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Overwhelm: Ever feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs?

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

I ran across this old country saying while reading Art Hagen’s autobiography, “I Once Was a Cowboy – Sixty Years a Canadian Ranch Hand.”

Many of us, including myself, have experienced some level of being negatively overwhelmed in our lives.

Being overwhelmed can create anxiety in our minds. We feel unable to make decisions because of too many tasks. We can be irritable and worry constantly over the little things. We might feel forgetful, disorganized, or pessimistic. Overwhelm can interfere with our ability to focus and make good decisions. In essence, we don’t know which way to turn, just like the cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

But . . . did you know that there is another type of overwhelm? If not, you need to know it!

We can be overwhelmed by the emotion of “awe!”

Dacher Keltner, founding director at The Greater Good Science Center and awe researcher, defines awe as “a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”

Awe can be found in those vast, rare moments when we experience something that tugs at the edges of our perception trying to comprehend it. However, and maybe more importantly, awe can be experienced every day . . . if that is a choice we make.

Think about the simple light switch. It is an automatic reflex to flick the switch when we enter a dark room. We just expect that the light will come on every time. Here is one challenge for you: Think about the last time you flicked the switch. Start at a hydroelectric dam or a coal or gas-fired electricity-producing plant. Try to trace that small source of electricity from its very beginning and the many journeys and transformations it takes before it lights that bulb. I think you will feel the awe of that complex journey.

Here’s another challenge. On your next walk through someplace familiar, stop and focus on something you take for granted as you walk by it every day. It can be the height of a tree that you never noticed before. Or a crack in the sidewalk created by a tiny plant. We see these things but we don’t necessarily stop to think about them.

Eight Benefits of Awe

There is ample research that shows that awe can:

1. Make us happier and contribute to greater life satisfaction.

2. Make us care more about other people.

3. Increase our humility.

4. Make us think more critically.

5. Expand our perception of time.

6. Lead to less materialism.

7. Reduce stress and anxiety.

When you take time for awe, you stop thinking about yourself and any negative feelings that you might be feeling. Two minutes to stop and experience – try it!

What You Can Do

Teja Pattabhiraman, policy analyst at UC Berkely School of Public Health, suggests the following easy steps:

  1. Slow down.

  2. Appreciate your five senses.

  3. Unplug

  4. Take short awe walks.

  5. Linger in the feeling of awe.

  6. Journal how you feel.

Any of these can be done inside of 2-5 minutes and just about anywhere. And the payoff . . . well, let's just say it's huge!

So . . . you can choose the overwhelm of the long-tailed cat in the room full of rocking chairs or . . . . you can choose the much more positive overwhelm of awe!

As always, it's up to you!


About the Author

My name is Dana Couillard and I am the founder of Ripple Dynamics Inc. How and why people think, feel, and behave has always fascinated me. The impact of stress on individuals has been one of my driving forces. That led to the completion of an MA in Human Behavior, focusing on the impact of stress, anxiety, and depression on organizations and individuals.

As a result, I have become a long-time student of the various concepts of human behavior. As a professional educator, mentor, and award-winning author, I am able to bring the expertise and experience needed to truly help my clients transform their lives. Drawing on examples from my personal experience, I have mentored business owners, leaders and professionals on how to turn these perceived liabilities into assets. This experience stems from over 30 years of experience in the business, education, and not-for-profit sectors.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out and find out how we can collaborate on turning your stress from an overwhelming burden to the fuel that makes your productivity engine hum. Book a free 30-minute call (no obligation and no sales jargon) with me here:


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