A reader asked me, "You tell us that when we're overwhelmed, we need to take a break, take a breath, and start small. The problem is, when I'm overwhelmed, I'm least likely to be aware of my feelings of overwhelm, so I can't take a break and start small. How can I break out of that cycle?"
You're right, it's not something you instantly become aware of. It's not like we say, "Oh, I'm lost in the hurricane of everything, I need to stop and take care of myself." Most of the time, we get sucked up into it, lose sight of what's happening, and don't come back to ourselves. We're not aware of what's happening.
But by talking about it as much as I do on the blog posts, I'm hoping that it sinks in and a crack of awareness starts to form. So in the midst of feeling overwhelmed at some point, the awareness creeps in, "Oh, I'm lost in the too-muchedness. I'm going to step back a bit and reassess."
(By the way, I'm stealing the crack analogy from the Leonard Cohen song, Anthem, that goes, "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.")
To get a head start on learning to become of your overwhelm, try first to figure out your particular pattern. It's something simple you always do when you're overwhelmed. For instance, my girlfriend looks at the floor and thinks it's really dirty even when it's not. That's when she knows she's over her head in stress. When many of my client's get overwhelmed, they talk too much and too quickly.
Once you know your pattern, you don't have to be aware of being overwhelmed, just be aware of when the pattern happens. Then the next step is to notice the pattern, and remember that's an indication that you're overwhelmed.
If you have a moment, leave a comment and tell what your pattern is.