Over the years I’ve heard countless reasons why my clients stop their healthy habits.
And no matter what the external circumstances might be surrounding their reasoning to put their health on the back burner, it almost always comes down to a certain underlying emotion or feeling.
This emotion I’m writing about is probably the biggest reason we stop taking care of ourselves and in many cases adopt unhealthy habits.
I’m talking about feeling overwhelmed.
To put it in scientific terms, feeling overwhelmed feels like hell.
It feels like the walls are closing in around you and it’s impossible to breath. Things just keep piling up until you want to scream, pull your hair out, hide under the covers and stop the world.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I know the feeling all too well. In fact, feeling overwhelmed and out of control was one of the emotions I desperately attempted to alleviate through my eating disorder back in high school.
So here I am 16 years later; still learning to handle this intense and deeply uncomfortable feeling. Today when I feel overwhelmed (and I’m not being mindful) I usually get really short tempered and end up yelling at my husband. Way better than an eating disorder but I’m still learning.
No one wants to feel overwhelmed, but unfortunately it’s part of life and no one is immune to it. Feeling overwhelmed and out of control doesn’t make you an incapable human being; it makes you human. The problem is not in the feeling itself.
The problem begins when we take actions to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stop moving forward because we are scared.
Like I said earlier, in order to deal with my feelings of overwhelm when I was a teenager, I dangerously restricted my food intake. On the flip side, many people numb out feelings of being overwhelmed by overeating and binging on food. Food is just one way to avoid uncomfortable feelings; alcohol, sex, sleep, shopping, and even exercise can all be used in harmful ways to redirect feelings of being overwhelmed in an unhealthy way.
Take a moment right now and ask yourself what did you do the last time you felt overwhelmed? Did your actions help you work through your emotions or did they help to numb them out?
Expressing your emotions in a nondestructive manner is step one. Here are some of my favorites:
Take a walk
Lay down and close my eyes with deep breathing
Punch a pillow
Crying it out with a friend that won’t judge or give advice
Scream into a pillow
Step 2 can be a little trickier (and most of the time addictions or destructive behavior start and stop at step one).
Step 2 involves reframing how you perceive ‘feeling overwhelmed’.
So far, most of my life has been spent avoiding situations where I feel overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed is a very unpredictable and uncertain place to be. Then a few years ago, I heard this quote:
“The quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortable live with” – Tony Robbins.
By avoiding feeling overwhelmed I was not growing as a human being. I was stuck at my status quo. I avoided feeling overwhelmed because I thought it might trigger me back into unhealthy habits. I believed I wasn’t capable living comfortably with uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. But then I learned something else:
“The Universe will never give you more than you can handle”
If I believe I can handle it all. I can handle it all. It’s just that simple. And it’s empowering.
So the question I will leave with you is this:
If you knew that feeling overwhelmed was a sign that you were growing as a human being, what would you do? What actions would you take?
There’s a lot going on right now in my life and I’m sure there’s a lot going on in yours too. Just remember that the universe will never give you more than you can handle and you can handle it all.
Navigating the Murky Waters of Body Positivity, Thin-Privilege and Eating Disorder Recovery: Part Two