As the possibilities increase for why what’s happening actually is, so too can ideas about what will happen as a consequence. Without being able to narrow things down, we can become overwhelmed by trying to handle all possible outcomes
Sometimes, in trying to prepare for the future, we may find ourselves contending with a large number of possible outcomes. Some of these may be easy to handle, but others might seem like an incredible challenge. And, while we might be up for such challenges, it can be impractical, sometimes, to try and prepare ourselves for all the many outcomes we might feel ourselves anticipating. Reality can end up feeling like it could go many different ways. What, then, do we prepare ourselves to face?
One of the things that can be important to remember in moments of overwhelm, is that there may be many explanations for why things are as they are right now, but that some, or many, of those explanations may be false. After all, say someone is late to a dinner party. It could be that they were late because they don’t like the host. Or, maybe they got caught in traffic. Or, maybe they had an accident. But, without access to more information, the people at the party don’t what’s actually happening, and thus, how best to respond. They could end up thinking its one thing, then recognize the reality of another, then be caught between every imagined possibility, and become frozen, overwhelmed, and unable to act. However, if they knew this – there is always the response of trying to gather more information. And if they had more information, they might be able to handle the situation much more effectively.
The importance of information and learning
One of the important things about information is that it helps us to narrow down the possibilities. Instead of wondering what is actually going on, we then know it, and can respond to it more directly.
Imagine you see a person in distress and you want to help them. Without information as to why they are in distress, how would you know what to do? If you tried too many things, you might do more harm than good. But let’s say you talked to them and they were able to tell you that they were hungry – yes, it might still be a bit of a task for you to help them, but at least you’d be able to form an effective plan for action: to get food. You won’t have to spend time wondering, urgently trying to figure out the situation before something happened to this person, if in fact they were in danger, which is something else you might not know.
The above example also shines some light on how possibilities can lead to anxiety – when a situation is such that it might be urgent, you may find yourself scrambling to either address it or to find out enough so that you know whether or not it is urgent.
That said, here are a few of the ways we can gather information in life and help ourselves narrow the possibilities:
- testing, trial-and-error, or experimentation
- continuing our experiences
- beliefs (more on this later)
- and, in general, learning
One of the ways we can reduce our sense of overwhelm in life, and to try and narrow for ourselves the possible explanations for reality and our experience, is to try and hold beliefs. That is to say, we can claim something is true without actually knowing whether or not it’s true – beliefs don’t have to involve learning. In a way, beliefs protect us from feeling overwhelmed – but at the same time, it may limit our openness to learn and to be curious about what the truth behind our experiences actually is. And it may inhibit us from being able to make more informed choices in life.
Sometimes, then, questioning the things we thought were true – our beliefs – can be a distressing process. If what we thought was true might not be, then what else might be true? How might it change our lives? How do we actually figure it out at all? What if we continually fail to figure it out? What if it’s something we can’t necessarily figure out? How do we conduct our lives? What choices do we make? How do we move forward? – These kinds of questions could come up if a belief is questioned, and it may be difficult to deal with the even just the uncertainty of those questions, never mind how difficult it might be to find the answers.
But, over time, through questioning and opening ourselves up to the process of looking for the truth, we may find ourselves not only getting a better understanding of life, but also being able to make better choices, and perhaps solve problems that we may have been stuck on before, because we’re freeing up room in ourselves to look for the truth of how to resolve the problems in our lives. Possibilities, in that sense, can not just be overwhelming, but also empowering, because in exploring the possibilities, we may also find the truth. We can narrow down the possibilities, and reduce our overwhelm without having to lean on beliefs.
Despite trying to find out the possibilities in life, we may never fully eliminate certain ones. The nature of something in our lives may indeed be something we write off at an earlier point, thinking we learned that it wasn’t true. But by testing things against experience and remaining open to the challenge that comes when multiple explanations and possibilities emerge, we can still refine our sense of what is true. And while we may not always be able to say what the truth for sure is in every aspect, we can still gain a better and better sense of what is strongly probable, or of how things seem to be. And this can help us with things like the practical matter of what choices we will make, and to be a little more at ease with that process, and with taking action.
So, that’s all for now ^^ Drawing out this structure helped me gain some understanding of my own overwhelmed feelings, so I thought I’d share. Good luck to any of you who are going through something similar, and just in general, I hope this may be of help to you if at any point you feel overwhelmed or afraid, and would just like to have a better sense of what’s happening and how you might be able to respond to it. That’s not to say that what I wrote is 100% accurate, or that it captures complexities, of this issue, that I may know nothing about right now, but all the same, you can weigh this for yourself, and this perspective may prove to be helpful to consider as you’re finding your way, and feeling things out for yourself.
Take care, and be well,
Fear – The above structure seems integral in terms of what it tells us about how fear operates. We can fear the future possibilities due to our theories and ideas about why things are as they are, and about what they are.
Anxiety – Anxiety also seems illuminated by the above structure, because one can see how one might become anxious when it’s possible that there are urgent situations in the present with us. The more possibilities are open, the more anxious, and then overwhelmed, we might become, as we can seem to be at least potentially threatened from many places at once. And it can be hard to adequately prepare for all eventualities when the possible situations are not only complex, but demanding in terms of how much work it takes to be prepared for them in a way that we find satisfying.
Stress – Stress can also be seen as a form of overwhelm. The solutions in this article may help to inform positive ways of handling overwhelm: by reconnecting with that which is experienced within our in-the-moment awareness, and is at peace with not knowing for sure the reasons for any of it, but just takes note of everything it can.