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  • Writer's pictureRim

3 successful strategies to cope with overwhelm as an HSP

I know if you stumbled across this blog post today, it’s because you’ve been wondering how too much life is at times and how to deal with this sensation of overload that is keeping you gasping for air.

Perhaps you’ve been hustling without much result to show for it. Perhaps you thought it would be only for a short while, but you keep finding yourself trying harder and harder. You feel the pressure to be doing specific things in order to “do life” that you’re not comfortable with.

Or, perhaps you find it difficult to perform and do the things that matter to you because of all the external stimuli and excessive thoughts looping in your mind?

But you’re sick and tired of feeling as if you were drowning beneath a huge mass of too-muchness, flooded by an overflow of thoughts, emotions, and painful physical sensations.

And you’re wondering to yourself, is this really what life is about? Constant anxiety and overwhelm? Is this the only way?

Is being highly sensitive a curse?

If you’re tired of constant overwhelm and anxiety hijacking your life, don’t worry, you’re not alone, and there are solutions. According to my survey, Overwhelm is the number one challenge facing Highly Sensitive People.

The thing is, Highly Sensitive People have a more sensitive nervous system than the average of the population. That means that, as an HSP, you get overstimulated more easily and therefore you can get frazzled more often if you’re not careful about what you expose your energy to.

HSPs tend to take in more details and subtleties in our environment. Sometimes, there’s so much information to absorb that you just get overloaded.

HSPs process things at different speeds and in different ways, and feel emotions very intensely.

When handling a problem, you can quickly easily imagine all the possibilities and options available and what it would look like.

And this is a beautiful thing!

The side effect is that because non HSPs are less aware of these subtleties, HSPs often feel misunderstood and somehow inadequate. Especially when growing up at school, where many of us were told to toughen up. Or, later, at work, with the pressure to perform and deadlines after deadlines. Because HSPs perform less well when observed and under pressure, we may have passed for unintelligent or lacking knowledge and skills. For example, experiencing difficulties focusing on presentations for a long time, or tuning out during meetings, as compared to non-HSPs.

Because HSPs care deeply about the suffering in the world and long to make a difference, we may even add to the pressure by pushing ourselves too hard. In our enthusiasm, we may forget to pace ourselves in the process.

Also, being particularly creative, with lots of ideas and multiple passions, it can be hard for HSPs to know where to start at times.

Signs that you may be overwhelmed:

  • Other people’s moods affect you more than usual

  • You’re feeling fatigued and drained

  • You’re feeling tense and quick to snap

  • Your energy feels tense and constricted in your body

  • Your heart is pounding and you experience shortness of breath

  • You’re tempted to quit everything

  • You’re tempted to engage in numbing activities, such as binge watching a show, over snacking mindlessly, overdrinking alcohol

  • You’re having trouble focusing on what you’re doing and on what others are saying to you

  • You start obsessing over small things

  • You panic at the idea of taking a decision

  • You’re getting irritated by little things

  • You have a strong headache or stomach pain

  • You feel like the world is too much

  • Your nervous system feels so frazzled that you just want to withdraw from society altogether

To handle overwhelm, most people use strategies motivated by “away from”.

However, this is not in your best interest long term as it can lead you directly into Overwhelm mode. Here’s why:

When you are motivated by “Away from” strategies, your unconscious mind gets the message that you’re trying to escape from danger. When facing real danger, this strategy is obviously great. Short, intense effort meant to take you out of danger into a safe place.

When applied to a lifestyle goal, which by definition is long term, this kind of strategy runs out quickly and gets stressful, because you are carrying around your mental image of what you want to get away from, thus constantly reinforcing it.

Focusing on moving away from overwhelm can can show up as follows:

  • Overdoing: The “if only I could do more” technique. Ever thought that if I can add 2 little hours in your day, then everything will be fine, and you’ll feel more relaxed?

And so, you keep pushing yourself harder: “If I could find more time, I could get it all done”, or “When I finish XYZ by tonight (although it’s already 4pm), then everything will be fine”.

This is a dangerous zone as it can easily lead to burnout. If you tie your self-worth to your performance and busy-ness, then it’s a sign that you could be trying to avoid your emotions and real feelings.

“Workaholism, like all addictions, blocks creative energy”, Julia Cameron

  • The “I will not …” method: Ever tell yourself “I will not procrastinate today, I will not be stressed, I will not work for too long, I won’t let anything distract me…” and surprise, it doesn’t work! As the day passes by, you find that you underestimate the time it would take you to do something, and instead of 1h, it took you 5h. You were full of good intentions, but it turns out that it only adds to your overwhelm.

  • Apathy: The “I don’t know” technique. Paralyzed by overwhelm, you choose to revert to inaction.

Because overwhelm is extremely unpleasant, and you probably tried the first two techniques to no avail, you give up altogether. What’s the point anyway?

“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to start, I don't have enough time, I don’t know if this will work”.

Oh my, when I think how many times I’ve repeated those words to myself and to others around me…

This kind of statement is incredibly disempowering! And it focuses on the negative result that paradoxically we don’t want to achieve.

This is the energy of resistance, of doubt, of fear. If you ever felt “paralyzed” by all the possibilities, it could be because deep down you're scared not to be enough.

When we’re in this mode, “we try to protect our potential instead of honouring it", Sam Laura Brown

All these strategies that don’t work for your highest good leave space for those icky feelings that create so much exhaustion and frustration in your life. Fear, frustration, self-loathing, shame, anger, judgment, desperation. It can seem like a never-ending loop.

I know that it’s been my case for some dreams of mine. For example, my IG account. I’ve been meaning to get back at it for a couple of years. Initially, I adopted the overdoing mode: I was so enthusiastic that I tried to do too much too fast. Of course, I got sick of his attitude after a while, and moved on to the self-punishing loop. “Don’t be stressed Rim, don’t do too much, don’t be overwhelmed, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just do the things you said you wanted to do?” And finally, I moved to the last method:

My thoughts were like “having a successful Ig account is way too much work, you can’t get there girl, I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to do, I don’t have time anyway…” As a result, I quit, and was too overwhelmed by my fear to do anything about it for the next two years. I then went down a spiral of guilt, shame and disappointment.

Until I found better strategies that actually work.

Because good news: there are plenty of more effective strategies you can adopt instead! Here are 3 mindset hacks that you can apply to tame overwhelm next time it arises in your life.

Adopting “Towards” strategies will help you transform the negative impact overwhelm has on your wellbeing, and will lead you to follow-through. I call these the Overwhelm LPD squad!

#1 Acceptance and Love

Witness your overwhelm. Accept the overwhelm. Love your overwhelm.

Love yourself in your state of not being able to love the situation.

Accepting your overwhelm rather than pushing it away is the most loving and beneficial thing you can do for yourself. The willingness to accept your feelings, your emotions and your reactions while realizing that they do not define you is incredibly liberating.

What you don’t own, owns you, Debbie Ford

And so, if you keep pushing away overwhelm, pretending it doesn’t exist or just dismissing it, will only make it stronger. Moving towards the acceptance of overwhelm will lead you to the next step, which is to move towards being kinder to yourself.

It’s much easier to do something out of love, rather than out of being pressured to do it.

#2 Patience: sometimes the best action is to SLOW DOWN.

When you were a baby, you needed to learn to crawl before walking. It’s the same with accomplishing goals. Put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Over time the compound effect of all these little steps you took will take you to your destination.

If your task seems so big that you feel inertia, chunk the tasks down until they are easy to do. This is especially important for HSPs, who get overloaded quickly.

I find that actually writing down all the steps that will be needed to complete the task reassures me.

While you take small steps, and it seems like it doesn’t amount to much, focus on the end result, rather than the slog of getting there. Take the habit to regularly visualize the end result and how it will be great when this project is completed.

“Acting small doesn’t mean thinking small”, Marie Forleo

#3 Take a Decision, and commit to it. You can always reevaluate down the road and recommit to another choice. Remaining indecisive will maintain the confusion and brain fog effect in your life. Taking decisions will give you the clarity you need in order to take action.

Motivation follows action, rather than the other way round - get started and the motivation will come!

“More is lost by indecision than wrong decision.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

My dear HSPs, if you struggle with overwhelm, please know that it isn’t your fault. It is part of your biology, but it doesn’t have to control your life.

You have the power to rein it in by implementing strategies adapted to you, as a sensitive soul.

Has your attitude changed about overwhelm? Most importantly, how can you put this insight into action in your life or business? Give it a go and let me know if it works for you too!

To your creative energy,

xo Rim

P.S. I'm currently conducting a survey about the top challenges facing Highly Sensitive People and your feedback is needed, as it will make an important contribution to this topic. To participate, click here.

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