“Everything is going so well! I don’t understand why I am upset,” my client said in a deeply troubled voice. He had risen through a remarkably difficult divorce and was now finding new ways to enjoy his life with family and friends. Each week there would be activities to try and fresh people to enjoy. He had survived a hellish divorce and everything, including his career, was swinging in the best of directions. He could not understand why he felt like he was on the verge of melting down.
Regardless of life being at a challenging point or a place where we think we’ve got it all swinging to our tune, we can hit a saturation point. When we come to this place, we experience a feeling of being overwhelmed. It is all too much … because it IS too much.
A saturation point doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It just simply means that it is all we can hold at the moment. Think of a sponge. It can only hold so much liquid. The absorption point hits a limit and it starts to seep. We also hit a point when we cannot do or be more.
Challenging the Drip, Drip, Drip
When things are rough, there is an automatic understanding that we are having “a hard time.” Yet, even with that, we tend to want to measure it and look at individual events instead of the culmination of the feelings over time. For example – the car light came on. That isn’t the worst thing in the world, but then there was a conflict with management at work, and then the teacher called about your kid’s behavior at school. None of these experiences in isolation are overwhelming, but the aggregate of the experiences pushes us past the saturation point.
Suddenly, we find ourselves crying in Target because they’re out of our brand of soap.
What really helps is if we put things in context. I like to call this the “root canal effect.” If I’ve just gotten back from the dentist after oral surgery and you ask me how I’m doing, I might say – fine. Yes, I’m fine for having had oral surgery, but please consider that the meds must be affecting my judgment if I tell you I’m ready for a steak dinner. Being “fine” only means that the surgery went well and I’ll be drinking smoothies for a couple of days. The same holds true for what is happening in our lives. If I measure how I am doing in comparison to my ideal state, then I am in for a breakdown. If I measure myself within the context of what I’ve experienced, I can make more rational and logical steps to take care.
Enough of all the Joy, Joy, Joy
Even really great, happy life events can overwhelm us and push us past our saturation points. Perhaps you’ve started your dream job, found the perfect house in a new neighborhood, and your friends are calling you to meet up for happy hour. All of these are wonderful, but if you’re trying to do them all at once, it will push you past the saturation point. You’ll begin to feel overwhelmed and stressed. It is great to celebrate the successes of life, but it can be like trying to go from one party to the next. Even too many fun parties push us past what we can enjoy, and we’ll find ourselves ready to have a quiet evening alone in pajamas on the couch.
The Balance Solution
The only solution to being overwhelmed, and passing our saturation point, is to take a step back. This solution seems simple but is often overlooked. Quiet space, and time to withdraw and figure out the context for what is happening, is often the best cure to too much of anything.
Whether it is the drip, drip, drip of petty challenges or a string of successes – “too much” just means that you need time to absorb it all.
Take a break. Take a moment to process it all. When you expel a bit of life, you can once again re-enter and absorb the next round of what life offers you.