What a tango dancer can teach you about shedding overwhelm

What do you do if you want to complete something that’s dear to you but you get so overcome with emotion that you feel like you won’t be able to?

Urgh! That’s so frustrating. The more so, the more the task you wanted to complete is close to your heart.

For some people it’s more depressing than frustrating. It kinda depends on how your temperament tends to react to setbacks.

Either way, if you feel things deeply, does it mean that your momentum has to be thwarted by intense emotions?

Intuitively you’ll know that the answer can’t be “yes” but how do you navigate a hijacking spike in inner intensity?

A client of mine discovered just that, well one way to navigate past overwhelming feelings, and it’s a delight to share her learning with you (with her permission).

When you are too full

This particular clients just looooves tango.

She has regular one to one lessons and – typically for a highly sensitive person – the experience results in much learning for her, not just about dance but about life.

One day, she was so full of the input she got in the lesson that she couldn’t imagine doing another practice dance.

Even though there was some time left and she really loves dancing.

She felt “drunk” and said so, expecting her teacher to call it a day. But on this occasion, he didn’t.

Instead, he speculated that overwhelm arose for her because she just kept receiving and receiving stimulation until she was overfull.

How the world overwhelms the sensitive

This is how the world overstimulates the sensitive.

There is so much going on in life, in the world. All the time.

If you have a sensitive system, what it likes doing best is deep, thorough processing.

But if you process EVERYTHING deeply, you become very full very easily.

Overfull, stopped in your tracks, it’s easy to conclude that:

1. There’s something amiss with you for not coping, or

2. There is something wrong with the situation, the other person, the world for tripping you up.

As you can imagine, these stressful conclusions only add to the overwhelming feeling.

When a new client comes to me, they are typically suffering by the consequences of one or the other of these assumptions.

Invariably, we discover that far from being helpful, these conclusions are simply not true.

Understand how your sensitive system works, and you get a handle on navigating this crazy world and the overwhelm that arises in response to it.

Strictly learn from dancing 🙂

My tango-loving client, discovered that she didn’t have to take overwhelm as a sign of weakness or the end of the road.

Her teacher noticed how her overwhelm came from her just receiving, keeping receiving until she was overfull.

So he invited her not to give up and do another dance but this time to pause receiving and do more “entering” into the space.

He said that as you claim the space, as you add “entering”/giving to the receiving, it brings back a healthy balance.

There is a high trust between that dance teacher and student so she gave his teaching a try.

Sure enough, as she stepped forward into the space, her overwhelm was… gone.

Simply does it

My client was surprised and delighted that overwhelm could just go and she didn’t have to be stopped in her tracks.

One moment she felt “too overwhelmed to do another dance” and ready to give up.

Next, she was able to return to enjoying dancing and it was as she put it “just right, a really beautiful experience”.

There is a simplicity to how my client managed to move on from overwhelm. She balanced over-receiving with “entering” into the experience and you can too.

Where are you staying too long in one mode and not noticing that you’ve lost your flow and are getting affected negatively by remaining? 

Returning to healthier balance

Neale Donald Walsch once remarked that it’s not that human beings are wrong but that we get THE VOLUME wrong.

What if there is nothing wrong with the world for buzzying with stimulation nor with you for having a more sensitive relationship to it than other people?

What if you don’t have to be zapped by overwhelm but could read its prompts to pause receiving when you’re getting too full?

Don’t get me wrong. A hedgehog’s way of retreating from too-muchness by retreating from the experience is valid because if you get overstimulated, you won’t be able to do anything much anyway.

In retreat, you’ll have space to naturally recover and become able to return to flow.

And sometimes, you’ll really want to keep dancing.

A key choice to make

For those times, and when it’s really important to be able to complete something, even if intense emotions come up, remember the teaching from tango to enter rather than withdraw when overwhelmed.

It’s not only an extrovert thing. You can step into the space in your own, subtle way.

But you do have an important choice to make when something is not working out.

You can continue with a mode that’s most natural to you but not effective in the moment (you know, to keep receiving the energy and process it deeply).

Or, you can step in a new direction and… enter the space with what YOU need and want.

I’ve been experimenting with this way of responding and really like what it enables in me. It’s not hard to do, just novel to remember that it’s also an option.

Now I wonder, which less-than-happy scenario in you life could benefit from what my client discovered?

PS. I got requests from readers to give more examples of “entering the space” so here are two scenarios:

  1. If you begin to feel overfull when listening to someone, notice and switch from receiving words to entering the space with words (bringing your needs into the moment too), e.g
    a) I’d love to sit with you in silence for a bit now, to help me digest the important things you’ve said. Do you mind doing that for a couple of minutes?”
    b) or, “Thanks for sharing this; I really need to think on what you shared before I respond and I’m rather thirsty too. Shall I make you a cuppa too?”
  2. When you are overfull when working at the computer or thinking about a client, get up and walk to a different location physically and act on your most immediate needs: perhaps a stretch, perhaps some fresh air, perhaps calling someone and asking if they were willing to listen to you voice YOUR feelings and needs for a few minutes.