One of breast cancer’s side effects for me is that I’m very easily overwhelmed by loud sounds, laughter, lots of people, multiple conversations, and just too much energy in my space. It’s all just too much input into my nervous system! I’m quickly overwhelmed by what, in my perception, is chaos, but to others is ‘just a night out’. Too much social media is also VERY overwhelming, but that’s another post.
I was out with some friends recently, and we were having a great time – chatting, drinking, being our silly selves, the usual. As the hours passed, the people around us consumed more and more alcohol, things started getting louder and louder, and I started to feel more and more on edge. That edge is not a place where I function well and I tend to get irritable, cranky, and snippy with people. Three years ago, I’d have politely excused myself after an hour and gone home to sit in silence with the lights off. But not now.
The friends with me were very loud and opinionated – something I LOVE about them and would never change. But in order to stay engaged with them and in control of myself, I have to take some measures to keep myself from losing it on an unsuspecting bystander.
When I start to feel overwhelmed, I remind myself to breathe deeply. This keeps me focused on one thing, calms my nervous system, and helps me stay present.
Then I direct my focus to my body. I wiggle my toes, feel wind brush across my face, or imagine I’m a mini version of myself standing inside my body. I pretend I can root my feet or tailbone into the earth, becoming grounded and centered. This helps me stay present, connected, and in my body versus spreading my energy to the distractions all around me.
Finally, I name the feeling and allow it to be. This particular evening, I said to myself, “I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed.” Then I breathed in “I surrender to this feeling” and exhaled “I allow this feeling”. I describe the feeling as it sits in my body – where it is, what it feels like, if it has a texture or shape, and then I imagine I can breathe directly into it, which allows it to release and relax. I often excuse myself to the relative peace of the ladies room to find this particular piece of calm and that’s very helpful as well.
Over time I’ve been able extend my exposure time in environments like these, but it has come with a lot of patience, breathing, and feeling into my body.
The next time you’re overwhelmed by chaos, try this three-step method and let me know how it goes!