One of the most common complaints I hear as a psychologist is, “I’m so overwhelmed!” When my client lists their problems I am likely to hear, “I am under so much pressure at work…my desk keeps piling up…there is so much to do for the kids…my house is a mess and there is no time to clean it…I just have so much to do!”
While it is true that the pace of modern life is fast I usually do not hear about extraordinary problems from the people presenting me with this feeling of being overwhelmed. Typically the problem has more to do with how the person is feeling, not what is going on with their life.
IS PERFECTIONISM AT FAULT?
Frequently, but not always, the problem is perfectionism-a mild to moderate form of obsessive compulsive disorder but one which cans still significantly interfere with a person’s well being and happiness. A perfectionist is likely to feel overwhelmed because they never feel their efforts are sufficient. The report they wrote wasn’t good enough. They could have studied more for that test. They should have helped more with their son’s homework. They could have played much better at tennis or basketball. They really need to call their mother more often. A perfectionist suffers from a chronic anxiety that what they did was never as much as they should have done or it wasn’t done as well as it should have been done.
If it’s never quite enough there is always a feeling of being overwhelmed. That internal slave driver is always urging you on to do more, better, faster, longer. It can be pretty exhausting…and depressing.
SOMETIMES IT’S DEPRESSION
Depression has many faces so it is often difficult to recognize. Often a person does not feel chronically sad and is able to enjoy most things that interest them. The depressed person who primarily feels overwhelmed will always feel that it’s just the circumstances of their life that makes them feel so stressed. Yet when we explore that life, even if it is fundamentally good with no major health, financial or family crisis, the person still describes themselves as overwhelmed. When you investigate further it often appears that it is just everyday life which is making them feel so buried in stress.
In those cases the culprit is the person’s perception and how they experience their life-not life itself. That is exactly what depression does. It distorts our perception. Instead of seeing the world through rose colored glasses, the depressed person person sees everything with a slightly grey hue. The movie wasn’t that good, the sex was disappointing, the vacation didn’t live up to expectations, we didn’t get enough recognition at work or from our spouse or kids-the list goes on and on. Whatever occurs is never as rewarding as we expected it to be and the stress of that disappointment feels overwhelmed. “Of course, I’m overwhelmed!” the person may exclaim, “I try so hard and no one appreciates what I do.
CHANGING PERCEPTION IS KEY
We begin to make life more rewarding and less stressful when we understand how we respond and react to our lives has a great deal of impact on how our lives feel. If you or someone you loves feels chronically overwhelmed maybe it’s time to talk to a professional to be sure of what’s causing you to feel that way.