who have coped, those who have not coped and those who have thrived.

These are some of the things I have learned:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s nothing like a catastrophe to give you some perspective. How much of our time do we spend worrying about the piddly stuff? All of the unimportant, trivial things? Sometimes it is only when we get a huge fright, a wake-up call, that we remember what’s important.
  • “Stuff” and “things” are not important. So many of us seem to dedicate our lives to getting “things”. “Things” can disappear in an instant. They come and they go. People are the most important things.
  • Live every day as if it is your last. Life is unpredictable-and that is a good thing! It reminds us to be present, to live in the now, to make good use of our time and to enjoy life.
  • Each of us is stronger than we think. It is not until we are tested that we remember how courageous, how brave and how resilient we can be. It is often in adversity that we are reminded of just how amazing we actually are.
  • The majority of people are good people. It is in a crisis that we often see the best in people. It is when we pull together, when we give and when we show that we care. It is when people show a generosity of spirit and a willingness to do whatever they can. It is when people volunteer their time, their expertise, their money and their compassion.
  • Everything will be okay in the end. No matter how unlikely that seems at times there is always a way through and there is something better down the track. Trust and have faith that things will work out.
  • Take time to appreciate what you have. Be grateful every day for those around you and take care not to take things for granted. Tell those close to you that you love and appreciate them-often.
  • Remember to focus on the important things. The things that really matter. Make time and do it. Don’t wait, do it now….. don’t wait for a bushfire to remind you :)

Urgent vs. Important

In my last post I talked about urgent vs. important things.(Stop The World- I Want To Get Off!)

What’s the difference?

Well, urgent things are those things you just have to get done…and, as soon as you do, they are replaced by a huge avalanche of even more urgent things…. It’s a never-ending-story of one thing after another and then you wake up and do it all over again…The more you do the more there is to do!

But, what if you were able to put these so-called “urgent” things aside, just for a few minutes and focus instead on the important things- those things that really matter to you. What might that list look like for you?

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

Now have a good hard look at what’s on your list…and be totally honest with yourself. How many of those important things, the things that really matter at the end of the day, are you actually doing?

(Hmmm, mine’s looking a bit dodgy…)

When push comes to shove, at the end of your life you’re not going to be flashing back to all of that “urgent” stuff like cleaning that bathroom/doing that paperwork/watching that TV program/worrying about your mortgage or making sure your shirt is ironed nicely.

You’re only going to remember the important stuff…the stuff that really matters…..

and all of those things you never quite got around to doing….

Life is always about the important stuff.

Write that list and get to it!

Stop The World- I Want To Get Off!

Stop the world-I want to get off!

If you’re human I’m presuming that you have, at some stage, gotten to the point where life becomes almost too much.

Where your brain overloads and begins to malfunction and there is a distinct smell of burning oil emanating from both ears.…

It’s called stress and it can be a sneaky bugger-creeping up on you even when you think you’re doing okay, that you have it all under control,  that you’ll cope because you have to really….

Stress has become such a common part of our everyday world, that we actually become oblivious to its presence. It becomes part of our definition of “normal.” Some of us actually become addicted to stress and its chemical effect on our body-the adrenaline rush and the associated buzz that brings.

Stress in small doses can be a useful thing. It is designed to move and to motivate us, to keep us safe. But, it is intended for short-term use because it puts such a huge strain on us-on our bodies, our minds, our emotional capacity and our ability to cope.

Too much stress distorts our capacity to see things clearly, to have a sense of perspective and to make wise decisions. It impacts us physically in relation to our health, our sleep patterns and our own self-care.

Eventually the cup overflows completely and we are overwhelmed so we stop, become stuck, anxious, depressed or worse.

We are stressed even when there’s nothing to stress over! Stress becomes our default setting and we have forgotten where the off button is.

But I believe that one of the biggest impacts for us that people  tend to overlook, is the fact that stress is a “joy-sucker.”

It robs us of time, energy and happiness. Stress saps our ability to enjoy and to truly live life.

Essentially, stress sucks big time.

One of the best bits of advice I ever received about stress was this:


Forget about the urgent things

and focus on the important things


Will talk more about what they are next time! :)

Will you make me cluck like a chicken?

“Will you make me cluck like chicken?”

I’ve heard that line a couple of times lately!

There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of unfounded fear out there about hypnosis-I know, because I used to have some pretty interesting views on it too, especially with all of those “over the top” stage shows.

A common question I get asked is “What does hypnosis actually feel like?” So I thought today I would talk about how hypnosis feels to me.

(What is important to remember here, is that everybody experiences hypnosis differently. This simply reflects my experience and that relayed back by the people I work with.)

Ever been “in the zone?” You know, when you are so engrossed in something enjoyable that you totally lose track of the outside world and the passing of time… When you feel completely relaxed, comfortable and at peace with yourself? (Getting lost in a good book, walking, daydreaming, or out making things in the shed….) Well, that’s essentially what hypnosis feels like for me. When you’re doing something but it is so easy and effortless that it’s almost like you’re not there….even though you know you are.

I remember my first hypnosis course in 2007. I was convinced I couldn’t be hypnotised and that no way was anyone going to control my mind! Well, not only was I good at “being hypnotised” but I quickly learned that I had full awareness and control of my own mind. I knew I could take on or reject anything that was suggested to me. I knew I had total choice and also an awareness of the choices I was making.

Hypnosis is a complete paradox-a sense of total and complete relaxation whilst at the same time being almost hyper-aware and alert. It’s almost like you are operating at two or more different levels and you actually get to observe the part of yourself which normally remains hidden. You sort of get to be yourself and see yourself all at the same time which is absolutely fascinating! (Ernst Hilgard described it as “the Hidden Observer.”) It’s almost as if your conscious mind gets to listen, analyse, rationalise and “think” while the unconscious mind-the other part of you-just gets on with the job of doing what it needs to do-of putting the puzzle pieces together.

The therapist/ hypnotist’s role is to offer suggestions and possibilities that move you towards something better, something more useful and effective. In your heightened state of awareness and relaxation you get to examine each of these instantly, assess their relevance, tailor them to suit your own needs, decide which are important or less important, take on board and keep those which are useful and helpful in some way and reject anything that is not -without any emotional charge.

Hypnosis is the ultimate being in the now. For me it is like meditation. A time of shutting down the noise and the chaos and allowing in the quiet, the peace and stillness by directing all of your focus in the one place using your own imagination. Time Out From Time without actually going anywhere! Of using the power of your own selective attention to focus on something that is useful and beneficial for you.

Which, for most of us (let’s face it), is probably not clucking like a chicken!

The noble art of the faux pas.



Recently I was invited to dinner at some friends’ place. It was a special occasion and they reminded me twice.

I turned up a day late. Whoops….

I said I would bring a bottle of wine.

I know nothing about wine so I selected a bottle that I thought looked “them.”

It was very “them.”-It was in fact the same special and expensive bottle that they had specially tracked down and purchased from interstate and given me the last time we caught up for dinner.


Ever had one of those really embarrassing moments where everything just sort of freeze frames and you feel like the proverbial deer in the headlights? Where there is a terrible deafening silence and your brain screams “Nooooooooo?!”

It is in this seemingly infinite cavern of emptiness where you have to decide on whether to:

A) attempt a cover-up (e.g.: “Oh, I liked the wine so much that I imported a whole carton to share-such a stunning drop!)

B) all pretend nothing happened (e.g.: “Oh, cough, cough… So, who painted that gorgeous picture on your wall?”)

Or C) laugh hilariously at your own stupidity (“Seriously, what a clown I am! I am so sorry. It reminds me of the time I…”)

I generally opt for (C), probably because I never seem to be able to pull off the other two (plus I have an encyclopaedic collection of other “stupid mistake” examples from which to entertain  even the most mortally offended.)


It reminded me of one of the most boring dinner parties I had ever been to where our host spent aaaaall night talking ad nauseam about himself and his just-as-boring job in endless, mind-numbingly minute detail.

After years of “hearing children read”(I use the term loosely :) ) I had cultivated the ability to look completely engaged and interested whilst at the same time skipping gaily through the fields of my own imagination. (My friends and family have all cottoned onto this unfortunately…)

Anyway, after hours of verbal diarrhoea Mr Blah finally stopped talking long enough to inhale some dessert and there was a silence that was of sufficient length to wake me up from my four-hour coma. The sudden silence shocked me into the realisation that I had not made any conversational contribution for some time so, without thinking, I piped up brightly “So Mr Blah, tell us what you do for a living?” In the following deathly silence, broken only by a couple of nervous laughs, I suddenly had nine people all looking at me like: a) I was a lunatic, who: b) had obviously not listened to one thing that was said all night.

Both of which were perfectly true of course…

They never did invite me to dinner again. (That was a bit of a shame…. No, I mean it, sort of…)


What happens when we get those “social niceties” all wrong?

I guess we have a couple of choices-we can be mortified and beat ourselves up-

(I’ve met people whose cheeks still flush with shame years afterwards and seriously believe that people still care that they “ruined the entire wedding-(in 1979)- by forgetting to thank the lady who made the cake..”- Yep, I bet that lady still wakes up each morning and thinks “I’ll never forget that wicked, evil bride- I’ll NEVER forgive her…”)

Or, we can have a bloody good laugh at ourselves and look forward to telling yet another “You’ll never guess what I did this time?!” story.

Things happen.

It’s how we choose to look at them that makes all the difference in our worlds…