Are you overwhelmed? I used to answer that question as a no, but then I learned what overwhelm actually was. In this episode you’ll hear the definition of overwhelm from a trauma perspective, different types of overwhelm, and 5 tips to manage your overwhelm. I gave this presentation a few weeks ago, so if you’d like the slideshow that goes with it, download it here

Okay, today I want to share with you a presentation that I did a couple weeks ago in somebody else’s coaching program in which I discussed overwhelm and how overwhelm is biological. So I defined overwhelm, I talked about the kinds of overwhelm, and I talked about how to manage overwhelm. So I thought that that would be a great topic for today’s podcast.

And what I’m going to do is, if you are listening on the podcast or in a podcast app, I am actually going to be sharing my screen and going through a PowerPoint presentation. So if you are watching this on YouTube, you can see what I mean here, but if you are listening in the podcast, I’m going to do my best to obviously give you all the information that you need just from the audio.

But if you’re interested in seeing the presentation and downloading it for yourself, if you would like it, you can absolutely do that. I am going to drop a link in the show notes where you can actually get that presentation from my Canva.

So, trauma is overwhelm and overwhelm is trauma. That is what we’re going to talk about today. And the first thing I like to always start with is that you should listen to your own body. As I am speaking, and this applies to any podcast that I do, notice how your body responds to what I’m saying. And if there’s anything here that feels not good in your body, then please, you have permission to just throw it in the bin.

I am a life coach and this is the work that I do helping people overcome or heal from trauma. It’s the work that I do for myself and I want to say that I am 43 years old and I lived basically the first 40 years of my life in overwhelm, in a chronic overwhelm state.

And the things that I’m going to talk about today are the things that have helped me actually change and feel better in my body. For a long time, I thought overwhelm was an emotion. So we’re going to talk about that.

Define Overwhelm

Let’s actually start with defining overwhelm. My definition of overwhelm, and this is coming from a nervous system, trauma perspective is anything, and I really want to emphasize that word, anything, anything that is too much, too fast, too intense for your nervous system.

So it could be a circumstance in your life. It could be the lights are too bright, or there’s too much noise in this room, or my child is just too much for me, bouncing off the walls or whatever, something like that.

It could be your thoughts. Your thoughts can be too much or too fast, which can create overwhelm in your body. It could be your actual emotions can feel too big or too much and can send you into overwhelm.

When I say anything, I mean anything, any sensory information, anything in your environment, anything in your body, anything that is too much or too fast for your nervous system. So yes, that means that there’s not one standard of what is too much and too fast. It just depends on your nervous system.

So I started to say that for a long time, I thought overwhelm was an emotion. This is typically how we think of overwhelm. This is the messaging we get from our bigger culture that overwhelm is an emotion, or it’s something that kind of happens in our minds.

It’s very airy fairy, but, one of the things I want you to take from this episode is that overwhelm is biological. It is actually something that happens in the cells of your body. This was something that my coach had to drill into me. I didn’t get it at first. I thought overwhelm was something non tangible, and once I started to understand that overwhelm and trauma are tangible, that you can actually see evidence of them in the biology, the physiology of your body. Things started to shift for me.

Now, I do want to say that there are different types of rest that we need. This is kind of how I learned about it, the different types of rest, physical, mental, social, spiritual, sensory, emotional, and creative, and I believe that there is an overwhelm for each of these types of rest. And they’re not even types of rest.

They’re ways that we interact with the world. We interact physically, mentally, socially, spiritually. In a sensory way, emotionally and creatively, right? So for each of those ways that we interact with the world, we need rest and we have a potential for getting overwhelmed.

I am going to focus in this episode on physical overwhelm, but really, any of these ways that we interact with the world when we feel overwhelmed, it is a physical overwhelm for most of us.

Types of Overwhelm

Okay so, overwhelm is biological. This is one of the things that I really want you to understand and learn from this episode. Overwhelm is biological. Sometimes we address overwhelm at the emotional or mental level, and that is fabulous, please continue to do that, there is nothing wrong with that, but if it works great, if it doesn’t work, if you’re trying to address overwhelm at a mental or emotional level, and you keep coming back to, “but I feel overwhelmed,” or, “I feel like life is too much,” or, “my capacity isn’t big enough. I’m not enough,” those kinds of messages coming from yourself, there’s probably a biological process happening in your body before you get to the mental and emotional cue of overwhelm.

So the mental emotional overwhelm that we typically think of is usually happening after the biological overwhelm, the physiological overwhelm that happens in our bodies. It’s like a bottom up approach, right?

There is overwhelm in our body and if we don’t listen to it, if we don’t tend to it, then it’ll come up to the emotional and mental level to catch our attention. Anything that is too much, too fast, overwhelm, puts you into a freeze response.

Okay, let me go into that a little bit more carefully, and this is where if you’re listening to the audio only, there is a graphic that I created that I’m going to attempt to describe to you but, this is where you might want to get the slideshow so that you can see what I’m talking about.

When we talk about phases of trauma response, which I have talked about before on my podcast, I did not look up the episode number, I’m so sorry (Edit: Episode 108: The phases of Trauma Response) we are essentially talking about a stress response that our body goes into.

We’re going along and everything is good. We’re sort of feeling calm and connected and creative, at least that is the ideal and then something startles us. So we get this startle response and if you’re following along with me with the graphic, this is this little orange dot here.

So the graphic is basically just a wave that goes, that starts at like a baseline and then it goes up into a peak and then comes down the other side back to the baseline. And that startle response starts, starts the process of going up, making that wave go up, right? And that is what we would call activation.

It’s that stress response. We go into the stress response. It activates us. It makes us aware and alert, and that’s when we, our bodies, this is not necessarily a conscious response, but this is when our bodies say, “okay, do I need to run away or do I need to fight?” That’s what I mean by the activated energy in your body.

That activation, once we get into activation, ideally we would run away or we would fight and we would overcome the threat or the perceived threat and we would come to a moment kind of at the top of this peak where we realize, “Okay, I’m going to win,” or, “I’m in the clear,” or, “I’m okay,” and then we come back out of this stress response. We start coming down from the peak into repair, right?

I always think about running. I’m not really a runner, but in school in high school for PE, we would have to run the mile, right? Very common thing and we run and then the PE teacher would always say like don’t just lay down or sit down on the ground, walk around for a little while put your hand your hands on your head, right to like avoid some of those cramps that can come and walk around and cool down, and then once your body cools down, then you can actually sit down, right?

So that’s the same thing with a stress response. We go into this activation, all of this energy pours into our body, getting us ready to run away or to fight. And then once we run or fight, then we come out of it like, “Oh, okay. I am safe now.” That is the repair phase and once we cool down enough, we go back to that window of tolerance back to that kind of baseline where we feel calm and creative and connected and just kind of that normal, right?

Now that’s what happens. Ideally, when we go into activation, we go into the activation, we triumph over our perceived danger, real or perceived. And then we come out of the activation through repair. And we come back to our window of tolerance.

We are meant to do this. Our biology is not there to avoid activation, it is there to go in and out of activation. We’re supposed to do this. The problem is that sometimes we get stuck in activation or we get stuck in freeze and that is when we’re talking about trauma. So there’s this other part on the graphic where at any point in the activation, we can feel like the perceived threat is too much, too fast.

That is the switch. That’s the overwhelm switch that I talked about earlier, and that drops us down into a freeze. So from this curve that goes kind of like up into a wave, think of it like a mountain, right? It’s you’re down on the plains and then you go up the mountain and then the mountain peaks and then the other side of the mountain at some point as you’re going up the mountain, you might feel overwhelmed.

You might feel like this is too much, too fast, too intense, too something for me to handle, in which case your body will take all that energy that was pouring in to get you prepared to run or fight, and it will put it away, it will box it away. That is what we call the freeze response. So then we go down into a freeze, and sometimes we get stuck there.

That’s what happened to me. So the overwhelm is the switch that goes from active energy and I’m metabolizing this energy. I’m using this energy to, I can’t do it, I got to go away. I need to like separate from myself.

This is why I say overwhelm is trauma and trauma is overwhelm starting from the overwhelm and down into the freeze. That is the path of trauma. If we can go into the stress response and come out of it without getting overwhelmed, we have enough resources. We have enough support to do so. There’s no trauma.

It’s only if the threat, perceived or real is too much, too fast, which is the definition of overwhelm that we go into the freeze response. We go away from it to keep ourselves safe. And that’s an important part. Like this is adaptive. This keeps us safe. It’s only if we do that, that trauma is created. Okay.

So this freeze response is the trauma and it starts with the overwhelm. So the overwhelm was part of it. And then the freeze response. Is trauma. Now there’s this little dotted line that goes from like the startle, um, just barely into the activation directly to the freeze without going up the mountain.

And the reason I put that there is because for those of us who have gone through this stress response too much, too fast, been overwhelmed, go down into the freeze multiple times, our body and our brain. It’s all about efficiency. So sometimes we go into the startle, we just barely get activated. And then we go, I know what’s going to happen here, this is going to be too much, too fast and so I’ll just go directly to the freeze.

So I have a little dotted line from kind of this startle or the beginning of going up the mountain directly into the freeze, which is a line that’s like in the inside of the mountain, right? It’s down, it’s like a tunnel in the inside of the mountain.

Um, so that is what I would call a chronic freeze is if our brains and our bodies have learned, Oh, I know this pattern. And we just go directly to the freeze response without really being activated and being like, this is too much, too fast. That’s the chronic freeze. So don’t forget that overwhelm is biological, right?

All of this stuff I’m talking about. are physiological, biological processes happening in our bodies. It’s not just a mental process that your mind or your brain is taking, you know, envisioning, Oh, this is too much, too fast. It’s actually a domino effect that’s happening in your body.

The cells of your body vibrate, just like a cell of anything, right? Remember back to high school, biology cells vibrate because they have those electrons, right? And there’s energy in them when they’re heated up, they have more energy. And so they vibrate more. And when they’re cooled down, they have less energy. So they vibrate less.

The same thing is happening in the cells of your body. So when we talk about the freeze response, we’re actually talking about a physiological response that your cells are going through. When I talked about. So you go into that activated response, all that energy pours into your body, pours into the cells of your body to get you prepared to run away or to fight your way.

Sometimes we use some of that energy and sometimes we don’t use it. We get activated, but then we shut it down. We box it up. Where does that energy go? That energy goes into the cells of your body. You’re the cells of your body are meant to do this. This is adaptive. If there’s too much energy, we can’t use it.

We will put it into the cells of your body. And we’ll use it later, right? So this is meant to be a temporary response that your body does. But sometimes when we talk about that chronic, that chronic freeze or the chronic overwhelm, sometimes your body kind of gets stuck in that freeze. Okay. I’m not going to go too much further down that road because I don’t want to overwhelm you here.

But the next thing I want to talk about is, okay, we kind of understand what overwhelm is, that is actually biological. That is an actual process happening in our bodies. What do we do about it? How do we come out of that freeze? How do we come out of the overwhelm? So I have five tips, tricks. Um, thoughts, ideas, five, five, five ways to manage your overwhelm.

And I really am coming at this from a very practical approach, five things practically, not just thinking about these things, although of course it starts with you thinking about them and considering how this might look for you, but five things that we can actually do. We can actually take action on when we recognize this overwhelm.

In ourselves, in our bodies, the very first and probably the most important thing is to notice the overwhelm and do not override it. Our culture encourages us to override our overwhelm. This contributes to a chronic freeze state. This contributes to trauma. We live in a culture that’s like, go, go, go, do, do, do, be, be, be, like all of that, right?

It’s just like, push forward, keep going, don’t rest, all of that. Our bodies are not meant to do that 24 seven. So the first step is just noticing how overwhelmed feels to you and your body. What is the first little cue like, Oh, I might be getting overwhelmed for me. The first cue is the urge to write a list.

When I start writing lists. I know that I’m feeling like there’s too much and I have to be really careful with my time and my energy and I have to make sure I have all my deadlines in place and it’s like it’s too much for me to hold in my mind so I want to write it all out. I just want to say that I have been an organized person, a list maker my entire life.

I thought. I was just an organized person that I was a logical thinker and through doing this work through addressing my trauma, which really came from me wanting to have a successful business. That’s the whole reason why I sought out a trauma coach because I recognized that there were things inside of me that were coming up, stopping me from moving forward in my business.

So if that’s you, I understand. And as I started learning these tools and doing somatic work and understanding my body and my cues and my triggers and how things felt and all of that, I started to realize that I override my overwhelm. 100% of the time. And that this is not who I am. This is a coping mechanism.

That was a huge moment for me. I remember my coach saying, Oh, you’re overwhelmed. And me going, no, I’m not, I’m not overwhelmed. I don’t feel like I have too much on my plate. And she’s like, no, no, no. Like your body. Is in this freeze state, life is too much for your body. And when I started making that connection, I was like, uh, okay.

So the very first and most important thing is to notice what overwhelm feels like in your body. This is something that I can help you with in my coaching program, and then tend to it instead of overriding it, pause, stop, take a break, breathe, follow your urges. Oftentimes our overwhelm says, I want to sleep.

I want to stop. I want to rest. And we say, I don’t have time for that. And we push through, but the truth is you don’t have time. To not address your overwhelm because you’re overwhelmed and being in a chronic freeze or being in a freeze sometimes is making it more work for you to do whatever it is you’re doing.

So learning to slow down. Sometimes it’s just as a matter of, Oh, I just need like a five minute break. I need to use the bathroom and go get a snack. I need to drink some water, right? This is why it’s so important for me to understand and to help you understand that overwhelm is biological, because when I think of it as a biological process.

I am more likely to think, okay, what does my body need? Maybe I need to move a little and wiggle and not be sitting here in this chair anymore. Maybe I need a drink of water. Maybe I need some food in my tummy, right? That connection between overwhelm is biological and how I tend to my overwhelm is direct.

So it can be a simple thing. I’m not saying like you have to, you know, Blow off the rest of your day and get in bed. I’m saying, notice it, meet it, do something to support yourself. When you notice you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be as simple as closing your eyes for 10 seconds and taking a few deep breaths.

It’s, it can be simple. It also can be, um, a phase of your life or a season of your life where you do a lot less. That is something that I’ve been doing this, as I, this summer, I’ve been really intentionally doing less and I noticed myself feeling that like restlessness and like, Oh, I should be doing more.

And I’m like, no, we’re doing less this summer. This is the summer of less. We’re intentionally doing less. And it feels uncomfortable at times, but that’s what I knew, knew I needed. So, it can be something kind of more macro, like a summer of less, or a year of less, a year of going through your stuff and getting rid of things and doing things that have been on your to do list for five years or 20 years or whatever it is.

Or it can just be like, Oh, I’m going to stand up and take a drink of water. So any or anything in between, right? It’s whatever your body needs in that moment. Number two is to resource yourself. And I’m going to go through all of these more. I kind of did a deep dive on don’t override. Um, but let me just tell you what the rest of them are.

Resource yourself. Number three is orient to pleasure or goodness inside and outside your body. Number four is create safety with containment. And number five is slow down. Okay. So let’s go a little bit deeper on some of these. I went deeper on the don’t override. And that is the most important thing you can do is just notice and don’t override.

But the second thing you can do is to resource yourself. Just like overwhelm is anything that is too much, too fast, too intense for your nervous system. Resources are anything that makes you feel pleasure or strength or calm. Resources are anything that brings you back to that window of tolerance, to that calm, creative, connected space.

Calm aliveness is how I’ve heard this, this described many, many times for overwhelm and the freeze response. One of the best resources that’s readily available for all of us is heat, heating pads around your neck, around your tummy, on your back, any. Part of your body, really, um, sunbathing, getting in a hot shower or a hot tub, um, drinking teas or eating warm soup or stews, right?

So this is heat coming from the outside, but also giving heat to the inside. Heat, heat, heat. Why is this? It’s because of overwhelm is biological. Because the cells of your body actually move less when you are in a freeze state. And in order to help support coming out of that freeze state, Heat is an invaluable resource.

The other thing that overwhelm really wants is time, time and space, right? So think about when we feel overwhelmed, we want to quit everything. Uh, we want to pull back. Overwhelm wants to. Collect resources. It wants to not expend energy and it wants to put energy in. This is when we often grab for these simple carbs because it’s an easy way for our body to gain energy.

Just that awareness is key. If you tend to like snack and eat out of emotion or cause you’re bored, it might be because you’re feeling overwhelmed and your body is saying, we need resources. We need resources. So make sure that you’re eating nutritious, nutritionally dense foods, because that’s going to be far more helpful than grabbing the candy or the chocolate or something like that.

So heat, time and nutrition, really, really good resources for overwhelm. Number three is. Orienting to pleasure, finding goodness in your body, orienting to pleasure is really noticing things in your environment that feel good in your body. When you engage with them, I’m going to say that one more time, noticing things in your environment that feel good in your body.

When you engage with them, the simplest way for me to explain this is to encourage you to look around your room, wherever it is you are right now, whatever environment you’re in, just look around, and Notice some colors, some textures, um, the way the light is falling. You can notice objects in your environment and find something that feels good when you look at it.

So what I mean by that is when you look at it. Your body goes, Mmm, I like that.

That’s what I’m talking about. But it doesn’t have to be just something that you look at. It could be something you touch, um, something you smell, something you taste. I tend to think of this in terms of the five senses. When you engage with something in your environment, It feels good in your body. Feel that.

Notice it. Let it be there. Be present with it. Another way to do this is to simply find a part of your body that feels good right now. Where in your body do you feel good or pleasant or even neutral? If, if maybe you have chronic illness, something like that, maybe you’re in pain for some reason. Is there a tiny little part of your body that just feels neutral?

It’s better to find a part of your body that feels good or pleasant. But even if you can just find something that doesn’t feel bad. That is a step in the right direction, spending time doing these things and connecting with your environment and how that makes your body feel is an important part of resourcing yourself.

It’s an important part of starting to create safety in your body. Speaking of the fourth thing was creating safety with containment. What is containment? Containment is basically self touch it’s holding yourself or putting your hand on your heart, those kinds of things, using self touch to connect into your body can offset the natural desire that comes.

When you feel overwhelmed, which is the desire to disconnect, right? So overwhelmed says, Ooh, I need to get back. I need to pull away. And that can be a disconnection. The most extreme version of disconnection is dissociation. Kind of that idea, this psychological idea of you’re kind of floating above yourself and you can see yourself, but you, the, the watcher is above somehow.

This is a thing that our bodies do. When something is very, very intensely, uh, painful or overwhelming, or we just cannot be with it, that dissociation. So when you place your hands on your heart when you place your hands wherever you feel stress for me This is often headache. If I have a headache I will practice putting my hand on My forehead or on the top of my head or the back of my neck wherever it is that I’m feeling that headache pain To connect in with it and give it support.

The other thing I do is I Kind of hold or hug myself, right if I’m feeling really overwhelmed. I it’s sort of a grounding exercise to hold myself and to feel like this is where I am here. I am. You can also do a typical grounding exercise, which is feeling your feet on the floor or on the ground, or even sitting or lying down and feeling your bottom in the chair, your back against the chair.

Or if you’re lying down, feeling the entirety of. Your side or your back or whatever, whatever side you’re laying on, feeling connection with the bed or the floor or the couch, that is containment. This idea of kind of touching into ourselves to feel where we are and to give support to ourselves. And when you do this, just notice how it feels.

Even just putting a hand on your heart right now, if you can. What does that do? And I like to, I like to experiment with this hand off my heart hand on my heart. It feels immediately like a softening and a warmth to me. It feels like support to me. Okay. The last resource or the last kind of way to address overwhelm is to slow down.

Overwhelm needs time and space and slowing down can help with all of the rest of the tools that we just discussed. My favorite tool for slowing down is breath. Just simply taking three deep breaths. Why don’t we do that right now together?

Mm. Even just doing that, I can feel how I’ve been talking really fast and how, um, I love talking about this topic and it’s just like a moment like, ah, we can rest, we can slow down. A reminder of what I said earlier, overwhelm says conserve and gather resources. So in addition to not wanting to expend resources, your body will want to add resources in.

And I encourage you to create a practice of slowing down and pausing. Just those three deep breaths is a great way to do that in a very small way. And when you pause, you have agency, you get to choose in that pause what you do. So in that pause, you get to say, am I going to heat up some leftovers or am I going to grab a handful of chocolate chips?

Am I going to drink some soda or am I going to drink some water? Right? Like in the pause, in the slowing down, we create so many choices for ourselves. And just like I said, slowing down helps with all the rest of the things that we talked about. Okay, I just want to do a really quick recap because I do not want this to feel overwhelming to you.

Overwhelm is anything that’s too much, too fast, too intense, too anything for your nervous system. There is overwhelm on the mental emotional level, but we talked about how overwhelm is biological. Overwhelm is happening in the cells of our bodies. And in order to manage it, just as a starting step, I gave you five things.

The first one is to notice the overwhelm and to not override it. Don’t push through. Don’t ignore. The second thing is to resource yourself for overwhelm. The best resources are heat, time. Number three is to orient to goodness, find things that when you interact with them, it feels good to you and spend some time in that goodness in your body.

Number four is containment to create safety, put your hand on your heart, put your hand where you’re feeling pain or where you’re noticing overwhelm, hold yourself, touch into your environment in any way, and That is containment. And then notice how it feels when you put your hand on your heart, what changes.

And number five is just a general encouragement to slow down, slow down your life, slow down your breath, talk slower, walk slower, whatever it is. You’re doing do it slower. And do it with some intention or with some presence, like be there, wherever you are, do what you’re doing mindfully. Okay. Just in case you are brand new to me, I have a podcast regulated and restored.

That’s what I’m recording right now. Thank you for being here. All of you regular listeners. And also for anyone who’s new, you can also find this podcast on my YouTube channel, but My YouTube channel is usually lagging quite a few weeks from my actual podcast. I’m working on getting that up to date. If you want a copy of this slideshow that walks you through everything, there is a link in the show notes that you can click on that link.

Give me your email address and I will email it to you. You’ll have it. You can download it. I work one on one with my clients and I have a small group membership. Those are the two ways to work with me. And in my work with my clients, this is what we do. We manage the overwhelm. We feel into our bodies. We resource ourselves.

We do all of the things that I talked about on this episode. And if you’re interested in that, the first step for both one on one work and small group program is a free session. The reason why I do a free session is because It’s so important for you to feel what it feels like to work with me. If when you’re listening to this podcast or when you’re watching this YouTube channel, if it feels good, there’s a good chance that working with me will feel good, but I don’t actually coach on my podcast.

So coaching and experiencing coaching is a little bit different. So I want to give you an opportunity to come see what that feels like. And if it feels good and you want to keep going, then we can talk about pricing and logistics and all of that, which is actually on my website. So you can go to my website,, you can get all that information. The other thing I want to invite you into is Voxer. Voxer is a free walkie talkie texting app that I love because I am a talker and I just love chatting with people on Voxer. I am doing a new thing right now and if people engage with me in the Voxer Tuesdays then I’ll keep doing it but for now it’s kind of an experiment to see if people find it helpful if they come in and they engage.

So every Tuesday Um, from 11 a. m. to about 5 p. m. mountain time, whenever it is I stop working and, um, start dinner, I am opening my Voxer. So think of it like an office hours. You can come in and you can send me a text or a voice memo and I will go back and forth with you. You can ask me questions, you can just chat, or you can ask for coaching, whatever it is you want.

So that’s something that is fun and light and like. You know, no risk if you want to experience that, I also have that option for you. That’s enough for now. And so are you. If this podcast has been helpful for you, would you please take a minute to leave a rating or review or share it with a friend so others can find this free help.

Remember that I’m a life coach, not a doctor or a psychologist. Any suggestions or advice mentioned in this podcast should not be a substitute for medical or mental health care. Until next time, go be yourself and follow the spirit.


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