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Treat yourself the way you would a friend – be kind, patient and forgiving.

Overloaded, overwhelmed

“Information overload occurs when a person is exposed to more information than the brain can process at one time.”

Our work lives have become increasingly demanding, presenting us with ever more complex challenges at a near-relentless pace. Add in personal or family needs, and it’s easy to feel constantly overwhelmed.

 

The increase in complexity associated with modern life has left many of us feeling “in over our heads". When this is the case, the complexity of our world has surpassed our “complexity of mind” or our ability to handle that level of complexity and be effective.

 

This has nothing to do with how smart we are, but with how we make sense of the world and how we operate in it.

Our typical response to ever-growing workloads is to work harder and put in longer hours, rather than to step back and examine what makes us do this and find a new way of operating.

The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve. When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed.

Rebecca Zucker, 2019, Harvard Business Review

We can survive almost anything if we know it has an endpoint. Struggles that seem to stretch limitlessly into the distance hit harder. Ceaseless uncertainty can chip away at resilience. Feeling overwhelmed with current events – big or small – is a natural reaction to the traumatic times we’re living through.

If you’re feeling foggy in the head and even simple tasks have become challenging, know that you’re far from alone. Over the past two years, few have been left untouched by the challenges we’ve faced, but of course, some have struggled more than others.

Our brains have a natural negativity bias – a primal survival mechanism that scans the environment for threats – so we’re predisposed to fixate in on the bad stuff while filtering out the good. That means the more time we spend doom-scrolling, the worse we feel. 

 

Taking time away from screens to do something restorative like spending time in nature, talking to a friend or playing with a pet, can be a vital act of self-replenishment that gives you the energy to be of service to others.

The basic foundations for good mental health may sound simple, even trite, but they’re grounded in evidence, they work and they’re more important than ever when the world feels overwhelming: try to eat well, get enough sleep, stick to a routine, stay connected to others, move your body in a way that feels nourishing for you, limit your alcohol consumption and practice deep breathing or meditation to calm your nervous system.

Georgie Harman, Beyond Blue, , 2022, The Guardian

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