I think sharing a personal story of extreme overwhelm and how I stepped out of it may help while you shelter at home… and any other time you think there’s too much to do to get what you want.
Some years back, I suggested to my mate that we should fly our plane over the Delta waterways near our house. I hadn’t been in our plane for over six months, the longest period ever.
Our plane was a two-seater with room for one suitcase. It’s tandem seating, which means one seat is behind the other. Each person has access to their own stick and pedals so they can each turn. We also each have our own throttle levers.
The person who sits in the front has to watch all the instruments, start the engine, control the fuel mixture, and guide the plane while taxiing. Our Citabria was a tail wheel, which means it has two wheels in the front and a tiny one in the back of the plane. This means the plane sits high in the front and low in the back, making it very hard to see above the dashboard when it’s on the ground.
He said, “The only way we’re leaving this airport is if you sit in the front seat and you’ve shown me that you can land this plane.”
Oh, great! I hadn’t flown in the plane for forever, and I usually fly from the back seat. Now I had to sit in the front and learn to land? This was just peachy. I was beginning to feel the stress coming on.
Steve pulled the plane out of the hangar and I did the preflight check with him. He gave me a brief speech on how everything would be okay even if we did an emergency landing and crashed through a fence.
The stress came back.
I never think we’re going to die in the plane, but I am nervous about wrecking it and getting injured in the process. Dying is fine; pain is not! (BTW, this was pre-kids.)
I’d done ground school. I knew how to fly and navigate, with or without a GPS, BUT I had never taken off or landed the plane.
Landing scares the heck out of me. I’d been trained in getting us in the landing pattern, but about twenty feet from the ground I would always yell at Steve, “Take the stick!” In plain English that meant “take over because I’m about to explode from fear.”
So, we took off and immediately I felt overloaded with his instructions. He was telling me to watch our RPMs and I was trying to find where on the dashboard that dial resided.
I instantly began whining in my mind. I thought it wasn’t fair that we didn’t go fly for an hour or two to get me back in the swing of things before having me attempt to land the plane. Too many instructions were being shouted at me and I was confused.
The airport tower kept talking to us and other planes in the area, so I couldn’t hear what Steve was saying. Poor me!
I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to get Steve to let me practice some other time, so I knew I had to shift out of overwhelm.
I stated that I was overwhelmed, and he told me to focus only on three things. The smoke stacks directly in front of us (for a point of reference), my speed (don’t let it go below 70 MPH), and where the plane was in relationship to the ground (our altitude).
I began to breathe. That eased some of the panic. I focused on the immediate task of getting us lined up with the runway and making sure that I wasn’t too close to the ground on the short journey there.
I told myself I was up to this. Steve kept a close watch on everything and gave me reminders to keep my hand on the throttle. We did four touch-and-goes on the runway (let your wheels touch and then take off again for practice landings). I did my first solo taxi back to the hangar.
I took my time. I was so slow that the control tower asked if we were still going to our hangar. Going at my own pace made it all a lot easier on me.
What did I learn?
I did okay in spite of feeling extremely overwhelmed. I got that being in that state of panic was a choice.
When I chose to be in control of the plane, I became more efficient. I had to let go of watching the instrument panel and begin to fly the plane.
Many of my coaching clients complain about being in a constant state of overwhelm with work, family, health, and money. Their knee-jerk response to overwhelm has them shutting down and procrastinating or working harder and faster.
Neither response creates a feeling of relief. There is only one way out of overwhelm: take control of the present moment and realize it’s not about getting it all done.
There is only so much a person can focus on at once, take action on, and still feel grounded.
Make choices about what truly is important.
Will it be a tragedy if your house isn’t clean before you leave on your trip? Will you be fired if you tell your boss or client you need to move out the deadline for the completion of a project? Will it kill you to ask for help?
How can I make this all easier?
What can I say no to that will give me some relief?
What is the one thing I need to focus on right now?
How can I find peace in this moment?
Breathe and begin to move forward one step at a time. Life is not about getting things done. It’s about feeling good while in action.
What can you let go of this week to create more spaciousness and peace in your life? Declare it below.