Overwhelm doesn't come from how we manage our time, it comes from how we feel about how we are spending our time.
Have you ever been nose-to-nose with danger? Ever been out hiking and turned a corner only to run smack-dab into a tiger? No, me either, but I can imagine it is pretty terrifying. How about being nose-to-nose with a collections company? A stranger who has threatened your safety? An illness threatening your family? All are pretty terrifying!!
Our ancestors survived tiger attacks with quick wits and reactions. The “fight or flight” reaction to a threat is what has kept us alive. And even though there are fewer tiger attacks in our modern world, our brains react to any stress in the same way. Our world has evolved at lightning speeds and our brains have a hard time keeping up. If you’re faced with a life and death situation, instinct and impulse take over. It pushes rational thought and reasoning to the side. This might save you from a tiger attack, but in modern life, we need our wits and problem- solving skills to kick into high gear.
Our brains cannot tell the difference between reality and make-believe.
It’s one of our amazing abilities of evolution. We get the same rush of emotions thinking about a happy memory as we did experiencing it. Have you ever thought about someone and smiled? Our brains can’t tell the difference between things we find stressful in the same way. The reactions we have to stress, all stress, invoke the same response in our bodies.
The debt collector threatens our homes and our family safety, so we react. Our heart races, we get anxious and fidgety as our bodies prepare for a fight (or flight). We often have the same reaction to imagined stress. Imagined stress comes from a story we tell ourselves. Things such as how much your boss hates you or how your kid is never going to be a functioning human because you’re a crappy parent. We stress about these things that are more than likely not true but it feels that way.
What happens when we have all those real stresses getting mixed up with those imagined stresses? Stress is stress remember and it all matters.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress (overwhelm) occurs when a person can’t see a way out of the demanding situation. The constant and unrelenting demands build over time and boil over. Cortisol, referred to as the stress hormone, production intensifies racing throughout the bodies. It prepares us for instant reactions, some we won’t even be aware of.
The more we allow this to happen, the easier it is to slip into the habit when similar situations arise. We put ourselves on high alert looking and responding, to all the tigers. The more prolonged we are in a state of overwhelm, the more our bodies adapt to the state of high alert. The more often we experience overwhelm, the easier it is for us to slip back and the harder it is to get out.
The more thoughts we have about stress, the more it occurs in our bodies.
Most of the cells in our bodies have cortisol receptors. Our reactions to stress are both emotional and physical and it varies from person to person. It controls mood, motivation and metabolism. All key in the instinct for survival. When in high alert, your brain shuts down all non-essential activities. It slows metabolism so you have the energy to run from the tiger. It lowers your decision making and problem-solving abilities. You are sharp and ready to react. Dopamine and serotonin (the happy hormones) decrease focusing you on the task at hand.
Think about how this impacts and compounds your issue with the debt collector. The brain is rerouting energy so you’re on high alert to run or fight. Energy is being sucked from the resources you need. Your memory, problem-solving and decision-making prefrontal cortex is starving for energy, and you can’t think of a way to get a handle on your finances. Things get worse and worse because you can’t make a decision, but your pumped and ready to run.
Added to this are the other stress in your life like your issue with your boss or your child. When we need our brain to step up, it shuts down.
Generally, this is how we work,
1. Every action comes from an emotion.
We do most everything because of a feeling. Some actions become learned and stored in our unconscious. We can repeat those actions without thinking. But, the action came from emotion. Think about a baby learning to walk. The action propelled by an emotion of accomplishment, wonder or amazement. We don’t feel all those feelings every time we walk, but originally our emotions drove the action.
2. Every emotion comes from a thought.
We create our own emotions and each emotion links to a thought. This is why some people are afraid of snakes and others are not. Our brains and body only know how to create emotions based on thoughts.
3. Every thought, we control.
It might not always feel we are in control of our thoughts but we get to decide how to feel about things.
For our “flight or fight” response to kick in, we have to feel like we are in danger. Some reactions are hardwired in the primitive parts of our brains; others we create and wired them there. We are not born with a fear of public speaking, flying or small spaces. We have created those fears and wired them into our brains without thinking. Those fears we can manage and change by addressing the thoughts behind the feelings.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, stop for a moment and think. What is happening in your body and what thoughts are at the root of those feelings? Recognizing and acknowledging your thoughts provide you with a starting point to change the feeling. This is the core.
We usually approach stress and overwhelm by addressing how we are spending our time. Time management gadgets and methods will only go so far. They work only when you feel you are spending your time in a valuable way