Are You Overwhelmed?

In the last blog, we looked at how pre-linking and post-linking can be used to deal with overwhelm. Of course, the trick with overwhelm is that once it gets a hold of you it’s easy to engage in destructive behaviors. To stop yourself from doing so, it helps if you recognize overwhelm for what it is (overwhelm) rather than all of the ways it manifests.

5 signs of overwhelm: not being able to focus on new info, forgetting things, lack of patience, responding emotionally and attempts to numb yourself.

Although all hyperlinkers share certain traits, we are also all different people with different complementary traits and very different coping mechanisms we’ve developed throughout our life. So naturally, overwhelm may manifest in very different ways in all of us. In this article, we’ll zoom in on overwhelm, what it’s really about and how you can recognize it.

A matter of resources

First – let’s quickly look at the nature of overwhelm. Why is it that we can sometimes spend days in experiences that energize us, while at other times we mainly feel stuck and exhausted after a single conversation?

Here’s a super quick and simple definition of overwhelm for you: overwhelm is when a task (any task) requires more of your mental resources than what you can spare.

Mental resources are all different, and then of course we all have different amounts of resources and we live through different situations, so naturally different things overwhelm different people at different moments.

The easiest way to look at resources is through the prism of role-playing games (either online or table-top, take your pick). If you’ve ever done them, you know that, depending on the character you play with, you get different strengths and skills, and possibly weaknesses too. Maybe you’re high in charisma but terrible in stealth, or maybe your character has a lot of points in learning new skills, but very few in combat.

In real life, we have a variety of mental skills at our disposal: memory, empathy, comprehension, patience, self-discipline/restraint, creativity, and so on.

Some of them are natural talents. We use them subconsciously.

Some of them are skills we had to develop, skills that take effort. Skills we use more consciously.

It’s a spectrum, really.

Depending on your level of overwhelm, you lose access to these resources. If you’re mildly overwhelmed, you first lose touch with the skills that take effort. The more overwhelmed you get, the harder it becomes to access any of the resources, including the ones that feel natural and easy.

What contributes to overwhelm?

Sometimes, it’s not clear why exactly you’re overwhelmed. You might find yourself thinking:

“How can I possibly be overwhelmed, I hardly do anything!”

And yet…

There are a lot of different things that may consume your mental resources without you really being aware of them. Here’s a couple of usual suspects (these too, may not all apply to you):

  1. Radically new situations. This is a big one for hyperlinkers. We rely on our existing mental models in order to cope. When a situation isn’t something we have a familiar frame of reference for, our brain rushes to fill the gaps. This takes energy! Yes, this also happens if the new situation is something that’s actually a lot of fun. Since many hyperlinkers love exploring the new, this is a particular challenge for us. We often try to cope by not committing: this helps us exercise a level of control through disengaging at any point in time.
  2. Upcoming changes. This is like a new situation, only worse since you don’t know exactly what the situation will be. More uncertainty, less control. In the back of your mind, worry starts to gnaw. Sometimes, in every other part of your mind, too.
  3. Ongoing input. This is a lot like a leak in your mind – you don’t feel being drained since it happens so slowly, but when your resources are *constantly* used, even slightly, you eventually find you don’t have any left to spare.
  4. Trying to please. This is a very big one that often remains unseen. Trying to guess what to do to please asks a lot of your resources in itself. On top of that, you need to reconcile the things you do for other people with your own values. That’s asking a lot of you as well.

There are many more things that can lead to overwhelm, such as important performances (from sports games to exams), new encounters (more social cues to decode), and self-criticism (after all, is there anything more draining than battling yourself in your mind all the time?)

Overwhelm vs. depression

If you look at the DSM-5 criteria for depression, you’ll find that overwhelm can be diagnosed as such. For instance, the following symptoms would be considered depression by DSM-5 criteria, though you can probably see how they can be a result of overwhelm.

In 2 consecutive weeks:

  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  • One other symptom that relates to sadness, such as a depressed mood or ongoing feelings of inadequacy (that can easily be caused by the other symptoms).
    (Source: DSM V)

Overall, it doesn’t really matter whether your overwhelm is labeled a depression or not, since there are many different treatments for depression. However, understanding why you feel the way you do may help your course-correct.

Common signals of overwhelm

Here’s a few typical behaviors and feelings that might indicate an overwhelm.

  • You struggle with paying attention to new information. Maybe it takes you several times to read a page or a message. Maybe you don’t really process what’s said to you in a conversation. Either way, this is a sign that your information intake is more than you can handle at this moment. And yes, it’s perfectly possible you’re still able to watch films and series since those generally don’t require you to put the information you’re getting into your mental model of the world.
  • You struggle with empathy. You simply can’t understand why this other person is acting the way they are, or have the needs that they have. As a consequence, you may try to limit your exposure to other people. This is not a great moment to deal with conflicts, since you likely won’t be very open to the perspective of your lover, colleague, or neighbor.
  • On the same note – your patience is lacking. Waiting can be very draining, whether you’re waiting for someone to make a point or for anything else. In conversations, you find yourself getting annoyed at the information flood coming your way. Can’t they just distill it all to a “Too long, didn’t listen”?
  • You attempt to take control of others. Others are unpredictable, so their behavior doesn’t help with your overwhelm. By trying to control either what they do in general or at least your interactions, you attempt to create security. Interestingly (or sadly) this can also be in a destructive way – conflicts and drama can feel very secure if they’re what you’re used to (read up on attachment styles for more info on how this works).
  • You forget things. Yes, memory overload is not just for computers. If you notice things are slipping through the cracks more than they used to, it’s possible that you’re asking too much of yourself.
  • You respond more emotionally than you normally would (and might feel guilty or ashamed afterward). The type of emotion will depend on you as a person and how you’re generally dealing with life. Maybe even slight issues feel like the world’s collapsing on you. Maybe you overreact towards your kid when they ask you a question. Maybe you act out angrily after an innocent remark from your partner.
  • You attempt to numb yourself. Numbing yourself – whether it’s with substances, physical activity, or Netflix – is a defense mechanism, a subconscious attempt to limit the drain of your mental resources. You engage in an activity that asks little of them to give them some time off. Of course, this may become a problem if you persist in the numbing, since it can be addictive, and isn’t providing you with a longer-term solution that actually makes you feel happy.

Your personal flavor of overwhelm

If you’re experiencing these symptoms (one, several, or all) it might help to ask yourself whether there are any factors that contribute to your overwhelm at this moment and how you can lighten your own load.

The resources you lose access to first greatly depend on the skills you had to develop to function as a human being.

For some hyperlinkers, these skills are about connecting to other people. They struggle with feeling empathy for others.

For others, the skills are more about self-restraint and discipline – they can’t get themselves off the couch and cook an actual meal.

Since we’re mainly a bunch that tends to be great at comprehending concepts and extrapolating them, these resources are usually the last to go. By the time we lose touch with our creative problem solving, our analytical skills, our intuition – we’re in deep.

Do you need to unload?

Check this article on dealing with overwhelm for some ideas on how you can use post-linking to declutter your mental resources a bit.