The Overwhelm Ladder and the Deep Dark Hole

I’ve been asked to revisit the March 24 post on overwhelm, When It’s All Too Much. In that post, I focused on how to explore your tendencies and then experiment with new approaches to overwhelm. This week, another tool I’ve found useful: the overwhelm spectrum.

The Overwhelm Spectrum

Imagine one end of the overwhelm spectrum: thinking about the day to come, and feeling complete overwhelm.

Here’s what that might look like for me: the dishes are piled up, the laundry isn’t done, I haven’t been able to focus at work in a week, I’m still getting over a cold, my niece/spouse/housemate/colleague is angry at me, exercise is but a dim memory, and the gremlins (“What do you know, anyway?”; “You’ll never succeed at x,”; “No one cares what you have to say!”) show up.

Now imagine the opposite end of the spectrum:


I see a sunny day, a light breeze, popsicles, relaxation, ease, all the time in the world.

Now, back to the first end of the spectrum and… ack! Even thinking about the warm sunny day is overwhelming to me right now, because it feels so far away and impossible!

And that, I think, is where we often get stuck.

The Overwhelm Ladder and the Deep Dark Hole

From the place of complete overwhelm, getting to the warm sunny day feels like a gruelling climb out from the bottom of a deep, dark hole, and I’ve got no energy for it.

So, the trick is to map out my overwhelm spectrum, with attention to all the points in between both ends.

If I’m too overwhelmed to climb all the way out of the deep dark hole to the warm sunny day, okay. But what if I could climb just one rung up the ladder?

What’s one rung up from complete overwhelm?

For me, it might be exactly the same scenario as overwhelm, except I feel less exhausted. (What would it be for you?)

So instead of trying to get myself entirely out of the overwhelm hole, I’ll do what I need to do to get one rung up – I’ll take a nap.

Maybe the next day I’ll think: What’s one more rung up the ladder? 

My next rung might be: completely overwhelmed, but I’m less exhausted, and I was able to focus for one hour. (What would it be for you?)

And so on… you get the picture.

When you’re completely overwhelmed, thinking about how to get out of overwhelm is… overwhelming. But thinking about how to feel one small ladder step less overwhelmed is manageable.

Start there, and see where it takes you.




  1. Arlene Clark says:

    Thank you Laura,
    I always count on you to point me in the right direction and I know I can rely on you to support me through the journey.