Simple Steps to Overcome SOS – Sudden Overwhelm Syndrome

Do you have a saturation point of input or stimulation, that when reached, renders you WAY less effective?

Do you lose your cool in front of coworkers, kids or strangers when too much change is happening at the same time?

I call this Sudden Overwhelm Syndrome.  It is common because we all have a threshold where it kicks in.

Many clients come to me with this problem. The fact is that with relationships, kids, increasingly complex jobs and technology, life turns the fire-hose on us sometimes.

One of my clients (who I’ll call Gerald) relayed to me that this situation was the most challenging thing in his life. And he was sick of it.

He felt that when things came at him too fast he would go into brain lock. He would lose his temper and say things that would take time and energy to “unsay” later.  His self esteem and confidence were taking a beating. He needed help.

I could also sense that he was really beating HIMSELF up and judging himself for letting this happen.

So like so many situations that clients come to me with, we first have to allow the possibility that this isn’t fixed and permanent. It can be transformed. And the best way I have learned to start the process is to reframe the whole thing. Start viewing it as less of a negative character trait, and more of a fluid PRACTICE.

And practices have certain structure. So we explored what steps were happening when Gerald got overwhelmed.

Turns out the process had been unfolding something like this.

1. Recognize that things are speeding up and happening “too fast”
2. Become angry that things are happening so fast.
3. Lament that this bad thing is happening.
4. Activate fight flight or freeze response.
5. Not make good decisions/lash out/regret

I told Gerald the old story of the coyote. When it rains, the coyote does not say “Son of a B#@!tch, I hate when this happens, this damn weather!” No, the coyote does the recognizing from step one, then uses this as INFORMATION, then methodically takes the best action available.

So for humans like Gerald, the steps to take might be described as:

1. Recognize that things are speeding up
2. Actually say “Wow, things are speeding up” to steady yourself
3. Take a deep breath or two
4. Start to prioritize the items coming at you.
5. Get more information to help in the prioritization
6. Handle the situation
7. Repeat 1-6 as necessary

I coached Gerald to practice this even when the first signs of overwhelm were starting. As he practiced he got better at observing what was happening without judging it as bad. That was huge. Then he remembered to breathe, which calmed him automatically. As he mastered these simple steps the processing information and decision making became much easier. Like all of us, he still has his moments, but the level of fire-hose that he can handle has increased dramatically. The side benefit is that he’s looking at a lot of things in his life now as practices. And gaining confidence by getting more
effective step by step.

So how about you?

Do you want to be calmer under pressure?

How would it feel to be able to master the chaos that life throws at you?

Take a breath or two…. then

Click here to sign up for a coaching conversation.

Tom Kelley
Men’s Coach

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