Overwhelm can be described as the feeling that we are not able to cope with the situation we currently find ourselves in. It’s very common for us to feel overwhelmed at different points during our lives. While the specific things that causes overwhelm maybe individual to us, there seems to be common areas where we find coping difficult including: work pressure, relationship pressure, parental pressure and our financial circumstances.

Our brains have been developed to recognise threats and try and protect us from them. Whilst we live completely different lives than our early ancestors, our brains are very similar. The threats that our ancestors were dealing with on a daily basis are very different to the ones we face today. They faced a daily battle for survival and so their brains constantly needed to access their surroundings looking for life threatening danger.

In the 21st Century we very seldom will find ourselves in life threatening circumstances, however the primitive part of our brain hasn’t moved on. It still thinks we’re living the same way we were tens of thousands of years ago.

In those times if we forgot about a threat it may have had deadly consequences, so our brains reminded of us of it regularly.

The threats on our health today are often not life threatening, but our brain treats them the same way and reminds of us them many times during the day, in its simplistic attempt to try and protect us from them.

The problem with this is that each negative thought creates a stress response. We increase our levels of stress hormone, which if left to rise over a period of time, has a negative effect on both our physical and mental health.

It keeps us trapped in thinking with the primitive part of our brain which is emotional and not logical. We can find ourselves in a situation where we can’t escape our thoughts, which in turn increases overwhelm.

Whilst we all have the ability to create overwhelm, some people appear to become overwhelmed very easily, whereas others can seem to deal with everything that life throws at them.

A major difference is that people with overwhelm focus on the problem but people don’t become overwhelmed when they focus on the outcome.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you might benefit from introducing a ‘worry window’ in to your daily life. Spend around 10 minutes a day writing down your thoughts. Divide your page into areas for ‘real worries’ and ‘imagined worries’. Ask yourself ‘Can I take control over this?’ If your answer is yes it’s a real worry. Once you have noted it down start to make a plan focusing on the outcome you want.

If it’s something you can’t control, then it’s an ‘imagined worry’. By writing it down your brain will be less likely to keep reminding you of it. If it does you can remind yourself that this is an imagined worry and not something that should trouble you.

Perhaps you might be interested in reading other articles in my mini-blog series:

Your brain’s amazing neuroplasticity

The benefits of exercise on mental health