Overwhelmed Due to Paralyzing Emotions or PTSD?

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“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?” ~ Mary Manin Morrissey

 

I think many of us have experienced situations in which we were so petrified of what might happen that we literally could not move, let alone breathe properly.

One of the first times I can remember this happening to me was when I was about three years old.

I was in my bedroom late at night and I actually saw ghosts of soldiers marching up and down the hallway outside of my cracked open bedroom door. I still swear to this day that they were real.

I was wide awake and concentrated on making myself as small as I could and breathing as shallow as was feasible, lest they see me and find me. I found myself overwhelmed with fear and not knowing how to solve this problem.

I wanted nothing more badly than to run down the hall to my parent’s bedroom to be comforted, but it was the same long hallway that the gun toting, marching soldiers were occupying. And I had a strong intuitive feeling they did not want to be bothered or be seen by me. And I certainly did not want to get close to them.

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So there I lay—afraid to even make the small movement of closing my eyes. I was engulfed in the crushing terror of being without a good solution to my problem.

The soldiers showed up on more than one occasion, but I never told my parents, lest the brigade would find me out and become angry with me for telling anyone.

Looking back, I might chalk this experience up to a child’s imagination, but I refuse to discount my feelings that were so very real at that time. Whatever it was that I saw through my eyes and/or my brain during those nights was genuine, and I would never want to dishonor my truth at any age.

Fast forward from age three into adulthood—I have had these petrified feelings many more times since then. And, I know many others have had them too.

For me, it feels like a cold white heat in my chest, with the inability to inhale a full breath. Many would call this incident a panic attack, but I’m choosing not to label my experiences at this time.

These mind-sets have settled upon me on many occasions throughout my 45 years—some for good reason (like the time I was shot at by my friend’s crazy neighbor or after my father’s suicide) and some for seemingly lesser reasons (such as when I have become weighed down and felt that I could not get out of bed to save my life). No matter what the reason, my body’s physical reaction has been similar, and I know many others who can relate. In my case, this is caused by delayed-onset PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

I have learned some tricks along the way to ease the pain of these frozen feelings: And yes, I have been to therapy (a lot) and have read many books on dealing with how to dig my way out of the holes that I feel stuck in and situations I feel threatened by.

Here is what I have learned:

1. When I am in Complete Emotional Overwhelm.

I get this way more often than I care to admit. Some days, even getting out of bed or taking a shower feels like a huge chore. So, there I sit, frozen in my own self appointed jail cell called my bed.

This usually happens when I haven’t had enough sleep, am hungry, or have been over committing myself.

When I feel this way, I tell myself that my thoughts are only temporary visitors and that I will feel differently in the future. This actually helps at times as I know that change is really the only thing during life that can be absolutely counted on.

Sometimes talking with a good friend or family member can help as well.

Having contact with a loved one that can talk us down out of our frenzy and tell us to take care of ourselves or simply that they care about us is invaluable and gives us the feeling that we are not alone and are loved even with our imperfections.

2. Big, Unappealing Projects that Need to Be Finished.

This is a really hard one for me to deal with.

For example—I look around my messy room and know that it needs to be organized, but I can’t find a starting point, so I just don’t begin at all and shut the idea out of my mind as it is just too overwhelming.

This happens with paying bills, sending out holiday cards, exercising, doing laundry, running errands, and packing for a vacation, etc. Maybe it’s just me who gets undone by doing these seemingly easy tasks, but I hear that this is a fairly common affliction.

When I am in a predicament like one of these, the most helpful practice that I can do is to write a list and break down what seems to be a gargantuan task into smaller ones—such as: file bills, do one load of laundry, or clean out a single drawer or shelf in the linen closet.

Often when I do one item on my list, I surprise myself and get much more done than I was planning to.

A small task finished can turn into a feeling of accomplishment that becomes similar to a slightly addictive game. And when you are winning it sure feels good to keep ‘playing’.

Small actions, no matter how little, seem to fill me with energy to tackle at least a smidgen more on most days.

And on the days when I just do a tiny amount, I try to congratulate myself for doing even the smallest amount that might not have otherwise gotten done. Yes, I actually go ahead and thank myself!

I also try to be kind to myself on days that I just can’t get motivated. I figure that this is part of the universe’s plan for me and it is okay.

3. Let the Fear All Out!

Cry, yell, laugh at yourself and write down what is bothering you. Calling a supportive friend and sharing with them how you are feeling can work like magic as well. I sense a bit of comfort if I take even just one of these measures to end my procrastination.

I have found that for me, many of the emotions connected to overwhelming feelings are rooted in fear and are easier and more comfortable to deal with if I avoid sticking my head in the sand instead of dealing with my issues. Even if it is a minute at time.

Fear can be a scary, nasty beast and oftentimes it is not understood that fear is the precise root cause of being hurt, sad, lonely, or for feeling downright confusingly uncomfortable and overwhelmed.

Keep an open mind to the possibility that ‘it’ may not be as bad as you think. At least try it out for a few minutes—you may surprise yourself!

And I will close with this most excellent quote—I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“Once you realize that your emotions that are keeping you from being productive are based in fear, you know what you are up against and can take steps to conquer them. No one said that life was going to be easy, life is the hardest thing there is, but you learn through it all. Whether you’re making mistakes or living in the happiest moment in your life, there will be difficulties and you have to believe in yourself that you can succeed through it all. No one is holding you back but yourself.”

~ Unknown

***A similar version of this was originally published at the elephant journal where many inspiring articles can be found!***

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