One of the primary issues faced by people on the Autism spectrum and those with Asperger syndrome, is coping with feelings of being overwhelmed. These issues often start in childhood, as early as a year old, when children who become easily overwhelmed instinctively react by trying to shield themselves from exposure to excess stimuli. Parents of children on the spectrum can easily relate to stories of children who cover their ears with their hands in response to everyday sounds they perceive as loud and stressful. As the child ages, the coping skills for shielding oneself from excess exposure to environmental stimuli becomes even more subtle but the consequences are the same.
By environmental stimuli, I mean people, places and things which produce overwhelming feelings for the person, causing the person’s desire to retreat to safety until it’s safe again. The consequences are often themed with unfinished work, projects and poorly developed relationships with others. This often leads to unwanted isolation and a lifestyle marked by underachievement.
The solution is easy to understand, challenging to implement and well worth the effort. The solution is to do nothing in response to feelings of being overwhelmed. By doing nothing, you are choosing not to be reactive to your feelings of being overwhelmed, which is to engage in a series of behaviors to prevent yourself from experiencing the emotions you need to experience. Regardless of the specifics of what you do, your being reactive will be an attempt to control, manipulate and/or change your reality to manage your feelings.
Instead, by choosing to do nothing, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the range of emotions you need to feel. Your challenge is to simply accept these emotions for what they are without being reactive. By choosing not to be reactive, you are beginning the process of deactivating your fight or flight response pattern, thereby opening access to your solution focused mind. When people choose to stop responding to their feelings of overwhelm fueled by their fears and worries, they become more insight driven and solution focused.
To the outside observer, who isn’t aware of the changes taken place inside the person, they will often observe someone who is behaving more courageous in their daily affairs. In fact, the person is behaving more courageous, as they are now in the practice of looking past their fears and worries and seeing their issues for the mere inconveniences they really are instead of catastrophes.
In my practice, it is a natural reaction for a client to listen to my take on doing nothing in response to feelings of overwhelm, and then responding with an example of a catastrophe they recently experienced in their life. Often, in processing these incidents with them, it is revealed that said catastrophe began as an inconvenience, which they poorly reacted to, thereby worsening the situation.
Catastrophes do happen in life, whether as an initial incident, or as an incident made worse from an overreaction. Regardless, the most effective response to feelings of being overwhelmed, is to accept the situation for what it is, and accept your feelings for what they are. Once this is achieved, only then can you begin to take a solution focused response.
The process of doing nothing to feelings of overwhelming stress and anxiety, is something that takes quite a bit of effort for a first timer. Specifically, there are evidenced based cognitive behavioral strategies, like the ones found in this CBT workbook, “Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety,” by Seth J Gillihan PhD.
A person can study and practice these strategies on their own, or with an experienced therapist.
Happiness does not exist, this is because happiness is illusive. What we describe as a happiness is really joy on a daily basis. Such a feat is not possible, specifically we can experience joy but not on a consistent basis. Further evidence of this is documented in neuroscience where the fleeting neurotransmitter associated with happiness is dopamine. Dopamine is naturally released in our system when we accomplish a goal or are rewarded. This is why some people will abuse and get addicted to drugs like cocaine, because cocaine artificially stimulates the release of dopamine and subsequently blocks the re uptake of dopamine, leaving dopamine in the synaptic gap longer. The closest we can come to experiencing the myth of happiness is being at a state of peace and content.
The key to this lies in restriction. It lies in wanting less. The more we seek, the more chaos we bring into our lives. This is because change is a constant due to variables constantly being in flux. The more of anything we seek the more variables we have to keep up with and the more chaotic our lives become.
So if you are going through a period of chaos in your life, practice seeking less of what it is that you want. So if you are dealing with constant conflict with a particular person and all you want is peace with that person, you should accept where you’re in your relationship with that person and engage accordingly. If you are seeking more money in your life, you should do less and increase the quality of the less you do. If you are looking for love, look less and simply focus of being the best person you can be.
This is a counter intuitive approach, that contradicts the idea of doing more which most of us where raised to believe. The reason doing less is more effective than doing more is because peace and content comes from within ourselves. When we engage with people and other things we initially project the peace inside of ourselves unto the people and things we engage with, which is then returned to us. However, when we do more, the quality of our engagement decreases due to our inability to keep up with the changing variables from doing plenty and what gets returned to us is a constant state of chaos, which then becomes the state of our reality.
So how does one transition from hyper engagement with the world around them to reduced but quality engagement? Focus on what you are best at doing, or focus on what you do better than others. For example, in your relationship with others, focus on fostering a relationship with those you have a better relationship with. (An exception would be if you have children.) If you are looking to bring in more income into your life, focus on what you already do, specifically on increasing the value of your work. By focusing on areas you already excel at, you eliminate engagement with people and things that introduce needless chaos in your life. Further, with the people and things you are more adept at dealing with, the chaos presented becomes more manageable, due to your expertise in keeping up with the changing variables presented by those people and things.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach
“Feelings make great servants but terrible masters.”
Imagine you have in your head a map of your local town or city, now imagine if you were to quickly sketch this map unto paper, how accurate would that map be?
Most people I have posed this question to, have responded that the map would be mostly inaccurate. This is because they indistinctly know that it is human nature to make errors, based on ideas and beliefs that have not been fact checked.
Human beings live in two differently worlds, simultaneously. The first world would be the world in our heads, or to put more specifically, the idea of the world as it is, in our heads. This world consist of fact checked information and made up information we have put in place, to make sense of missing information between pieces of information that have been fact checked. The second world consists of the world as it really is – the world outside of our heads.
The bridge between the world in our heads and the world outside of our heads, are our feelings. Our feelings are triggered to varying degrees, from the things we touch, see, hear, smell and interpret through our thoughts. Our feelings serve to inform us whether the world in our heads is congruent with the world outside of our heads. When our feelings are positive, they serve to indicate congruency between both worlds. When our feelings are uncomfortable or negative, they serve to inform us that the world inside our heads is not congruent with the world outside of our heads.
So in the event you experience a negative feeling, it is an opportunity for you to explore your thought processes, with the goal of understanding your core beliefs and making changes in your beliefs to match new information you have learned about the world as it really is.
For example, let’s say you consider yourself to be a very good chess player. You consider yourself so good, that you believe that you are capable of competing in tournaments and winning. You firmly believe this to be true about yourself until your first experience at a tournament, which does not go your way. Upon facing this contradiction, you will most likely experience feelings of being upset and disappointed. In response to these negative emotions, you will be tempted to dwell on them and perhaps become reactive. However the appropriate response will be to explore your thoughts and ask yourself why you have become so upset in response to your poor performance at the tournament. You will then conclude that you have overestimated your skill level in the game, at which time you will begin to feel accepting and peaceful regarding the new adjustments you have made to your beliefs regarding your skill level as a chess player. Further, with these new adjustments made to your beliefs, you will probably become more focused on what improvements you need to make regarding your chess skills.
Our feelings are not to be served or catered to. This statement is not to be confused as a blatant disregard for the humanity of others, but a statement that addresses the irrationality on placing emphasis on our feelings of hurt and pain, without further exploration into what triggered these feelings and what messages these feelings are delivering to us.
Consider this, you experience a conflict with another person and then you inform that person that he or she does not care about your feelings. In reality what your really trying to say is that he or she does not care about you, this is because they can’t care about your feelings, your feelings emit from your head and they can’t be seen. Sure they can be expressed through body language and facial expressions, but ultimately those feelings were created by your thoughts and your core beliefs in response your experience.
This may seem semantic, or like splitting hairs, but this is an issue we respond to on a subconscious level. This means that we are unaware when we carter to our feelings instead of accepting our feelings as they are. When we carter to our feelings, we lose track of the message being conveyed, which leads to a further detachment from the reality outside our heads. Which ultimately leads to a chaotic lifestyle, after all, you can’t solve problems with lies.