- How I learnt to live and work alongside overwhelm
I’m willing to bet my favourite slice of chocolate cake that the person who started the rumour that emotions don’t belong at work was a man. Because any self respecting female entrepreneur knows that the two cannot be separated.
Like many of you reading this, I started my self-employment because I was seeking more freedom, for me, my work and my family. This is also true for many of my clients who were fed up feeling overwhelmed with Mum-guilt at having to pretend their children didn’t exist between the hours of 9-5. But perhaps what takes some of us self-employed by surprise is that it’s a harder ride on the emotions than we thought. Who knew the feelings of overwhelm would follow us into our fledgling businesses and we would begin to feel suffocated by our very own expectations and to-do lists.
On the other hand, there are things you can do to help you feel in control of your emotions rather than the other way around. One thing I’ve learnt working with overwhelm is that it starts small but when left unattended it can grow, filling all the available space and making everything feel impossible. Like most types of fear, when you call it out and break it down you start to feel less at its mercy and more in control.
I’ve spent much of my life being afraid of feeling overwhelmed. Why? Because I associated the feeling of overwhelm with failure and that made me feel shame. As it turns out, overwhelm has got nothing to do with failing or letting anyone down. According to Good Therapy, overwhelm is a state of stress, of intense emotion that is difficult to manage. Some emotions may overwhelm us more easily than others and conflicting emotions can be especially hard to manage. All in all emotional overwhelm makes us feel that it’s hard to take care of ourselves and also affects our ability to think and act rationally. No shit Sherlock.
Did someone say stress? It’s not surprising then that overwhelm and entrepreneurs live side by side. A new study by Resurgo reported that 70% of female entrepreneurs reported feeling overwhelmed and in turn this was impacting on their work and businesses. Does this mean that overwhelm is here to stay forever then? Erm - yes and no.
Remember that overwhelm is a natural phenomenon, a bodily response of stress. So, we need it to continue to do its job and let us know when things are not ok. Let’s face it, with self-employment the challenges come thick and fast so finding out how overwhelm shows up for you and learning to give yourself compassion for these experiences could be the most important skill you gain for you and your business in 2021. You can have a perfect website, cracking social media and the best product but if overwhelm is permanently in the driving seat of your business then it’s likely to come off the road at some point.
On the other hand there are things you can do to help you feel in control of your emotions rather than the other way around. One thing I’ve learnt working with overwhelm is that it starts small but when left unattended it can grow, filling all the available space and making everything feel impossible. Like most types of fear, when you call it out and break it down you start to feel less at its mercy and more in control.
Here are my go-to tools for supporting me and my overwhelm.
Get it out - if you are prone to keeping your overwhelm locked inside your head with your thoughts ruminating away then change this up and start writing them down onto paper. Not only can this feel incredibly freeing but it can also enable you to see things more clearly. If you’d like a more structured way of doing this feel free to check out my worksheet.
Be self-compassionate - does your overwhelm also come with a critical, judgemental voice that drips poison in your ear when you are at your most vulnerable? Then learning to talk back in a kind and compassionate way, just as you might to a child or your best friend, could bring you comfort when you need it the most.
Get connected - overwhelm loves the lost and the lonely and maybe you are holding on to a belief that you should be able to do this really hard self-employed thing all on your own, without any help. It’s not true, and if you don’t believe me take a gander at The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship which states that a lack of support networks for women in business is a barrier to their success. Talking with like-minded people who can empathise with what you are going through is one of the best investments you can make in your business.
Overwhelm will never disappear but you can learn to live and work alongside it. Viewing it as a natural process, rather than a reflection of your worth or a measure of your success, definitely helps. As does surrounding yourself with people who have deep reserves of empathy and compassion.
Written by Lisa Townsend of Change Your Badge Lisa helps female entrepreneurs with their focus, planning and overwhelm. She lives in a tiny village on the wilds of the Cornish moorland with her family and dog Berty. One of her favourite ways to manage overwhelm is to make a massive mind-map with crayons.