Walking through the door with armloads of grocery bags, the condition of the house was unnerving. “When life overwhelms you, breathe,” I whispered to myself.
Muddy footprints and some sticky, unidentifiable grime covered the hallway floor.
Half-eaten plates of food from a dinner that was apparently not a hit covered the table. Spilled applesauce hardened on the floor, and children’s illustrations were scattered intermittently throughout the mess.
A large bottle of root beer had been spilled on the couch. Toys covered every surface of every room.
“Can you get me a snack?” someone asked within three seconds of my entry into the house.
“Breathe, Stacey,” I whispered again. Breathe.
Overwhelmed and unsure of where to even begin to tackle the mess in front of me, I tried to remain focused on the task at hand and continued bringing the groceries inside.
When Life Overwhelms You
Fast-forward approximately 90 minutes.
I have now stowed the groceries, cleaned up from dinner, scrubbed the dried applesauce, mopped the floors, and delegated the toy-clean-up task to the kids.
A certain child has requested a snack approximately every ten minutes, and I have calmly directed him to find a snack independently.
I’ve just scrubbed the couch in an effort to clean the root beer stain when I hear the words, “Mom, when are you gonna get my snack?”
What NOT to Do When Life Overwhelms You
“Never!” I yell. “I’m never going to get your snack because I have been working nonstop! I haven’t even eaten dinner! I asked you to get your own snack!”
The room silences.
My heart races.
I storm to the basement and slink onto the cement of the laundry room floor with a bag of trail mix. Dinner. It beats going back upstairs. I’m done.
Sweet friend, I sure hope you can’t relate.
I hope you don’t know what it is to be done.
But life has a way of stretching us until we snap, and most of us have been done at some point.
You might not be set off by a messy house, but you have your own triggers.
Pull the trigger once, and you might be able to ground yourself and keep your cool. Pull it twice, and you might practice your breathing techniques, center yourself, and remain calmly present to the moment.
But pull the trigger one too many times, and you lose the ability to cope. You can no longer regulate. You explode or shut down or go somewhere else in your head that takes you away and keeps you safe. Or you run to the basement with a bag of trail mix.
You want to do better.
You don’t want to go to the bad place.
But it keeps happening, and you don’t know how to stop.
A Simple Shift for When Life Overwhelms You
What’s the secret? How do we live without reacting to stress when our triggers push us into the place where can no longer cope?
I think of a book I’ve been reading as I sit on the cold cement and shove another fistful of raisins and nuts into my mouth. Dr. Dan Siegel’s book MindSight is helping me understand my inner dynamics in my unglued moments.
Dr. Siegel describes a “window of tolerance.”1 The window of tolerance is the zone of arousal where we are able to function healthily. It’s kind of like the middle ground – a stable place where we’re not thrown off course.
When we move outside the window of tolerance, we become overwhelmed, anxious, numb, or frozen. We are unable to cope. Kind of like a woman locked in her laundry room with a bag of trail mix.
How to Tell You’re Leaving Your Window of Tolerance
I felt my pulse quicken and noticed tension in my chest as soon as I walked through the door with the groceries. I could have used these indicators as a sign to go back outside, get grounded, ask God for help, and come up with a reasonable plan for tackling the work inside my house.
Instead, I pushed through the warning signs. I kept pushing until my nervous system couldn’t take one more trigger, and then I snapped. I lost control, fled the scene, and numbed myself with the food.
We all have triggered moments. Your triggers are different than mine, but you have them. I probably don’t need to name them for you to identify them. They’re the scenarios that push you out of your window of tolerance every time they arise.
Before life overwhelms you, learn the physical cues indicating your body is leaving your window of tolerance. Stop yourself, pray, get grounded, or come up with a different plan instead of unleashing.
Cry out to God.
He promises not to tempt us beyond what we can bear. His promise applies to more than just binge eating and other flashy sins of the flesh. It’s a promise to help you when your emotions are stretched.
I encourage you to learn to notice when you’re inching toward your emotional threshold. Learn your window of tolerance, and step back before you explode or shut down.
Your Invitation to Deal With Your Most Overwhelming Moments:
Spend some quiet time with the Lord, reflecting on your past day. Ask him to show you any moments when you felt overwhelmed or stressed. How did you handle your emotions? Did you cope in a way that enabled you to stay within your window of tolerance, or did you react in a negative way?
What does God want to show you about your window of tolerance?
Now, imagine yourself in an overwhelmed moment you might face in the upcoming day. Imagine taking the following steps: Stop to get grounded. Breathe deeply (inhale for three seconds and exhale for five seconds several times). Ask God for help. What does he want to show you?
How would you return to the situation differently if you took these steps?
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Stacey Pardoe
Featured Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
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