Is 'Overwhelm' an Emotion?

As I began to write my thoughts on being overwhelmed, I looked up “overwhelm” for just a simple definition. Fancying myself as a wordsmith, I wanted to use “overwhelm” properly. Turns out, overwhelm is not a noun, but a verb. And really, I was looking for the emotion of feeling overwhelmed. That’s a bit tricky, too. Looks like you can have “emotional overwhelm” where you are overcome by intense emotion, such as sadness or anxiety. But simply feeling overwhelmed isn’t really identified as a feeling on its own. Let me describe a scenario to you, which many of you will be able to identify with and tell me what I’m feeling.

I have so much to do. I have several projects I am working on and several pressing deadlines. This is in addition to my daily responsibilities of fixing meals, doing chores around the house, and personal hygiene. Also, it’s the time of year when I need to make sure I have my taxes done and my plans for summer vacation worked out. I need to make several phone calls today during the workday hours. I have to commute to the office, in traffic, which slows me down when I am already behind.

I would have told you I am feeling overwhelmed, before researching the definition and learning that “overwhelm” is not a noun….and “overwhelmed” is not a feeling. But this isn’t just about getting the grammar and wording right. I think you know the experience I am describing. Perhaps I am overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities and the feelings associated with that are complicating being productive. No matter how it is said, if you have a similar experience, it is hard to know what to do. There’s a phrase that shows up a lot in the sober living community. Do the next right thing. This is a great mantra for times when we are overwhelmed, whether you are in recovery from substances or not. Life can become demanding, all by itself. And sometimes we make choices that add to that demand. Choosing to work on your self—for growth or healing—can also add to that demand. It can seem like “too much” and maybe we should stop something….or stop everything. Slow down and take a breath. Do the next right thing. That’s all you have to focus on for the moment….the next right thing.