Emotional Overload and the Messy Pile-Up

May 28, 2015
Emotional Overload

Oh, emotional overload. Feelings piled upon feelings piled upon feelings, until ka-boom!

Have you ever felt upset about something and you’re not sure why? So you feel a bit embarrassed for being upset at something so silly. And then on top of that you’re also confused about what you’re feeling, which makes you feel annoyed and even a bit angry. And then after a while you start feeling pretty overwhelmed and you’re not even sure where it all started, and your head starts spinning….

…because you’re caught in a messy pile-up of emotional overload.

For sensitive folks, emotional overload can happen due to our tendency to internalize our thoughts and feelings – which includes the feelings we have about our feelings. This presents itself as a messy pile-up of problems. Typically, the logical approach to dealing with messy problems in our day-to-day lives is to take it one step at a time – sort of like the way we might clean up after a house party.

Picture this: You’ve just thrown a huge party (which was a big hit, by the way) – but now everyone’s gone home and it’s just you left. Like a slap across the face, you’re confronted with the daunting mess left behind: littered around your house are beer bottles, wine bottles, beer cans, half eaten plates of food, plastic cups, etc.

Where do you begin?!

The easiest method of cleaning this up is to break the singularity of the mess up into categories of messes. Choose a category of mess, and then tackle it while ignoring the other categories of mess. Start with the beer bottles: walk around with an empty case and collect them. Once you’re finished that, move on to the wine bottles, and so forth. As each category of mess is cleaned up, you begin to feel lighter as a feeling of relief and order washes over you. You realize you’ve gained control over the mess, and then, before you know it, it’s all cleaned up.

The same, logical, step-by-step process should also work for emotional overload, right?


The major difference between cleaning up after a house party and unpacking your piled-up emotional overload is that, with the former mess, you can tackle each one separately, while the other messes sit off to the side. We can’t, however, set individual emotions to the side in the same way because they are all connected to each other.

Intense emotions are much more complex and interconnected things than other messes we come up against in life. This is something I’ve always known; however, it has only been in recent years that I’ve found an effective method of managing piled-up emotional overload.

And it’s completely the opposite of the after-a-house-party clean-up method.

How to Un-Pile Emotional Overload

Imagine that messy pile of emotions, and emotions about emotions, and emotions about the emotions that are about other emotions – imagine the whole lot of them is not a multi-layered, complex network of neurons firing every which way.

Instead, imagine that it’s all one, single, big fat emotion.

That overwhelmed feeling you have about the anger you’re feeling because you’re confused about why you’re upset about something so silly – regardless of what your emotional overload is all about, the important thing is this: it all comes from a single place in your mind.

It’s a single, solitary emotion.

And while you might not be able to clean that single emotion up right away, what you can do is try your hardest to set it to the side. You might have to go take a walk, or grab a quick nap, or sit in the bathtub in your clothes with the shower running.

Regardless of what you need to do, at the end of the day it’s easier to set a single emotion aside while you continue about your day, than it is to try to work around a complex, multilayered network of emotional overload.

Learning to Let Go of Emotional Overload

But what if it’s not true? What if there really is a seriously messed up network of complex emotions firing every which way through my head?

That may be true. It’s possible each individual emotion you’re feeling has a different set of chemical reactions in the brain. Totally, entirely possible.

But how does the possibility that your flooded with a mess of separate emotions help you to solve whatever the original issue is? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t help me at all. In fact, it makes it even worse because now I have another emotion to factor in: the why-can’t-I-figure-this-out-logically frustration emotion.

What I’m really talking about here is a shift in mindset, one that involves a pragmatic approach to managing difficult emotions. Choosing to approach your piled-up emotional overload as a single emotion isn’t easy at first. You might feel a bit like you’re betraying the truth about what you’re feeling.

But after a while, you’ll start to notice that the power your emotional overload has over you is lessened. Soon, it will become a habit – you’ll feel the emotions start to pile up on each other, and then you’ll turn and walk away from it (for now) until the enormity of it lessens into something you can work with.

Once you become an expert, you’ll be able to spot emotions piling up on each other before it even happens. And right away you’ll know that it’s not worth your energy and that no truth will be found within a mess of emotions.

So choose to see the mess of feelings as a single emotion, and then gently set it to the side – for now. Let it sit and cool off. Trust me: it will still be there tomorrow. And who knows: maybe the light of a new day will help you to see things clearer.

I know it does for me.

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