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A Feeling of Overwhelm

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A Feeling of Overwhelm

Everyone is adjusting to life as best they can and with restrictions all over the place dependent on your state, to say that this adjustment has been challenging is an understatement. The heart foundation recently surveyed Australians and found that 54% are eating more than we were before and are unhappy with the state of their bodies. It is surprising though? Not only did we take away a lot of the liberties that allow people to thrive under pressure, we added more pressure: no to gyms and social occasions and yes to home schooling and home offices and without any separation of spaces it’s been messy. Those who have maintained employment felt this insane obligation to work harder despite being asked to reduce their income in a lot of instances and those who lost jobs are now without an income, an outlet and more responsibilities than before.
We are an interesting species, never quite satisfied, and our survival has depended on it. Many a content Homo Sapien became the supper of a sabre-tooth. Those constantly alert and on the lookout, we call them ancestors and it’s wired us the same way. The difference now; our ability to refine the information we consume is probably as essential to our survival as the information itself. The sheer quantity of information and the social nature of our habits means we are thrust into a series of updates, pictures, memes, quotes and comparisons before we have even had our cereal. 
The meaning leads to overwhelm
I recently reviewed the work of Dr. Ceri Evans, a forensic psychiatrist that now works in elite performance. I highly recommend his book, ‘perform under pressure’. His overview of the brain and our actions under pressure looked deeply into our evolution and why we think the way we do. Right now is a time we are all finding our feet again, dealing with a significant period of change. Not all of us made it through unscathed though, domestic violence has been reported to have increased by 50% in some states and Relationships Australia just announced that those considering leaving a relationship has increased by up to 300%. It hasn’t been easy and around the area of eating and food, the heart foundation have confirmed more people are feeling worse about themselves and their habits than before. You see, we feel before we think and then we derive meaning from our experience to justify the feeling. In short, I feel bad (feeling) because I’m fat (label thinking) and not as good as Jonesy (comparison thinking). Look at how well Sienna is doing in iso. ‘I missed the boat’, ‘I’m hopeless’, ‘it’s just not good enough’, ‘I’m not good enough’ (meaning - more evidence for the ‘I’m not good enough story’). It sounds weird, but that’s where the primitive part of us wants to stay because it’s safe there. We know it so well. There are plenty of sweets, plenty to drink, an established routine of behaviour and it won’t cost us any short term pain to stay there. Who doesn’t love an afternoon of Doritos followed by some ice cream on the couch watching Netflix? That routine then provides more evidence for the ‘I’m not good enough story’ and cements that identity in you (more meaning). This is who I am and how I live. The truth is though when the story starts post that feeling, we move further away from the task at hand and into story teller mode with a bias of our own choosing.
We don’t know who we will be on the other side of the action in front of us, but we do if there is no action. We focus more on what it all means and get overwhelmed by the meaning of our action rather than executing the action.  Which keeps us safe in the same spot. If the next meal is the start of the ‘new you’ there is a lot more pressure placed on your next meal rather than it just being lunch. Perhaps a little less meaning attached to simple action might be all we need.
Tomorrow is when I will start, that run, that workout, that body, it all starts tomorrow morning!
Tomorrow I will just get into it, I’ll get up and do it! All my food prep, I’m a clean eater from tomorrow onwards. 
Tonight is my last chance, tomorrow I will never eat an Oreo again.
The reality is tomorrow has so much pressure on it already and it hasn’t even begun. The moment you wake up you have probably not lived up to expectation because it wasn’t early enough or you didn’t get your 8 hours in or… you fill in your own dots.
Let’s look at an example of a negative evaluation of the present: 
You’re not in the shape that you would like to be or 
Your cholesterol is too high or
Your blood pressure is worrying you. 
You are drinking too much or 
You’re eating too much 
and you’re unhappy with all of this and more which ironically reinforces the overeating and/or excessive drinking. 

What does all that mean when you compare yourself to others, it means you only see how much better people are than you. That bias you analyse from, you seek validation for and within seconds find it. Now I’m not all about building a false sense of reality. There is nothing more annoying than a false positive. Living on hope, you put your hand over an empty fuel gauge and pretend (hope) it’s all going to be ok only to run out of fuel before you get anywhere near where you want to go. So we need to address the overeating and the over drinking but I would argue that the bias you enter that comparison with, that is one of the key drivers to continue that drinking and that eating.
If we remove the pressure for a moment, get out of the lane of ‘what this all means’ and get into the ‘task lane’. What task specific advice would you give to someone you cared about in the same situation you are in right now? 
Instead of starting at 4am tomorrow and running 10km (something that they’ve never done before), would you recommend starting by going to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight? Put down the comparison apps and get some decent rest? The world might just look different tomorrow but that lens can start today!
Questions for Today:
What areas of your life are you focussed more on the meaning than the execution of the action?
What bias does your analysis lens have on it?
What behaviours (i.e. eating, drinking, exercise) are driven by the emotional reaction to the negative evaluation?
What false positives are you telling yourself that don’t align with your current actions?
What one action would you recommend to your best friend if they answered the way you did to the 4 questions above? 

If I can put a caveat on the answer to question 5, it can’t be something generic or cliche like stress less or just relax. It has to be task specific and actionable! 
Could you go to bed 30 minutes earlier? 
Could you try writing your thoughts before you have the first glass of wine tonight? 
Could you get up tomorrow and walk the dog?

Could you be on the cusp of flipping all that wasted energy on negative thoughts and comparisons and channel that into the actions that will take you where you want to go?

Yours in Health

Sean Cornish

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