Case Story: Pamela

In this section I present just a few of the clients who have used the strategies in this book to end their sense of being overwhelmed. You will see that their overwhelm shifts by shifting themselves – their patterns of LAB and their beliefs – rather than by changing the outside world. I share their stories in the hope that you will see that no matter your situation, you, too, can end your overwhelm now. The tools that supported each client in their shift are in bold text. You can find interviews and more stories on our website:


Pamela runs a dance school with her husband and works as a personal coach. She came to our first coaching call more than 24 hours into an overwhelm episode. She explained that she often felt so overwhelmed that it would knock her off her normal routine for a few days. Although she was used to having a lot on her plate (running a dance school, working as a coach, recently moved into a new home), she would often run into “tipping points” that knocked her off her ability to handle things. Her current tipping point was feeling behind in an advanced coach training program. She was feeling quite frustrated with herself because intellectually she knew she could handle it all, but the emotional reactions of panic and shame were overwhelming for her. When she felt like she just couldn’t handle things, Pamela turned to the all-too-common avoidance behaviors of watching too much TV and overeating. Unfortunately these behaviors actually accelerated the feeling of overwhelm.

I explained to Pamela that we have an instinctually wired need to keep up with our environments and if we don’t we feel we might die. “That’s exactly how I feel,” she exclaimed, “like I’m going to die!” Although Pamela is a very competent, intelligent person, something as simple as not keeping up with the homework for her training program triggered this powerful life-or-death feeling.

As we explored Pamela’s pattern of overwhelm we made several discoveries. She realized that she not only took on a lot to do, but she felt she had to do it perfectly (using absolute language). Anything less than perfection made her feel ashamed, like she had failed. She also told herself “I’m not organized enough” to keep up with her many projects. When her attention was on her perceived inability to get it all done perfectly, she felt overwhelmed. To make matters worse, Pamela also feared seeming vulnerable to others by letting them know she was overwhelmed. So she isolated herself even more by escaping into distracted behaviors. The cycle often continued for days because her behaviors perpetuated the feeling of not enough, ultimately resulting in more isolation and distracted behavior. Pamela’s pattern of LAB had her firmly trapped in overwhelm.

Simply recognizing how she created the mental and emotional swirl of her overwhelm helped Pamela break her cycle. Nothing changed in the external world, yet Pamela felt totally different. This is often the case. Awareness of how overwhelm is created, of the erroneous beliefs we are holding, of the things we are saying to ourselves, or what we are doing in response – sometimes just making these conscious to ourselves shifts our responses.

Recognizing that her fear of not keeping up was an ancient survival mechanism, noticing it and naming it as such, immediately dissipated a lot of the “charge.” She paid attention to the sensations building in her body, and learned to recognize when she needed to relax, stop, and use the tool of taking deep breaths to counteract rising tension. She learned to watch for – and catch the associated language and emotion — when she felt ashamed of herself. That awareness allowed her to consciously choose to engage a new story. Instead of shame (she banned her inner bully), her story became one of empowerment by recognizing all the things that she WAS doing well. She also learned to catch when her trigger of needing to do things perfectly and feeling ashamed when she couldn’t be perfect, arose (attention affects emotions). Instead, Pamela focused on “progress.” That word (language) helped her feel empowered, and she could break her action steps into small chunks as an intentional way to achieve what she wanted.

In a recent conversation, Pamela celebrated progress on her coach training program. I teasingly asked if she still feels like she’s going to die when she can’t be perfect. She laughed at the very thoughts that overwhelmed her at the start. She explained that she now has the habit of eavesdropping on her conversations with herself. By simply watching out for the beliefs of I could die and I’m not enough, she can stop her overwhelm before it even begins.

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