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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

Addressing Overwhelm

Lastest News: I have made my Youtube channel public, and in addition to including the videos already available on my website I have also included a several short videos on various aspects that are fundamental to brain retraining, regardless of which program you are doing. Check them out here!

Overwhelm is a common experience when we are in retraining programs and trying hard to heal and transform our lives. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, when our nervous system has been living in a state of chronic dysregulation it adapts over time so that our baseline becomes an dysregulated state. From this new baseline it doesn't take much to throw us beyond our capacities to cope and into overwhelm. Second, our limbic system can get into a pattern of always searching for the next thing, wanting to add more tools, and thinking we don't have what we need to recover. Often what drives this is an underlying fear that we might not get better (for more on this see my deepest fears blog).

Overwhelm can look differently depending on where you are at. This is why it is a good practice to cultivate our curious observer and notice how overwhelm shows up for you. At the start we often go into overdrive (otherwise known as a sympathetic state). We can't sit still, feel irritable, feel scattered or get distracted easily. If we've been experiencing overwhelm for a while, we might shift into shut down (a dorsal vagal state). Here we procrastinate, disengage, withdraw, feel low or numb, or find it hard to motivate ourselves. Either way, we can't seem to get much done or be effective at what we do.

The tools that we use to shift out of overwhelm depend on which nervous system state you are in, which is why it is so important to get really familiar with your patterns. In a sympathetic state, using tools to calm the nervous system is helpful. Breathwork like Ujjayi, Alternate Nostril Breathing and the Physiological Sigh are helpful (see my videos page for how-to's). Meditations, yoga nidra, and grounding in nature can also help us restore balance. If we are in a shut down state, then we want to slowly and gently stimulate our nervous system by increasing movement. We can start by wiggling our toes and fingers, opening and closing our hands, gently rocking side to side or front to back, moving our limbs, gently tapping our bodies, working our way up to a gentle walk, or shaking it out. We can also extend our inhale or use the Bhastrika (bellows) breath.

When we are in overwhelm we often feel incapable. And if you're like I was, you might experience going in and out of overwhelm, meaning that at some points in time you are able to do things easily and then at other points you don't feel able to do those same things at all. This can lead to frustration and feelings of shame, wondering what is wrong with us. That message can also sometimes be reinforced by those around us because they don't understand why this wasn't a big deal last week and now you're saying you can't do it. It is important to gently educate our loved ones that when we are actively working to regulate our nervous systems there will be different levels of capacities on different days. It is also important for us to have self compassion and recognize this is part of the process. The more you work on active awareness of how your nervous system is operating and practice the active interventions to self-regulate, the more benefits you will have from these tools on tough days (because you've built the muscle of being able to change your state).

It is also important to have a good look at factors that might be contributing to feelings of overwhelm. Are we trying to do too much at once instead of taking things one step at a time? Are we putting a lot of pressure on ourselves instead of taking a gentle & self-supportive approach to retraining? Are there relationship issues or external factors that are adding to the overall stress load, and if so is there anything we can do about them? Are we pushing too hard instead of incrementally training within our training zone? Are we ruminating and allowing unhelpful thoughts to run rampant in our minds instead of gently redirecting and intervening? Are we out of balance in the sense that we are working really hard and giving a lot, but not resourcing ourselves, prioritizing our needs, and filling our own cup?

Decreasing your overall stress load both internally and externally will help make it easier to train your nervous system into a baseline of better regulation. Over time this will expand your window of tolerance so that you have more flexibility to shift between nervous system states and more bandwidth to withstand the stressors and events that life brings your way. Here, chronic overwhelm becomes a thing of the past.

Best wishes!

Caelum's Insights (A Functional Neurology Perspective):

The nervous system is such an amazing thing. Everything you do from the thoughts you have to the physical sensations you feel is via the nervous system. The nervous system is the regulator of everything in our bodies, movement, breathing, heart beats, vision, hearing, smell, touch, etc. Our nervous system is what connects us to and interacts with the outside world. We gather information thought mechanical, chemical, light, and sound sensory systems. Our brain then interprets these inputs and that is how we perceive things. As such is it so important to work to regulate this vital system so it can better regulate our bodies and minds.

"Outside the realm of conscious awareness our nervous system is continuously evaluating risk in the environment, making judgments and setting priorities for behaviour that are adaptive."

- Dr. Stephen Porges

If you have any questions you would like answered in this blog or to be added to my coaching waitlist, please email me at


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