Overwhelm: the sense of being overcome, buried, inundated or strongly at the effect of an external force.
For teens, the opportunities for feeling overwhelmed seem plentiful — from expectations at school to pressures in social groups, and more.
And for the teenagers who are acutely aware of everything around them — and often labeled as “highly sensitive” — overwhelm can show up in more extreme ways such as panic attacks, anger, depression, perfectionism, insecurity, headaches, or extreme withdrawal.
Because of this, we typically learn to view overwhelm negatively, as a sign of not coping, rather than a symptom of a level of astuteness or awareness that has not been acknowledged or explored.
There are actually great advantages to being highly aware, if we are willing to take a different perspective.
Here are three ways you can begin to shift your and your teen’s perspective and help them go beyond overwhelm.
3 ways to help your teen overcome overwhelm
Ask more questions
Being highly aware is the capacity to pick up information, thoughts, feeling and emotions from others, most of which is not actually relevant to you.
When a teenager is aware of every single thing around them — a stressed teacher, a tired and frustrated parent, kids that are anxious about failing exams — one thing they don’t often do is recognise that these thoughts and emotions they’re picking up on doesn’t actually belong to them.
Instead they take it all on, trying to cope with it, and becoming overwhelmed by it.
One way to help your teens acknowledge their awareness and come out of overwhelm, is to ask questions like:
- What are you aware of?
- Who does that belong to? Is it yours, or someone else’s?
- If you were truly being you, what would you like to choose here?
By asking them questions you will empower them to gain greater clarity on information they are getting from the people and things around them, and to look at overwhelm from a different angle, rather than just as a problem.
Interesting point of view
Teens have a lot of expectations and judgments projected onto them, whether from others or themselves (about the same number of judgements you probably have going on for you as the parent of a teen!).
The problem with buying into and sticking to judgments, no matter where they come from, is they make you choiceless. For example, if you decide that being a teen or having a teen is difficult, that is pretty much exactly what will show up for everyone.
For every point of view you have about your teen, about what they can and cannot be or do, think, “Interesting point of view I have this point of view.” And if you notice them having points of view about themselves, think, “Interesting point of view they have this point of view.” Repeat it in your mind until you don’t feel so committed to that point of view any more, or it becomes less significant or substantial.
Saying this statement, either out loud or in your head, is about realising that all judgements are just points of view that you don’t have to hold onto or let rule.
This is a very dynamic tool that both you and your teen can use to make space for a different scenario to show up. The more you choose “Interesting point of view,” the more space there will be for situations to alter and for teens (and you) to be themselves, rather than what everybody around them projects and expects of them.
“What is right about me I am not getting?”
Much of what creates overwhelm for teens is buying into external standards of who and what they should be.
Rather than explore their own capacities and what would work for them, they create an ideal of perfection based on other people’s points of view, and judge themselves harshly in comparison when they cannot achieve it.
Rather than trying to get it right by others standards, encourage your teen to ask, “What’s right about me I am not getting?”
Asking what’s right gets them to look at what is right about them on their own terms, and at what is different and brilliant about them that has nothing to do with looking to the outside world to assess and confirm their value and capacities.
It also encourages them to get out of judgement and wrongness and focus on being themselves, embracing their qualities, and even their flaws.
Changing overwhelm with your teens can be much easier when you start looking from a different angle.
What if overwhelm was just an indication that there was a different possibility available? Ask your teen questions that encourage them to access and acknowledge their capacities and difference as a gift and not a problem.
They are the leaders of the future, what if the only thing they require is to be empowered?