We all have times when things feel overwhelming. Whether it’s a specific part of our lives or life in general, it can feel like more than we can handle. During these moments, it’s hard to know where to start or if we’re even capable of getting through it.
This sense of having more to deal with than we can manage can come from a major life event or just from seeing the whole scope of a project and all there is to do at once. In response, our brain goes into survival mode, where creativity, resourcefulness, and the ability to strategize are sacrificed.
When it feels like it’s all too much, here are a few strategies to help make it manageable:
Focusing on the breath is a simple but effective tool when you get caught up in the enormity of something. Attending to your breath helps you to relax. Physiologically, when your breathing deepens and you relax, it sends a message to the brain that you are safe. It also brings more oxygen to the brain, allowing you to think more clearly. Bringing focus to your breath returns your attention to the present moment, where you can identify your next step.
2. Capture and Contain
For many people, writing down all the loose ends vying for attention can help create the mental space to actually think. Try jotting down all the things swimming around in your head that you “need to do.” Don’t stop there; once you’ve captured everything on paper, try drawing a box, circle, or other closed shape all the way around it. Our mind responds to visual information, and putting a container around these tasks sends a signal to the mind that this is a “complete set.” Otherwise, your mind will likely keep searching for—and offering up—more things you “need to” deal with. (Are you still breathing?)
3. Take Stock
Give yourself a moment to acknowledge the action you’ve already taken or set in motion. Make a quick list of the resources and skills you have available to you that will help. In some situations, it can be helpful to focus on what’s known right now (instead of what might happen).
4. Find a Bite-Sized Chunk
If you made a Capture and Contain list, you might have noticed that not everything on the list can be done now. Because of the natural order of things (this must happen before that) or because of where you are right now (for example, sitting in front of the computer and not out running errands), it’s likely that some items on the list aren’t ready to be done right now. For the moment, let those go. What’s one small thing you can do right now to take a step closer to getting one thing done? It might be finding a phone number, sending off a quick email, identifying a piece of needed information, or some other relatively small task. It’s OK to start with something easy.
5. Focus on the Very Next Step
There’s a bit of mental discipline required in staying with the very next step. Our mind can race down the path far ahead, noticing all of what must be done, the entire sequence, all at once. When you notice that your attention has wandered into the future, gently bring yourself back to the present by again returning to your breath. What’s your very next step?
6. Tap Your Resilience
Take a moment to think of a challenging time you’ve been through. Maybe it’s a situation where you or others were surprised at what you were capable of handling. Acknowledge yourself for having accomplished this, taking note of the skills and abilities you brought to the situation. Remember that you are capable of handling tremendous feats and difficulties.
We have the capacity and strength to overcome great obstacles and accomplish miracles. These strategies can help.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had your own personal adviser who could offer you valuable guidance on your most pressing questions? Well, you do!
Your wise self is available to counsel you each night in your dreams. You can ask for guidance in a particular area through a process called “dream incubation.”
The idea of asking for particular assistance or for healing in a dream is not new; it dates back to at least 6 century BCE in Ancient Greece and Rome. Those seeking a healing, diagnosis, or other guidance would sleep in the shrines at Ephesus or Pergamon in order to receive a dream from Asclepius or one of the other healing gods.
Since at least the 1930s scientists have been intrigued enough by dream incubation to conduct research studies on problem-solving in our sleep. Some of these studies involved giving subjects puzzles, brain-teasers, or even crossword puzzles to look at just before bed. About half of the 76 college student subjects in a study by Deirdre Barrett felt they succeeded at dreaming the solution. In this same study, asking a question of personal relevance was found to be more likely to get a dream reply than academic or puzzle questions.
You can incubate a dream for:
- Solutions to a problem: Scientific breakthroughs have come through dreams, such as chemist August Kekule’s dream of a snake biting its own tail prompting his discovery of the structure of the benzene ring.
- Inspiration on a creative project: The Surrealists are one example of a group of artists who used dreams as creative fodder for their art. The Bureau for Surrealist Research even started an archive for dream imagery. I’ve worked with clients who received entire songs in their sleep and I myself have received ideas for jewelry designs, other artwork, and writing.
- Visiting a loved one who has died: I have had several dreams visits from friends and family who I missed and asked to see.
- Guidance in a particular area of your life: Once while on a retreat where I was engaged in personal growth work, I asked for a dream to give me a status report: What had I accomplished? What was the next most important thing to focus on? I had 8 dreams that night!
- Direct healing: On one occasion when I had a nasty headache I asked for healing in my sleep. I dreamt of a ninja shooting me in the temple (the location of my headache) with an acupuncture needle that had a little wire with mild electrical current running through it. When I awoke the headache was gone.
Ready to try it for yourself? The instructions are simple:
- Before going to bed, you may want to place a visual reminder of your question on the nightstand beside the bed. This will help to remind you of your question when you wake up, increasing the chances of recalling any dreams.
- As you are falling asleep, repeat the question or request over and over to yourself.
- Upon waking, make note of any dreams, dream fragments, images, phrases, or a song in your head that you can remember from the night in your dream journal. Even if it doesn’t appear related at first, write it down anyway.
- Look over your dreams (or dream fragments, songs, memories, etc) from your dream journal to see what they might be saying in response to your question. You might want to talk over your dreams with a friend or professional to get a different perspective. You could also take your dream to a dream group or send it in to our radio show to be interpreted.
- The answer to your question may not come right away. Sometimes there are other subjects of greater importance for your dreams to address, or you may not remember any.
- Be on the lookout for the answer showing up in waking life, too. There can be a synchronicity or sign that stands out to you, such as overhearing a comment by someone else in line at the grocery store that’s relevant to the very question you asked.
You can on occasion incubate a dream without fully intending to, simply by thinking a lot about or speaking about a topic that’s on your mind. You can also incubate a dream to receive guidance for someone else.
I have found it quite empowering to be able to receive guidance on the questions that are close to my heart. Your own wise self is ready and willing to offer assistance with any area of your life. I hope you enjoy getting to know this part of yourself better.
True Radiance Healing Arts offers workshops and individual sessions for life coaching and healing in Edmonds, Wash. Owner and Healing Facilitator Susan Pullen has more than 20 years of experience in helping people with chronic pain, spiritual exploration, and getting unstuck. If you’re looking for help discovering your life purpose, contact us today!
Although our soul healing, family constellations, spiritual mentoring, and life coaching modalities can be a great complement to working with a healthcare provider or therapist, our work and the information here is in no way intended to substitute for proper medical or mental health care.
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True Radiance Healing Arts offers life coaching, family constellations, spiritual mentoring, energy work, shamanic healing,
and more in Edmonds, WA