By Kacie MItterando, LMSW
“I am feeling so overwhelmed today”
“Life is just becoming extremely overwhelming.”
These are few of the statements surrounding overwhelm that I’ve recently heard in several of my sessions. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed the majority of these statements expressed by those who are experiencing “all-or-nothing” behavior that is causing mild to moderate stress and anxiety in their day to day.
What is overwhelm anyways?
Webster’s dictionary defines overwhelm as “defeat completely” and “give too much of a thing to someone else.” As a therapist, I have been discovering that there’s much more than a simple dictionary definition to this emotion of overwhelm and where it initially stems from. Research led me to an important topic that many of us struggle with from time to time… balance.
Answer emails, answer your friends’ phone call, maintain a relationship with your partner, take the dog for a walk, keep up with the dishes and don’t forget to try to make it to the gym for your cardiovascular health. How do we manage all of this plus more without completely falling over backwards? Defining what’s a priority, reducing multitasking and setting boundaries may help us lead a more balanced life, however, why is this more difficult when we also find ourselves experiencing an “all or nothing” mentality (1)?
Our adult selves are able to handle stressors, threats to our emotional wellbeing and emergencies by using tools we have, such as self-soothing and coping modalities. Conversely, often times and especially when we’re experiencing “all or nothing” mindset we find ourselves thrown into our child self. This is described in theory as transactional analysis. Transactional analysis is a concept based in the principle that we can switch between a parent, adult and childlike ego state and therefore, assess and react to situations based on whichever state we are in (2).
So how do we move away from an all-or-nothing approach and towards our adult-like states to help us efficiently practice balance and reduce overwhelm?
Observe the ego state you are in throughout a conversation with someone you are close to:
When a conversation goes poorly it is often attributed to the conversation being on a sensitive topic. This may be a conversation about politics, religion, or sex. Ask yourself what ego state you were in when a conversation goes wrong. Did my child-like self respond when someone was seeking a parent response? What did I say that could have triggered the child-like self in this person that matters to me (4)?
Identify all or nothing language:
Recognize times in which you are using words such as “always,” “never,” and “every-time.” Some examples of instances in which we all may fall victim to using all or nothing language is statements like “my anxiety ruins everything,” “I will never fight the right person,” or possible to your partner- “you always forget to take the garbage out.” Once recognizing, spend some time thinking of ways in which you can replace this all-or-nothing language with a more realistic approach.
Avoid black and white extremes:
Black and white thinking is not always bad. In fact, it may have helped you get through some tough and challenging moments in life. However, black and white to the extreme can be dangerous and impact overall mood and well being. Once recognizing this thinking, ask yourself another way to look at this situation? For illustration, if a family member did something hurtful and you find yourself thinking “they are a completely terrible person.” Try and reframe this situation by asking yourself “could there be a reason why they made this decision (3)?”
Make a list of what is important to you right now as well as your goals for the upcoming month. Lean on this outline to remind you to place importance on what you would like to get done so balancing tasks becomes a habit. This list doesn’t have to be limited to accomplishments at work or organizational tasks at home but should address many different parts of your life. It is perfectly OK to include in your prioritization list satisfying your social needs or setting a self-care schedule.
If you find yourself struggling with all-or-nothing thinking and your ability to achieve balance is not working, therapists are here to help.
How To Achieve Balance. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/how-achieve-balance
Description of Transactional Analysis and Games by Dr. Eric Berne MD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ericberne.com/transactional-analysis/
5 Ways Black and White Thinking Poisons Your Perspective. (2018, September 11). Retrieved from https://www.talkspace.com/blog/2018/07/black-white-thinking-ways-poisons-your-perspective/
Morad, N. (2018, February 28). How to Use Psychology to Communicate Better and Avoid Conflict. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@NataliMorad/how-to-communicate-better-with-transactional-analysis-d0d32f9d50da