Melting the Deep Freeze of Overwhelm
Coach, Amanda Grant, sheds light on how to problem-solve the pressure to have it all
My favourite part of starting a new business has been meeting women with inspirational perspectives and motivating stories. One such woman I have had the privilege of connecting with is Amanda Grant, a coach who helps mothers experiencing overwhelm.
Amanda’s tagline, move beyond overwhelm, immediately struck a chord with me, and highlights her focus on moving women towards authentic value-based action. She was kind enough to sit down with me over Zoom and talk about an issue that’s been pulling her attention: the notion of “having it all”, while empowering sometimes, also has the potentially damaging effect of expectation overwhelm.
Little did I know then that this article would become evidence of that story playing out in my own life. I confess, I spoke with Amanda 4 months ago. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that at that I was trying to run when I should have been learning to crawl. So much of this mistake was tied up in a perceived need to fix everything, despite not having the capacity to do this all at once.
She articulates the issue well: trying to have it all, all at once, makes us feel like we are failing on all fronts.
How do you move beyond overwhelm?
When Amanda proposed this topic of “having it all”, it spoke to the harmful cycle that was happening in my own recovery. I set myself up with a long list of unreasonable expectations that resulted in overwhelm and a consequent feeling of failing in all areas.
This constant challenge to move beyond overwhelm is mirrored not only in my own life, but that of the many women I connect with who struggle to balance the competing expectations of love, work, health, and play.
Amanda’s perspectives hone in on practical problem-solving. By combining positive psychology with personal insight, she helps you observe, intervene, and positively progress forward. In just one discussion with her, I absorbed this productive advice I refer to every day to keep “melting the deep freeze” of overwhelm:
Observe opportunities for early intervention
Release the emotional energy
Accept and make incremental change
Control your content consumption
Move towards authenticity
I have added my own personal tips that were particularly useful when putting this advice into practice. Through the sustained practice of Amanda’s perspective of awareness, compassion, and acceptance, I am learning to move, slowly and surely.
The unique pressure on women to “have it all”
There are generally greater expectations placed on women around balancing work and family life. Maggie Germano wrote in Forbes in 2019 about women still being the primary caregivers despite being more prominent in the workplace. She pointed out “while women are more educated and more employed than ever, they are still taking on most of the household and familial duties.”
More recently, Covid-19 has revealed the disproportionate impact of global events on women at work and home. UN Women succinctly describe the situation; “the COVID-19 pandemic underscores society’s reliance on women both on the front line and at home, while simultaneously exposing structural inequalities across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection.”
Mitigating the reality of heavy expectations
There is a specific dissonance between what we expect from women and the realities of our capacity within the systems that serve us. In my support groups I have been listening to women list off all of the expectations on their shoulders, and then criticise themselves about failing impossibly high bars. The reality is that they are juggling as much as they can with the hands they have available.
Amanda and I both agreed that from a really young age, we put really high expectations on ourselves. She realizes that there is a big jumble of influences tied up in that, and she is still working through these herself.
We did not dwell on the roots of the narrative, or how it has potential to both stoke power, and smother it. Instead Amanda focused on problem-solving the impact: how do we shift from being challenged by overwhelm to moving through it?
Step 1: Be vigilant of hot and cold feelings
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ben Franklin coined this useful phrase in 1736 as a reminder to Philadelphians to remain vigilant about fire awareness. The same goes for self-awareness around emotional “fires”.
“The first part of what has been really helpful for me is starting to recognise the beginnings of the build up inside myself instead of waiting.” Amanda explains. This practical advice to stay vigilant enables you to address feelings as they are budding instead of when they are in full bloom.
She highlights the important step of practicing self-compassion in this process by “creating trust, following your intuition and just “being” a little more.” Instead of going down a rabbit hole of shame and judgement, she practices noting the emotion more objectively. This can mitigate the physical sensation of anxiety, increasing your emotional resilience as well as your ability to intervene.
With practicing this first step you create greater opportunities for early interventions, like the second step: getting back in your body.
Use a mindful visualization
I find I struggle with both “fire” and “ice” feelings. For example, anger feels hot while hopelessness feels cold. I use a mindful visualization of monitoring my “emotional temperature” for both these hot and cold feelings. By being mindful of this emotional temperature, I see more signs of change in my body, enabling me to intervene earlier.
Step 2: Shake out the Emotional Energy
It makes sense that one important step in moving beyond overwhelm involves physically moving. Amanda is influenced by the idea that “emotions are energy in motion.” Connecting that energy to your body through action is a straightforward and highly effective way to “work out” the difficult emotions.
“My son, when he’s happy, moves his arms and jumps up and down,” she observes. “But when we have these difficult emotions or uncomfortable feelings, we curl up into ourselves.”
Amanda offers plenty of suggestions for opposite action: going for a run, screaming into a pillow, dancing like crazy. “The calming effect is created because the energy isn’t spinning around in our mind,” She says.
The reality of moving, however, is daunting when you are in a low mood, or have low energy, or are just really busy. Amanda usefully underpins her advice with a practical acceptance that change is a slow burn most of the time, which brings us to the valuable, and admittedly more challenging, Step 3: Accepting this and making a move, even if it is infinitesimally small.
Create meaningful reminders
Taking a mindful moment to remind yourself of your “why?” can be helpful. Recently, I’ve been lifting my water bottle or skipping to release my emotional energy. But to get motivated first, I borrow lines from books and music to create memorable connections in my day. For example, I think of a line from “Why the Caged Bird Sings” when my mind feels like a balloon constantly drifting away. When I realize I need to get grounded, I use the lyrics from a Maggie Rogers’ song “Back in my Body”. I play it until I get up and move because I know I will feel better when I do move, even for a few minutes. Use whatever creates meaning in your own life.
Step 3: Take it One Degree at a Time
Sometimes we get caught up in the reasons why we can’t make a change right now, whether it’s resources or capacity. Amanda points out that there is a substantial body of research that celebrates the idea of “baby steps”. While avoidance feeds inaction, a small change will be more productive to mobilizing your mind and body.
This step emphasizes the value of giving yourself permission for that process of change to be slower and less judgmental. “You need to be okay with little bits of change over time.”
“The more that you enact those neural pathways again and again, the deeper the ditch will become,” Amanda says. She builds small habits into her routine like standing up or walking up the stairs. “What I have been doing more often recently is putting on music that I really like and dancing really hard for five minutes.”
If you can’t manage to get up and move, she suggests doing an alternative activity that activates action like a journal exercise. Then you can see what emotions are pulling your focus on the page.
Evidence positive progress
An essential part of my ongoing recovery has been the groundwork of habit-building. One change I continue to benefit from is evidencing my positive progress with eyeliner marks on the mirror, monthly mental health reviews, and color-coded calendars. These tracking habits feed growing confidence in my holistic progress.
Step 4: Control Your Content Consumption
Both Amanda and I have found a powerful intervention has been controlling our media consumption more mindfully. “I have stopped consuming media because I don’t find it helpful or healthy for me.” she accepts. The media is often framed with specific cultural expectations and presumptions that can impact our expectations of ourselves and our consequent self-esteem.
“In my area, this really happens a lot with new mums in particular,” she explains. “You don’t necessarily realize until the baby has been born that there are all these expectations like the baby is supposed to do this, you are supposed to feel like this, your house is supposed to look like this, and if you can’t do that all, you feel bad about yourself.”
Starting with actions like deleting the weather app that was causing her anticipation anxiety, Amanda learned to accept that some content bothers her, and actively limited her exposure. “When Covid first started I was checking the numbers every day. Now, my husband lovingly jokes that I live under a rock,” she laughs.
She now spends more time reading books that offer her learning, entrepreneur groups that offer her solidarity, and most importantly, she has strengthened her own content creation.
Seeing your boundaries, and enforcing them with yourself and others strengthens a sense of mindful control. This feeds into an important mindset shift that Amanda has witnessed in herself: consistently moving towards authenticity.
Practice Mindfully Scrolling
I still find myself searching #feminist or listening to true crime when I am emotionally vulnerable, but I have taken a proactive approach to limit my mindless scrolling. I have learned to say “stop” to myself and my partner when I detect content that will breed difficult emotion. Perhaps the most valuable product of this intervention is that I have learned how to recognise and accept my own limits and care for myself a little more kindly.
Step 5: Be guided by authenticity
Overwhelm can be cultivated in the items we add to our to-do lists that we don’t actually value. Amanda explains that these “to-do” items can be a projection of what we think other people expect from us. “It boils down to that authenticity piece of the puzzle and not getting caught up in the perceived have-tos.”
The word, authenticity recurred throughout my conversation, and I felt the power of it as a driving force in her own progress. She artfully articulates her drive as “being authentic, being yourself, and being okay with being yourself, whatever that looks like at this given moment.” One exercise I have found helpful for moving towards authenticity is taking time to create an “internal compass” to guide you towards an authentic “want” instead of “should”, as suggested by Coach, Chelsea Hicks-Webster in our discussion on self-acceptance.
“We have this societal expectation to choose the sunshine and rainbows but this isn’t the reality.” Amanda points out that the sleep-deprived mother needs to be able to say “this sucks”. Authenticity allows for us to move through overwhelm rather than trying to skate over it with toxic positivity or being buried under it with unrealistic expectations.
Focus on value-based actions
A good place to start with motivating actions is to name the value that it serves. This week I honed in on 6 values that were important to me, and “authenticity” was one. But you might not connect with this particular word. Craft your core values with words that mean the most to you. What do you value? Write it down and stick it somewhere important. Look at it next time you feel overwhelmed and choose one small action that connects to advancing it.
In closing: Use, rinse, repeat
At the closing of our discussion, Amanda caught me saying something self-critical. In gently correcting me, she artfully summed up her perspective: “You need to be gentle with yourself. It’s all a process, we all still do it. We are all working on it.”
While this article’s delay is a testament to the deep freeze of overwhelm, its publication is evidence of growth. By setting myself overwhelming challenges to fix it all, all at once, I fed my own persistent narrative of failure. I have had the chance to internalize Amanda’s wisdom, and witness its power in a new perspective that has emerged brighter than the one before. I have learned that:
Greater awareness does lead to earlier interventions;
When you intervene early to release emotional energy, you do mitigate the fallout;
Repetitive micro-interventions do lead to macro-shifts;
Being mindful of your content consumption does reduce counterproductive emotions; and
Value-based motivation promotes authentic action.
I still suffer the deep freeze of overwhelm but, like the Wicked Witch of the West, I’m melting! It may be one degree at a time, but each degree equips me to move further through that overwhelming pressure to have it all.
Amanda Grant coaches women to more effectively cope with stress and overwhelm so they can lead more fulfilling lives. She provides support through direct coaching services and has recently extended her services to group sessions. You can also join her private Facebook community.