One of the things that happens in overwhelm is that we can’t think clearly!
So as we begin our discussion of OVERWHELM, let’s be wise, and define exactly what the word overwhelm means. Let’s turn to the dictionary.
According to several dictionaries, the word overwhelm came to us from as far back as the 14th Century. It came from the 1400s and is “Middle English” in origin. The word meant, “to turn upside down, or to overthrow.” The imagery is of a boat that is washed over or overturned by a big wave.
I’ve often felt like that. I”m completely thrown off balance by huge waves of “stuff” that I need to do, or find myself swamped with feelings that have completely submerged me into despair, frustration, panic, or fear. This picture represents how I feel in those moments.
Look closely. Do you see a “captain?” Is there anyone you can see steering this boat? No. That’s the problem with overwhelm, too.
Essentially, it takes ME out of the picture. I can’t even see ME.
I am no longer able to feel calm, because I can’t figure out how to get back into the captain’s position, and I can’t control the boat. The only question becomes: Will I go down with it?
So my first step in overcoming OVERWHELM must be this:
What does that mean? I can hear my logical-minded friends saying, “That’s ridiculous. You’re still there, right where you were.”
True. I am there, in the physical sense.
But what’s happening inside? This is the the concept we need to address. This is an important point, because...............
Emotions Power Our Lives.
When we are OVERWHELMED, it’s our EMOTIONS that are overwhelmed.
We must find emotional equilibrium.
So let’s remember what emotions really are. An emotion is composed of two things -
An experience I had many years ago helps me to remember what’s really going on, and why our thoughts can be so problematic.
I’m afraid of water, and that’s an understatement. Shortly after my husband and I were married, we attended a family reunion of his side of the family. I didn’t know them very well, and I wanted to impress them. The party was at a lake, and everyone was enjoying the water. Don didn’t know that I was afraid of water, and he was swimming a little way offshore with a couple of his cousins. So I stood at the water’s edge, wading in just a few feet, trying to appear nonchalant and look as if I was enjoying myself.
I had no idea that the shallow edge was only a foot or two out into the lake, and then there was a huge drop-off. I discovered that when my foot no longer touched bottom, and I plunged downward. The panic was overwhelming. My arms were flailing, and I was thrashing up and down, trying to kick my way out of drowning.
I was only four feet away from shore. If I had relaxed, I could have easily lunged to safety. But my thoughts had taken over, and my thought said: “Water is not safe. You will drown.”
I didn’t drown. Someone noticed that I was struggling not even four feet from shore, and began shouting and running towards me. Don heard the noise, saw me, and swam quickly over. He grabbed me by my arms and tried to get me back to safety. In the process, though, I literally almost drowned him. I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t relax. If we had been out in the truly deep water, we probably would have both died.
The point? When we are struggling in OVERWHELM, take a moment to stop struggling, and ask yourself this question:
What am I thinking? What am I believing about this situation?
Once we ask the question, we can begin to find our ability to control. We begin to rationally assess the situation. This gives us the ability to consciously choose our actions, and not “flail around in life-flight mode.”
Something so very simple can make such a big difference!
In future posts, we will talk about what we actually do with those thoughts, and how to use them to promote peace.