Have you ever had a feeling that's totally taken on a life of its own and made its sole purpose to overwhelm you? Maybe a feeling that's just risen like a tidal wave then dumped you and left you gasping for air. Or what about that feeling where you just don't think you can cope anymore? Like you're drowning, and there's no room left in the life raft. Ever had any of those feelings?
Of course you have (or is it just me?)
Feelings can sometimes get out of control and become overwhelming. But that's only because you don't understand where feelings come from and how you can influence them.
I'll let you in on a little something which, had I been told a long time ago, would have stopped me experiencing years and years of panic attacks and generalised anxiety. This little piece of info has the capacity to stop overwhelming feelings dead in their track; or prevent them from happening in the first place.
Where do feelings come from?
But before I get to it, I want to let you know where feelings come from. Understanding your feelings, and what creates them, is crucial to your well-being and sense of calm.
In a nutshell all of your feelings come from a thought. You cannot have a feeling without first having a thought. When you feel anxious, all that's happened is you've had an anxious thought, and that anxious thought creates an anxious feeling. When you feel angry, all that's happened is you've had an angry thought, and that angry thought creates an angry feeling.
You are just feeling your thinking. And you're only ever going to feel what you're thinking about.
Let's put it to the test. Have you ever had an angry thought and felt peaceful? Or have you ever had a peaceful thought and felt angry? Of course you haven't. It's impossible. You will only ever feel what you are thinking about in that moment.
So if you're thinking “there's too much to do, there's too much to learn” guess what - you're going to feel overwhelmed.
If you're thinking “I haven't done as much as everyone, look how much they've done”, you're going to feel insecure or inadequate.
And on the flip side, if you're thinking “I've got this, I can do it” obviously you're going to feel more confident.
Understanding what creates your feelings (a thought) can really stop you from feeling out of control – because you realise that it's your thinking that creates your feelings, not the person, situation or event.
So simply put that's where your feelings come from.
What makes me feel overwhelmed?
Let's say you have a random thought of “I've got a lot to do”. That thought in itself isn't such a big deal.
But because you're a human, you'll more than likely follow that thought with “yeah, I really do have a lot to do”; and then you'll follow that up with another thought of “I don't think I can do it all” which will then be followed up with (take a deep breath) “I really don't think I can do it, I don't have enough time, they're just asking me to do too much; I have to spend all my time on the English assignment and I don't even get what this book is about; how am I meant to write about it in the exam? Oh crap I'm going to fail this; I'm never going to get the ATAR I need, and if I don't get the ATAR I won't get into uni, and all my friends will get in, and they'll leave me behind. And I'll be a sad sorry loser. What will Mum and Day say if I fail? They'll be so angry and disappointed. All their friends will know I didn't get in, and all my friends will know I didn't get in. OMG I seriously have to study; I have got so much to do – I can't do it all what am I going to do” and boom! You're overwhelmed.
All because of that one little thought of “I've got a lot to do”.
Here's how to stop overwhelm from happening...
Using full stops in your thinking
Do what your english teacher always used to tell you and use more full stops.
Insert full stops into your thinking to avoid the potential of your mind completely overwhelming you.
So rather than “I've got a lot to do. Yeah I really do have a lot to do; I really don't think I can do; I don't have enough time blah blah blah” it becomes “I've got a lot to do. FULL STOP”. Literally say “full stop” to yourself.
Or when you think “this is tricky”, it becomes “this is tricky. FULL STOP”, not “this is tricky, I can't do it, I bet everyone can do it, I'm such an idiot, I'm never going to be able to do it blah blah blah”.
How about “I'm going to be late. FULL STOP.” Not “I'm going to be late, I hate being late, I'll get behind in my work, and then I'll have to stay in at lunch time, and I won't be able to find my friends, and then I'll have to eat my lunch by myself, and every one will look at me like I'm a loser”.
Ugh, how tiring. “I'm going to be late. Full stop.”
Punctuating your thinking with full stops is incredibly powerful, and incredibly simple. It stops those overwhelming feelings from starting, or cuts them at the knees so they can't go any further. Best of all you have control over it, and you can do it anywhere – on the bus, on the train, in a class, in an exam, in the movies, while you're walking, on a date, in the supermarket – you get the picture.
Use full stops. They are simple, easy and effective.
Your lovely mind, your feelings (and your English teacher), will thank you.
Vanessa Aitken is a qualified Life Coach and Community Welfare Worker who specialises in stress and anxiety. She works one on one with teenagers as well as conducting presentations and workshops in secondary schools around managing stress and anxiety. She works with people across Australia and globally through the wonders of Skype and Zoom. You can connect with Vanessa via her website at www.threesixtycoaching.com.au or www.facebook.com/threesixtycoaching.
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