What to do when you feel overwhelmed

Many years ago, I was feeling crowded. The city was overpopulated and unwelcoming. Jobs were difficult to come by. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I craved space; wide-open farmlands, fresh air, tall trees, sunlight. I started thinking radical thoughts – maybe I would move to the Northern Territory and herd cattle. In my mind I could feel my soul expanding in that space, I knew I would be able to breathe again. I believed nothing could be solved without this level of space.

Hand drawn sketch of a woman's face. She looks concerned and has a dark cloud over her. She is being crowded out by a frame.
Overwhelmed and crowded

A year or so later, I got my wish and I moved to the country with my partner. We were ill-equiped to do this. No car, no country skills. In the physical sense, I had space but I still felt stifled, useless.

We tried again, this time, moving to a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand, nestled comfortably between the sea and the mountains, surrounded by farms. I spoke to real people, knew my neighbours and worked in a country hotel. It wasn’t glamorous but there was community.

For the first time in my life, I felt safe. I gave myself permission to be myself. Afterall, I didn’t know anyone there. The truth is, I try to be a nice person. I care about people, I want to do a good job. This came through when I allowed it to.

As I calmed down, felt safe, fed and happy within my community – I started to notice that space is everywhere.

Since the days of craving large, physical space, I have learned a lot about this phenomenon. Our lives are punctuated by space. In fact, it’s the little spaces that are some of the most powerful. 

Between each breath, there is a little space, a rest, a pause and then another breath. Between each day there is a night, a little space, a rest, then another day. We can lean into these spaces when we need to. Take a rest, and let our quiet knowing reveal itself.

Victor E Frankl noticed this space when he was a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II. He said:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

It’s amazing what happens when we focus on these tiny spaces, when we watch for them. Our whole physiology changes and our attitude is affected.

Imagine this: your boss embarrassed you in the meeting today, really publicly shot down your idea. You feel tense and contorted, furious at the situation. How can you face the day? Seeking solace in the bathroom buys you a moment. You wish you could run out of the building, down the street, to the nearest park, the sea, the other side of the country. You think you need that much space to cool down.

But you don’t have it.

Your breath is quick, short and shallow. Your face red and jaw clenched. (We know this feeling, right? We’ve all been there). This time, though, you look for the space. You come back to your breath. Quick, short, shallow as it seems, you start looking for the pause between the breathes. You stop forcing your breath, waiting for the end, for the space. Your breaths slow. Your body knows how to breath and you allow the process. The heat in your face retreats as your shoulders relax back down. Your jaw softens causing your abdominals to release.

There it is, the space between your breaths. It reminds you of your ability to choose your response. 

The space was with you all along. Another breath, another space. Your body is relaxed and able to be adjusted at your will. You roll your shoulders and lift your chin a little. You can be a victim or you can take back your dignity.

I challenge you to look for a space today. What choice are you going to make in that space?

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Published by hanfitz.creates

I'm Hannah, a business coach for creative professionals. The world needs creativity and innovation: this is how we progress as humans. But, the creative journey is paved with challenges: we're told the story of the starving artist since we're children, our brain is hard wired to resist anything new (like creative ideas), we doubt our ability and worthiness to succeed and we crush our ingenuity with judgement and comparison. Yet, we know our purpose is to create. I help visual artists, designers and illustrators bridge this gap with my uniquely curated knowledge and experience of graphic design, finance, human behaviour and neuroscience. You have invested time and resources into their technical skill; now, it's time to invest in your mindset and strategy. After working with me, you can confidently communicate the value of your work, attract clients and charge what you're worth through multiple income streams. This frees up more time and energy to do what you're best at: create.

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