“I’m Here” –  Advice for Riding The Waves of Overwhelm.

I reached a point in my life where I decided I really needed to learn how to cope with feeling overwhelmed.  I was becoming so tired of having wonderful times of balance completely swept away by the busyness of my life.  It was as if I was an unwilling passenger on the runaway train of my life and when the train stopped, I would feel weary, knowing I needed to re-create the balance I was craving so very much.  For me, this pattern was no longer acceptable and I knew deep inside that only I could shift my experience.

What follows below are 4 aspects of my experience of overwhelm as well as what has helped me to shift overwhelm to feel like a gentle tap on the shoulder rather than a flash flood.

Firstly, overwhelm is defined as the feeling of being buried beneath a huge mass of something.

For me, when I feel overwhelmed the “something” is a sense of everything.  I have too much to do, too little time and I am flailing.  There is a sense of urgency, almost panic.  My senses are heightened and yet I feel incredibly depleted – but I must persevere, there is no escaping.

Secondly, for me what contributes to overwhelm is focussing far too much on “doing” vs “being”. I am thinking about the “what ifs”, the “then whats” and the “what nexts”. Essentially, I am not here in the present moment.

Thirdly, if I pause long enough and notice what’s underneath the feeling of overwhelm, there’s usually fear of not getting enough done, or missing out on something (FOMO). Even deeper is the fear that I am inadequate, not enough, or failing.

Fourthly, there is a physical component: I notice sensations of tightness, heaviness and rigidity. My breathing is shallow, I have difficulty concentrating and can’t listen well.  My heart does not feel open or joyful and I do not feel I have perspective.
The Technique of “I’m Here.”

“I’m Here” comes from an audio book by the well-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The audio book titled “The Present Moment” is a ten chapter recording of a Retreat on the Practice of Mindfulness.

My firsthand experience of applying these words began when I had just moved into my new home. It was about 10pm and I chose to listen to Thich Nhat Hanh. I wanted to create an atmosphere of ease while I assembled two dressers. Furniture assembly is for me, a task I truly dread at the best of times. I usually end up feeling like I’ve been put through a high spin cycle, not knowing where I am or which way is up.

I listened to Thich Nhat Hanh’s soft voice – repeating after him “I’m here” and noticing my breathing. I put each of the hollow metal nuts in their holes one by one and hoped they stayed in place while I aligned their matching screws… then I’d say it again “I’m here.” I found the little wooden plugs and put them in their holes too – some fit easier than others, some too deep.  “I’m here, I’m here”. Now where did that allen key go? “I’m here ” I continued to follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s guidance, noticing my breathing again and again. Then I was done. When the dressers were complete, four hours had passed. It was late and I was physically ready for sleep but I was calm. I was more than calm – I felt genuinely peaceful and incredibly content. There was no resistance, no tightness, no irritability and no resentment.

On my way to bed, I noticed I couldn’t recall any other lesson from Thich Nhat Hanh’s recording and it didn’t matter. I realized “I’m here” was (and is) enough.

Give it a try next time you are feeling overwhelmed!

Alexia Georgousis ND, CPC, BPE

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