How to Overcome Overwhelm and Take Back Some Control

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Leigh Kendall – 23rd February 2018

Complete this sentence:

“Ugh, there really is nothing worse than…”

a) Your tea or coffee going cold before you get a chance to drink it?

b) An errant red sock getting in the white load and making all the clothes pink?

c) The plus box failing to record the last ten minutes of a film?

We’ve probably all said something like that at some time in our life.

I know the person saying it doesn’t really think a cold hot drink is worse than a genuine disaster; they’re not saying clothes that were once white dyed thanks to a stowaway sock is worse than something happening to a loved one; nor are they suggesting missing the end of a film is worse than a life-changing event.

It’s just a figure of speech, something that people say without pausing to consider its meaning.

Most of us complain about something during the course of the day. Stuff happens. Getting annoyed is human!

The problems start when we are always complaining. As the article this post links to says, just like with any habit (good or not-so-good) the neurons in your brain get used to the behaviour, which then makes it easier for your brain to repeat that behaviour in the future. 

Constantly complaining means we can lose sense of perspective; we can also forget that we are able to take responsibility for whatever has happened, creating a sense of learned helplessness and lose the ability to take positive action to solve a problem. 

Being around someone who constantly complains isn’t fun, is it? The negativity can feel draining and it can have a pervasive impact on others, creating a funk that can be difficult to get out of. 

More importantly, though, the behaviour has an adverse effect on the complainer themselves. Complaining increases your cortisol levels – part of your fight or flight mechanism. Over time, this can have a significant adverse physical impact.

So, how do we get ourselves out of the complaining habit? As mentioned above, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever complain, nor does it mean that you should have a Pollyanna view of life: life isn’t full of rainbows, unicorns, and fields full of never-ending flowers, sadly. Similar to most things in life, it’s all about balance.

I live with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a long-term mental health condition. I’ve had to develop a range and tactics in my self-care toolbox to build resilience and regain balance when life feels overwhelming and presents me with challenges. 

Serial complaining often comes as a result of feeling overwhelmed, when life feels a bit too much, for whatever reason. So, I thought I would share some of my favourite coping tactics:

– Writing down a good thing that has happened that day (it can be something as simple as having a good cup of tea)

– Exercising – I love boxing, but it doesn’t  have to be that strenuous! A brisk walk can release endorphins (the happy hormones) and help clear your mind

– Using a ‘worry tree’ – write down what you’re worried about. Can you do something about it? If the answer is yes, go and try to sort it out. If not, try to forget about it (all easier said than done of course, but often writing things down can be really helpful)

– Speak to a friend/family member who you know will listen without judgement and help you with some practical solutions

– Reflect on what your achievements are, and what you are proud of. Overwhelm and complaining can be the result of feeling out of control, so taking the time to reflect on what you are good at can be a helpful tactic for regaining control.

– Trying to use a growth mindset – the belief that everything is a learning opportunity; that it is always possible for me to grow and develop; to be self-compassionate; to try and think positively of myself and others as much as is possible

Your mental and physical health are worth the investment!

We will also be talking more about resilience as part of Module 3 of The School for Change Agents (Being Resilient and Dealing with Resistance to Change) which will be launched on Thursday 1 March at 3pm (UK time).

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.…