When overwhelmed, there is a tendency is to see a problem or situation as bigger than it actually is, and yourself as smaller, less competent, than you really are. The second step of the STORIES process to shift overwhelm is to “Take a Step Back.” When you see the situation differently, you can manage it differently. There are 2 ways to take a step back when you’re overwhelmed:
- Take a physical “step back,” which might involve breathing or moving in a way that allows you to feel more relaxed. You might go for a walk or a run to vent the energy, or simply shake the stress out of your body. As long as your body is filled with tension, it’s virtually impossible for the mind to relax and get clear.
- Take a step back in your perspective of the situation. This means to catch yourself in disempowering stories, or to remind yourself that you’ve successfully managed situations much tougher than this before. The walk or run described above may also help you clear your head and think more clearly. The real key in this step is to recognize that your pattern of language and attention has created your stress, overwhelm, or whatever pattern you’re experiencing.
I’ll give you an example that I experienced recently. I was feeling blocked in a creative project. While I was in my office, I couldn’t come up with a viable idea. Over the weekend I took a hike that immersed me in a totally different environment. Simply focusing, moving, and breathing differently,, I unintentionally achieved a deep sense of clarity.. Within a few minutes, I had a couple of new ideas for my project.
A metaphor I often use is that of a person standing a few inches from a wall, looking at the wall. What does that person see? All wall. Now replace “wall” with your “problem” or “situation” that’s creating your overwhelm. The only thing you may be able to see is the problem – no solutions or alternative perspectives. However, if you simply turn around to face away from the wall and into the room, you have an entirely new perspective. You can see resources and possibilities that weren’t evident when staring just at the wall.
The goal of “take a step back” is to see your own situation – what you think is causing you to feel overwhelmed – in a different, more empowering way. Shifting perspective, like sending your brain a message such as “I’ll figure this out,” or “I can handle this one step at a time” can markedly change how you feel.
So when you’re stumped, stressed, or overwhelmed, take a step back to find a new perspective.