Dealing with Overwhelm

The best tip you will ever hear for dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed comes from a swimming survival technique known as “the Dead Man’s Float”…

Sometimes even the most capable people bite-off more than they can chew, or just find themselves somehow off-track and heading towards overwhelm.

In those cases, we can learn a lot from a survival swimming technique known as “the ‘Dead Man’s Float”.

This is a metaphor I use a lot with clients when they say things like:

“Exceptionally for me, I’m not really sure I can cope”

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with all the business as usual and make the changes I need”

“You know what, I realise for the first time, I’m actually feeling totally overwhelmed!”

If you’ve ever seen a panicked swimmer trying to stay afloat, you’ll know what this is about. In the fear of going under, they will thrash their arms and legs around with tremendous energy. But the problem is, thrashing about is the least-effective way of staying up – and actually creates turbulence that reduces buoyancy.

The Dead Man’s Float is a survival technique used for recovery, basically to stay afloat and rest enough to survive. The swimmer lies face down in water, arms and legs spread for balance, with minimal movement. Using the body’s natural buoyancy to float and lift the head only to breathe then back to floating.

The same technique can be used to deal with feelings of overwhelm at work:

  • stop thrashing around – it creates turbulence and makes things worse
  • stop expending massive amounts of energy from fear of going under – it’s a self-fulfilling, vicious circle
  • start using your natural buoyancy:
    • put your face down and relax your neck
    • be still and calm and rest your body
    • just see if it is possible to stay afloat without really trying

You might be surprised how buoyant you really are.


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