Overcoming in an Overwhelming World

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

How can a person overcome the stresses, pressures, discouragement and anxiety of times such as we live in?

To overcome means to:
o Conquer
o Defeat
o Beat
o Trounce
o Triumph over
o Prevail over
o Surmount
o Rise above

To overwhelm means to:
o Overpower
o Overcome
o Engulf
o Devastate
o Beat
o Crush

When you look at the two sets of word meanings it is much like the clash of titans. I suppose a one-sentence synopsis would read: To overcome the overwhelming forces of this world we must conquer and defeat that which tries to crush us.

I certainly do not think that every day we wage war in some aggressive behavioral style against all and everything we encounter. But, I do believe we should be prepared for the various challenges, whether emotional, financial, relational or even physical.

Things like the economic downfall are not as personalized as an individual who berates you at work. However, the stress and pressure of a poor economy can certainly feel like a real “flesh and blood” adversary at times. Actually, the background noise of economic and financial insecurity causes a level of anxiety that certainly can be distracting, draining and disempowering at times.

What can we all do to rise above the overwhelming cloudiness of such circumstances? Well, there is no “magic bullet” but when we plan for certain predictable behaviors it becomes easier to avoid psychological challenges. Properly identifying life’s resistance helps me overcome uncertainty. I love what C.H. Spurgeon said.

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.      C. H. Spurgeon

I read the lyrics of an old song some years back that has stuck in my mind.  Although I can’t remember the author or the title one line has stuck in my mind regarding adversity and overwhelming circumstances. The line said, “I’m not in the valley I’m just changing mountains.”

If behaviors follow our attitudes then preparing our attitudes in stressful times is important to staving off behaviors that are unhealthy and even destructive during hard circumstances.

I do not know what you do, but under stress and insecure times I have to fight certain behaviors that are not good for my overall mental health. For instance, under extreme stress I will either work around the clock and into the night, or, on occasion, I will slip into a sedentary slump that seems to paralyze me from anything productive.

What am I learning about these situations? It is best to run these scenarios in my mind BEFORE you get under stress and into insecure situations. Ask yourself these questions and journal your thoughts:

  1. When I feel that finances are at a place where I cannot predict my future, how do I feel? What do I normally do when I feel this way?
  2. When someone says something that hurts and depletes your initiative, how do you feel? What actions usually follow that set of feelings?
  3. When you cannot seem to get a grip on what the future holds for you vocationally and you seem to be working indifferently rather than passionately, how do you feel? Do you still do the same things regarding your job hoping it all will change?
  4. When hopelessness is the order for most days, how do feel and how does your productivity look?
  5. When you try to see into the future, what obstacles are keeping you from getting to where you want to be?

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.      Chinese Proverb

I have always had a struggle with opposition. The fact that people oppose my opinions and sometimes disagree we me is a struggle. It is not a struggle because I believe I have to be right, but because since I spend a great deal of thought time on most decisions. When someone opposes me it bothers me that I missed something in the decision that someone is questioning. The challenge is twofold: (1) First, with me because there was a loophole left somewhere, and (2) Secondly, the opposing person could be correct, as well.

This is certainly not the same opposition level as the loss of a job, your 401K, a loved one or finding out you have cancer. But, most of our daily challenges, if not handled well, erode our optimism and outlook. Long term emotional stress, even when it is low-level and constant, can be overwhelming. Of course, the losses of a job, your 401K, a loved one or finding out you have cancer bring the low-level stress up to an overwhelming level quickly. Faint not my friend; there are ways to get through this!

 A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.      Neal Anderson

Here are some solutions for overcoming challenges in an overwhelming world. Let’s look at this acrostic to frame the thoughts: OVERCOME

O – Observe what practices you commit to that bring obstacles, challenges or stressors into your life. Observation skills can be developed and practice. Writing down these practices is important to finding ways to overcome reoccurring lifestyle and professional choices and actions. Of course, as an Executive Coach I certainly believe a coach takes this observation scenario to its highest level for change and life transformation. Studying or even scrutinizing your life choices and patterns is the first step to overcoming in an overwhelming. Write it down; ask a friend to help or hire a coach for life change!

V – Vision and clarity towards your professional or personal story is a non-negotiable for life-change and overcoming. How do you get vision in the middle of the overwhelming scenario? Again, this may take some outside help. To see your life and the stress and pressures at ground level, you must rise above the runway and see it from above. There are several steps needful to see your situation as it really is and to begin to have some change.

  1. Stop. I certainly do not mean quit your job, marriage or career path and buy a one-way ticket to your favorite vacation spot. Change and pace are important to finding your vision. Change up your life sequence a little and change the pace. Remove any ambient behaviors and actions that are unnecessary to get your core work done. Again, it may take a coach to shoot straight with you on choices. To get clarity of vision you have to get out of the mud and see it with a clear look. Change it up, get another opinion and stop doing everything the same way.
  2. Act. Rather than react, start acting on a plan that takes you to some significant overcoming practices. Action plans are great if you implement. After you have stop doing some things, start doing some things that lead to positive attitudinal and behavioral change. It is outside of the scope of this article to clarify how to do this, but again, a coach could bring significant breakthroughs with a leadership development system for an overcoming vision.
  3. Sustain. Anyone can overcome once. We get it right accidentally sometimes, but sustainable life-change regarding overwhelming pressures is another. Continuance is a lost art it seems. Lots of people hop around from job to job, weak solution to weak solution to relationship to relationship. Sustaining a life style of overcoming your overwhelming stressors is paramount to optimal living. No one can overcome everything all of the time. But, sustainability brings great clarity to your vision which gives you hope to overcome when it is important to productivity.

E – Energy. One of the first things that are depleted under stress is your energy. Your liveliness, your power, your strength and your personality gets weakened under overwhelming stress. How do you get your energy back? Here are several suggestions:

  1. Take mental vacation. Without knowing your particular situation it is hard to suggest the magnitude and duration of such mental vacation. But, here is a fundamental truth: a step to overcoming will be a change in your “thought scenery.” I sometimes tell groups to take a 30-second vacation. Think about anything that captures your “happy place.” If you can fit it in, take a ½ day to download, write your hopes and dreams, write down your patterns that seem to always trap you into a corner of stress and confusion.
  2. Combine exercise and outdoors. Sometimes an exercise program is not as beneficial as a long walk through the woods, around a lake or in the mountains. Especially if you seem to hammer away at exercise goals that cause injury and even replicate your frustrations at work on some poor machine! A mental vacation combined with a long walk contemplating life change is invigorating.  I have sorted things out, written speeches, outlined a book, gained a great idea, structured a workshop a brainstormed business development ideas while walking. Use the beautiful planet we are endowed with to help you overcome.
  3. Nutrition and recreation. Since I do not have enough room in the scope of this article to talk about these separately, consider your diet and your last vacation. As you exercise and think, change your diet to be energy enhancing. Research and inquire about what foods help drive energy to your life. Choose a hobby, sport or activity that brings enthusiasm, laughter and stress free enjoyment. Do not work so hard at your recreation. Let it invigorated not frustrate. Replenish your life rather than drain it with over planning, over eating and over scheduling it.

R – Resist. Certain motivational speakers and celebrities who host talk shows often promote pushing, winning and achieving as very aggressive behaviors. I summarily disagree. When a person is overcoming in an overwhelming world resistance is best. What do I mean? Well, as a coach it appears that most of my clients need a prescription towards resistance not aggression. Why is resistance good? Here are a few suggestions for when it gets overwhelming:

  1. Resist the temptation to say “Yes” to everything. Say ‘yes” only to the best things.
  2. Resist the urge to try to please others before pleasing yourself. This is important to self-management and esteem. What is it that you need for you to do? You can please yourself and fulfill your passions and calling without becoming self centered.
  3. Resist activities that appear fun but cause you physical weariness and financial unnecessary spending. Sometimes a rejuvenating night at home with some of the energy-building suggestions I gave above may be right for the stress. Maybe it is just careful thought given to your week or month that is important to accepting those impromptu invitations.
  4. Resist aggression when stressed out. Practice absorbing overwhelming situations, rather than, fighting back or being assertive each time. Resist getting even and resist pay back. Rest in your new path of overcoming and be content at your new life transformation.

C – Communicate. Open up the lines of communication between work colleagues, family, friends and others. Much of life’s stress comes because of poor communication. It could take you simply starting to over communicate a little at work. It may mean that you write your thoughts of frustration and stress to yourself in a journal. It may mean that you write a letter to someone explaining how you feel and ask them how you both can solve the problem of this overwhelming pressure. Communication is apparently a challenge for organizations for companies and people in general. I seem to stay booked with communication workshops more than any other topic.  Work on this communication plan as you take one of your walks or one of those mental vacations.

O – Optimism. Optimism is defined two ways, (1) a doctrine that this world is the best possible world and (2) an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome. The first definition indicates utopia and a sense of denial.  The second one works for me regarding overcoming life challenge. Optimism is the way to start the day. Can you work towards an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon the actions and events of the day, and to anticipate the best possible outcome? It is easier to find the black cloud in every silver lining. I try to start up and when life pulls me down I have some leverage to overcome. Optimism has to be predicted and practiced. Again, your mental vacations can allow for time to write your thoughts about how to become optimistic in an overwhelming world. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Write your optimistic thoughts about your “domain of accomplishment” describing what you would like it ALL to look like.
  2. Practice optimism. Be optimistic and choose actions that are optimistic and not pessimistic. It is outside of the scope of this article to explain this fully but optimism can be chosen as a behavior.
  3. Ask for help to see your choices as optimistic. Again, a coach can help you sort this out. It can become very confusing amidst the stress to see this clearly. Seek help.

M – Macarism. Webster’s dictionary defines this word like this: a philosophy in which one derives his or her pleasure from the inspiration of joy in others.

In a brilliant display of macarism, Daniel was beaming throughout the duration of his volunteer work at the retirement home. Mentor someone and focus on others. Watch others’ faces as you volunteer. Devise a plan for ways to give of your time and talents to various causes and people. One of the greatest tools to overcome stress and self-pity is to turn your attention away from yourself to others. As other people receive your gift of yourself you will receive the gift of altruism. It is a miraculous healing agent for stress and pressure. You will be amazed at your outlook on life once you try this remedy to overcoming in an overwhelming world.

E – Encourage. As insane as it may seem you can encourage others I the middle of your overwhelmed state. Try it. You may have to fake it at first. But, try to encourage others throughout your day even though you are struggling emotionally. My wife has this down as a science. Even though I start out optimistic, my days and weeks do not always end up that way. She encourages naturally and seems to choose the best times with others and me. In her case it is a gift, but for the rest of us, we can work at it. With one of my coaching colleagues recently, who was going through some deep issues, I tried it. On the escalator in an airport I gave him encouragement and a coaching suggestion. He called me two days later after a confrontation with the person of his stress to say thanks. I remembered what I said but had no idea how impactful it was to be in his life. His joy caused my macarism to leap with pride. His overcoming brought some to my life! Wow! Try encouraging others when you are under stress.

Malcolm Muggeridge, in Homemade, July, 1990 writes, “When I hear my friends say they hope their children don’t have to experience the hardships they went through, I don’t agree. Those hardships made us what we are. You can be disadvantaged in many ways, and one way may be not having had to struggle.”

Struggles can be good for us. They look like enemies from the ground level but when we rise up above them and get that clearer vision we may see them as providing strength for us in other areas. Overcoming in an overwhelming world is constant. However, it does not have to be as difficult it may appear presently. I love what Helen Keller said abut suffering and overcoming.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.      Helen Keller

Overcoming is strength of character. Of course, character is another issue and is out side of the scope of this topic. But your character and mine will determine how we deal with struggles, oppression and the overwhelming nature of life in general. Especially now, as the economy has weakened and insecurity prevails, character is important.

In ancient China, the people wanted to defend themselves from the barbaric hordes in the North and they built the Great Wall of China. It was too high to climb over, too thick to break down, and too long to go around. Very secure. Yet during the first hundred years of the wall’s existence, China was invaded three times. Was the wall a failure? Not really. Not once did the enemies manage to climb over the wall, destroy it or go around it. How then did they get into China? They bribed the gatekeeper, and then marched right in through a gate. The fatal flaw was in placing too much reliance on a wall and not putting enough effort into building character.

Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.
Alexander Graham Bell

Overcoming in an overwhelming world can be your life pattern. Hopefully these tips will get you started.


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