Ever notice how, when we’re desperate for a particular outcome, we stress over it and overestimate the odds of the worst things that could happen? In the process, we enthusiastically underestimate our own ability to cope with it. Our faith in ourselves dives to a dismal low.
This has happened to me when I wanted something to happen. The instances are too many to recount and include both minor and major events.
Overwhelm is something we all experience at some point, and often, on a daily basis.
“I missed the bus! Oh no! I’ll be late. My boss will be mad at me. And yada yada yada to “will he fire me””
I mean, look at that! From a few minutes late to losing the job! And all of it in the head!
“I didn’t study this lesson. What if a question from this carries a lot of marks? I’ll fail the exam. I won’t get ahead. My future will go down the drain”
This one’s a classic. From one lesson skipped to an unknown future killed before it even started!
Why, just last week, just for a few minutes I was fretting over the folly of believing I could manage four blogs in the A to Z Challenge and felt lousy about lagging behind. Then I shook myself up and said hey, so what? What is the worst that could happen? Nothing, really! Mind you, for two of my blogs, I scheduled the week’s posts in advance. For this one and my health blog, I take longer as they involve more work. At the end of the day I’ve handled things as best as I can. I have appreciative clients. My family’s happy. I am happy.
Anxious thoughts overwhelm us with all kinds of possibilities. When we learn to estimate the real odds of whatever we imagine actually happening, we can find a way to cope and render our overwhelm powerless. Or at least move those negative thoughts out of the overwhelm area to manageable.
Ah, that’s not a million dollar question, fortunately.
It is easy, I’ve tried it and it works.
I use this three-step plan.
Step 1 is to work with these anxious thoughts
Step 2 is to estimate the odds of what we worry about actually happening
Step 3 is to make a plan of action to cope.
How to estimate the real Odds
Write down the thought that’s worrying me.
Then list all the likely outcomes.
On a scale of 1-10 rate each outcome on its likelihood of happening where 1 is lowest and 10 is highest.
Take each outcome. Has it happened before? How often? What could possibly prevent it from happening again?
Are there other probable outcomes in addition to the ones you fear?
Now remember, the anxious thought is only a guess, not reality
Let’s take an example
I am worried about a presentation I have to make. I am afraid it won’t be received well. Possible outcomes are:
- The audience loves it
- Some people love it, some hate it.
- I am sure I did a great job and don’t care about who thinks what
All three have an equal chance of happening.
How do I cope?
- I start by asking myself: What will be the actual impact of each of these outcomes for me?
Truth is, we all have a tendency to overestimate the actual impact and the consequences of each outcome. What I am saying is – it is usually not as bad as we imagine. More often than not, the outcomes are far milder and have less of an impact than we think they will.
- Now, I ask myself, how will I deal with it if what I fear actually happens? What can I do to reduce the consequences of this? What can I do to minimize its impact on my emotions? How can I maximize the positive stuff in my life to balance or compensate for the negative event?
Here’s the thing – there is always a way to cope with just about anything no matter how scary it is. Look back on how you’ve successfully dealt with several awful things in the past and survived and managed to move on and take strength from it. I am sure you also know of many people who’ve overcome their overwhelm and emerged stronger.
If you still can’t find a way to cope, think about one step you could take to tackle the situation. It can be big or small. Still nothing? Ask others for ideas and weigh the situation – you will be surprised how much easier it is to do that!
Some tips to cope with overwhelm
Don’t go overboard with your imagination when you think of various outcomes. When you find yourself blowing things out of proportion in your head, please stop! Instead, switch to finding ways to cope.
Just because you imagine the worst doesn’t increase its likelihood of happening.
Don’t blame yourself for the bad things that happen in your life. Every event is influenced by a number of factors, many of which you may not even be aware of! And bad things happen to everyone! It is all in the way we perceive it!
Remember – nothing is constant. Everything changes and there is truth in the phrase “this too shall pass”
When you realize that you can actually cope with your worst fears, it can be healing and make you feel empowered.
Think about it.
Harnessing your mind back to the moment and being aware can help a great deal with coping with life’s pressures and keep overwhelm at bay.
Here’s an effective exercise called the One Minute Rule. It is a wonderful technique to help you focus.
How to practice the one minute rule
- Set your phone alarm to go off every hour.
- If you work at the computer, set an hourly alert.
- Each time the alarm goes off, turn it off.
- Spend one minute – that’s 60 seconds – focusing on where you are, what you’re doing.
- If you happen to be sitting at a desk, focus on your body.
- Are you sitting in a chair? Feel it.
- Feel the surface of the chair supporting you.
- How is your body posture?
- Close your eyes and scan your body from the top of your head to your toes.
- How does your body feel?
- What scents are you smelling? Focus on those
- What sounds surround you? Focus on those
- Are you holding something in your hands? Focus.
- Don’t judge. Don’t ponder.
- Just notice the sensory experience.
Try doing this for a minute every hour. It makes a big difference.
If you said “oh come on, Vidya!” then do this: get up, walk for 30 seconds. Drink some water. Then get back to work. How’s that? You’ll thank me for minimizing the bum cramp!