Commentary – Overwhelmed, but not defeated

Pearl Lorentzen

In the movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, a character asks something along the lines of, “I know you can be overwhelmed and underwhelmed, but can you just be whelmed?”
The answer in the film is, “I think you can in Europe.”
However, Merriam-Webster Dictionary has a different answer. Yes, whelmed and overwhelmed are synonyms.
Merriam-Webster adds, “Since their appearance in the 14th century, however, overwhelm has won over English speakers who have come to largely prefer it to whelm, despite the latter’s brevity. Perhaps the emphatic redundancy of overwhelm makes it seem like the more fitting word for describing the experience of being overcome by powerful forces or feelings.”
Under ‘whelmed’ it adds, “After folks started using a third word, underwhelmed, for ‘unimpressed,’ whelmed began popping up with the meaning ‘moderately impressed.’”
Last year, the focus of Mental Health Week in May was on naming and accepting emotions.
Sometimes the best way to define my emotion is as ‘overwhelmed.’
Merriam-Webster lists several synonyms of overwhelm: crush, devastate, floor, grind [down], oppress, overcome, overmaster, overpower, prostrate, snow under, swamp, and whelm.
Left unchecked, any thought, emotion, or task can feel like it exerts all of the above.
However, that doesn’t mean this feeling of being overwhelmed has to win. Identifying the emotion is the first step. Then I reflect about the source. Often the things which overwhelm me aren’t that big. I feel overwhelmed by their cumulative weight and the value I’m placing on them.
Sometimes the triggers are tasks. I like to be busy and doing things. However, sometimes tasks overwhelm me. My first recourse is to take a break. If I’m still anxious after I have rested, I choose the least scary task to do first. Sometimes this gets me over the hump, but other times I’ve just taken on too much and need to let some things go.
If I ignore a sense of being overwhelmed too long, I get to the point where it feels like my brain isn’t working.
My first year at the Lakeside Leader, the McMillan Wildfire burned the forest between Marten Beach and Wabasca. It was the largest wildfire in the Slave Lake Forest Area. After it was basically out, I had the opportunity to go out on the fire in a Hagglund [a two-piece enclosed all-terrain vehicle on tracks]. It was a full day of new experiences and not quite enough food. When I got back to the office, people asked how it was?
My answer was non-committal. My body was tired. My mind was overwhelmed by everything I had seen. There were probably some emotions involved, but mostly it was just information and sensory
overload.
Thankfully, supper and resting that evening was enough to recharge my body and brain. By the next morning, I chose photos, wrote cutlines, and was none the worse for wear.
However, had I not recognized my need to rest it could have become an issue.
When I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that with care and reflection, I can identify the source and take steps to modify my reaction to it.

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