Overwhelm. It is a term which is all too familiar to most of us. We are all dealing with an unprecedented amount of responsibilities and tasks on a regular basis. This can include work deadlines, shuttling our kids between home, school and their activities, doing the groceries, making dinner, getting your car’s oil changed, picking up the dry cleaning, keeping up with your household bills, helping your kids with their homework, balancing the monthly budget, managing your personal email messages, finding time to exercise, keeping up with your family and friends, and the list goes on and on. This is compounded by our use of advancing technology which amplifies the overwhelm by giving us easier access to information which we do not necessarily need and access to instant communication which just piles up our to do list.
The problem with overwhelm is that our body interprets it the same as an acute stress. This results in the release of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol which prepare our body for the fight or flight response which is needed to deal with an actual threat but is actually harmful when perpetuated over time in states of chronic stress. Chronic stress will, eventually, weaken our immune system which leaves us susceptible to the effects of inflammation which is the main cause of chronic illness such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
So how do we deal with overwhelm and the resulting chronic stress and the effects it has on our immune system and our overall health? This may seem counterintuitive but the first thing you should do is to simply stop. Just stop what you are doing, sit in a comfortable position, focus on your breathing and go within. Do not focus on a specific thought or emotion but just focus your attention on your breath for at least a few minutes and longer if you can.
The purpose of this is to get you out of the state of overwhelm. This is because when you are in a state of overwhelm your attention is scattered amongst all the different things that you think you have to do which does not allow you to perform any specific task effectively . By becoming still by closing your eyes and focusing your attention on something simple, such as your breath, this allows your mind to focus on one specific thing.
When you are able to do this, you can then effectively prioritize all the things on your to do list and focus on the most important or highest impact activity you can do in the moment. Once you complete one activity, you can then focus on the next most important task and so on and so forth until you are able to tackle everything you need to do with grace and ease. This is possible to do without becoming overwhelmed but it all starts with becoming still like I have described above.
This may seem like a form of meditation but if this does not resonate with you then simply call it what it is: stillness. I discuss this in more detail in my newly released book, ‘Healing From The Inside Out: Overcome Chronic Disease And Radically Change Your Life.’
Nauman Naeem MD FCCP FRCPC