Coping with Overwhelm

You found out you didn’t follow procedures for sending the secure email and now the entire process needs to be restarted.  Again.  You didn’t double check your suitcase and forgot your cell phone charger AND your asthma prescription for your week-long business trip.  Ugh.  You finally decide to refinance your home and the list of items you have to complete is daunting.  Sigh.  You are in the throes of overwhelm and it can be paralyzing. Whoa!


My husband, dog and I have been in the middle of The Bureaucracy of Overwhelm after our home was flooded a few weeks back.  Moving out, moving into temporary housing, contacting FEMA, SBA, our Insurance Company, Mortgage Company, Contractor, Debris Bins…the list is overwhelming.  Endless. Ceaseless.  I am not saying that I have handled this without any stress or crying, but the coping is getting easier.


So this is what I have learned about coping with overwhelm:


  • As Creighton Abrams famously said, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  I had three (yes, three!) clients have this exact same insight this week.  One was refinancing a home, another was planning on selling a home and a third was working on a big project.  We all cope with the overwhelm of a big project.  It’s so important to break it down.  I felt like the universe was giving me a hint with the three separate clients all quoting the same quote.  I learn more from their insights than my own.  So what did I do?  I focus on one agency a day.  FEMA one day, SBA the next, the mortgage company the day after that.  It’s too overwhelming to deal with all of them at one time.  Break it down into manageable pieces.


  • So what do you do if your routine was to meditate and take a 30-minute walk before the flood?  You need to be meditating and taking a 30-minute walk after the flood.  Even if you are in a new place, and you don’t know where you want to walk or what space you want to meditate in, figure it out.  Develop and adapt to get your routine back in place.  We’ve been living in temporary housing for exactly a week and I finally used this fabulous routine that my friend Susannah recommended called “Qi Gong: 7 Minutes of Magic (for Health).”  I had been using it every morning pre-flood.  Now I need to add it back into my routine post-flood.  It is magic.  Put your routine back together to help alleviate the stress of overwhelm.


  • For the past year, I have been trying to move from scarcity to abundance.  I had committed to golfing in a charity golf tournament pre-flood, but had not yet written the check.  The tournament was a week post-flood.  I wavered.  A hundred and fifty dollars is a hundred and fifty dollars.  But I was coming from a place of abundance.  “I always have money coming my way.”  I wrote the check.  We played and had a great time.  It felt so much better than cowering at home gnashing my teeth, hoping for an insurance adjuster or FEMA representative to show up.  Fire up your internal flame for abundance.


  • It’s amazing how we are surrounded by wonderful, caring people.  We have had countless offers of support, whether it was moving debris, moving out, financial help, offers of temporary housing and even gift cards for dinner.  I knew that everyone was supportive, but when there is a disaster and there are so many that are worse off than us (at least we had a roof over our head for the first few weeks post-storm), it is humbling to receive so many offers of  help and support.  Being grateful is a much better space for me to be in mentally than the “Why did this happen to me?” headspace.  Remain positive and you’ll reduce the overwhelm.


  • I really could not have survived all the overwhelm without the love and support of my family.  My husband and I are constantly taking stock of each other.  “I couldn’t do this without you.”  “I love you so much for being there.”  “I can’t believe you took care of the debris bin.”  My son drove all the way from Miami to help us move out and my daughter came home to move her belongings after being ill.  My husband has gone from a king size bed to a queen.  Two bathrooms to one.  His own office to sharing a computer in our living room.  They went above and beyond out of love.  Love helps me cope.


As my husband said yesterday, “I’ve never gone through anything like this.”  I responded by giving him a big hug.  I recognized the experience of feeling overwhelm but getting through it together…..priceless.

6 Ways To Crush The Control Freak Within

You walk into your kid’s bedroom and start straightening the room. Your spouse suggests eating out and you shut it down because you already have something planned. Your assistant thinks we should move the venue for the offsite and you dismiss it as a bad idea. If it’s not your idea, it’s a bad idea. It’s your way or the highway and it’s exhausting.

Control Freak

I’m crushing my control freak and Thanksgiving was a sure test. Instead of being the Director, stage crew and lead actress, I was a bit part in the most intricate meals to put on during the year. So how did I crush my control freak? Here ya go:

1. They are what they are. In don Miguel Ruiz‘ book, The Mastery of Love, he does a magnificent job comparing your relationship to your loved ones to that of loving a dog. If you own a dog, you don’t try and turn it into a cat. So why do you try and change the people you love in your life into something they aren’t. I’ve asked my husband to walk with me in the morning or meditate. He turns it down every time. So guess what? He’s not a meditator or morning walker. I need to let go of the idea that I can change him. Whew. What a relief. They are what they are. Don’t try and change your dog into a cat or your husband into a Zen Master.

2. Get rid of your agenda. Throw it out. This was incredibly difficult on Thanksgiving. My plan was to not have a plan. No time line. So I was going to relax and let the day play out in a natural non controlled way. My daughter and her boyfriend were driving to the house mid morning. And my son was likely to wake up around noon. No sweat. We will make dinner when we make dinner. This took all my faith and patience as I normally would have been up at 6 AM brining a turkey. But I persevered! Dump your agenda.

3. Be open to new possibilities. Both of my kids are great cooks in their own right. My son has been living in Miami and wanted to try two new dishes for Thanksgiving. One was a Colombian dish called Tostones (fried plantains) and the other was Arroz con Coco (coconut rice). This is not typical Graham Family fare for Thanksgiving. But he had already talked to his sister and they were game to give it a try. So I sat on my hands and shut my mouth. So in the middle of my kitchen on Thanksgiving Day were three young adults deep frying plantains, caramelizing coconut milk and cubing up bread for stuffing. Quite the mélange. A delicious mélange.

4. Less is more. If you have ever been to a dinner party at my house you know that I go overboard. I mean 6 different appetizers, 7 sides, two entrees and 4 luscious desserts overboard. Overkill. Overwhelm. And I am exhausted by the end. So this Thanksgiving I embraced less is more. Since my son wanted to make arroz con coco, I didn’t bother bringing up mashed potatoes. “Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes are you kidding me, Cathy?” Yep. No mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. We roll with arroz con coco.

5. Everyone is wholly perfect. This from Ruiz’s book again. My dog is not half perfect. So why do you think your family is half perfect. I don’t need to change or control anyone. I just need to control my thoughts and let go of my judgments. This is not easy and I know I am a work in progress but just looking to come from a place of acceptance is the secret. Reconfigure your thoughts and begin to believe that everyone is wholly perfect the way they are.

6. Believe in everyone else’s wisdom. When I let go of control on Thanksgiving, everyone else (I mean even the dog) shined. They were all invested. They were all playing their parts and working together like a well oiled machine. This was the first time ever that I gave up the reins of control and everyone rose to the occasion. But you have to believe that they can rise to the occasion. You can’t start thinking about the time your son burnt the pancakes or when your daughter messed up the macaroni and cheese. Have faith and it will find you.

I remember when I initially suggested have the kids make the meal on Thanksgiving, my husband raised one eyebrow and said, “Really?” and I said, “Yeah, don’t you think they can do it?” and he said “I’m not worried about them. Can you let go of control?” So I guess you could say that he threw down the gauntlet. Well I did it. Now so can you.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on December 6, 2015