Are worldwide acts of violence, natural disasters, and biological hazards wearing away your sense of safety?
Do you often feel like there's too much to do, too little time, and not enough money?
Do you sometimes feel weighed down by family or work obligations?
Yep, I've been there too.
Whenever our stress levels are high, it doesn't take much to tip us over the edge into that unwelcome state called overwhelm.
It's what we feel when there are lots of things we need to do or problems to solve, we don't know what to start on first, and we fear that we will never be able to get it all done or restore balance and peace.
Overwhelm has strong emotional overtones, including stress, confusion, fear, and anxiety. Look in any thesaurus, and the synonyms for the word are, well, overwhelming: "inundate, swamp, bury, overload, overburden, snow under, crush, devastate."
To anyone who's experienced it, and I suspect that's most of us, those words may be all too familiar. Whether it's sudden or cumulative, the feeling is one of drowning, immobility, and powerlessness.
Modern Culture Cultivates It
Part of the problem is our cultural belief system that overrates doing, achievement, and acquisition and underrates quality of experience and connection with values.
In our cultural mindset, it's not uncommon for a family member, friend, or even a magazine article, with all good intentions, to suggest the Nike solution.
Just do it.
There's plenty of advice out there about how to get things done and be more productive.
But dealing with overwhelm isn't about measuring accomplishment. It's about connecting with what has meaning for us, with what nourishes and enlivens us, with what moves us toward wholeness.
My Favorite Solution
One of the best ways I know to significantly reduce stress and overwhelm is to spend time defining and refining your deepest core values.
And then align your life with them.
You do this by training yourself to always measure your choices and actions against your values.
Your deepest core values are what you are naturally inclined to do, are drawn toward, or are eager for without effort or even goal setting.
For example, I am naturally empathetic. It's always been easy for me to respond with compassion toward people, animals, and the natural world.
I don't have to make myself feel or act with empathy and compassion – I just do. And I find it excruciating to witness inhumanity and meanness. So compassion is one of my core values.
Some people are natural explorers. They loved roaming as youngsters and still love to travel as adults. They don't have to make themselves want to travel – they just do. And doing so is profoundly satisfying to them.
Others are natural inventors. They enjoy using their imagination to conceive and build an original design to meet a perceived need. They don't force themselves to do this – it's a natural inclination. Curiosity and perseverance might be two of their values.
So your core values are ideals that are personally important and meaningful to you. They are those interests and qualities to which you have always been attracted.
When we know what matters deeply to us, life isn’t so overwhelming. We don’t get bogged down as easily in the minutiae of our daily lives because what is most important is front and center.
— M.J. Ryan —
Aligning with your values simplifies everything and leads to inner integrity and a sense of completeness. As a result, you find the inner strength and spaciousness needed to lead life calmly and confidently, no matter what is sent your way.
Life becomes more fulfilling because you're living in alignment with your true self.
You can start by thinking about past experiences that have consistently brought you a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Reflect on the choices, actions, and relationships that have made you feel like you were living fully as your true self.
Some Questions to Help You Get Started
- What’s something you did or were attracted to when you were eight years old that still draws you today?
- What about the state of the world causes you real pain or heartache?
- What would you do to make the world better if you had the chance to make a huge difference?
- What’s one thing you dream about doing that you’ve never told anyone?
- Where have you invested the best of your time, money, and energy? Why?
- What do you take the most pride in, and why?
- What makes you feel fully alive when you are doing it, and why?
- What has been the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done, and what made it so fulfilling?
- What would you most regret not having done at the end of your life?
I once heard someone say that the biggest challenge with values is getting hold of them. It can be like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
So if you'd like more help with this, favorite teacher Brené Brown made a podcast episode and helpful worksheet PDF you can download from the link below.
Living Into Our Values Exercise | Brené Brown
And, here's another helpful resource you can try:
Deciding What's Important in Life | Mind Tools
In these fast-paced, challenging times, discovering and aligning your life with what deeply matters to you is more important than ever.
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Read this informative article and learn:
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Photos by: Xavier Arnau, iStock (#1) & Linda Wattier (#2)