Sarah Boyd


The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation

The Neuroscience Of Overwhelm (& How To Avoid It)

Feeling overwhelmed? Well you’re not alone. Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of life and career is one of the biggest problems leaders report. There are so many different areas of life and leadership to juggle and navigate that often leads us to feel like it is all too much to handle.

(Image credit @jshnaaa)

(Image credit @jshnaaa)

Understanding some things about how your brain has been designed to work can significantly help you escape from extended feelings of overwhelm and recover quicker from it.

There is one part of your brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that is in charge of all your conscious thinking. It is what is activated during:

* Setting goals

* Planning

* Controlling impulses

* Solving problems

* Visualizing or imagining

* Creative thinking

* Thinking things through

Although we may like to think of ourselves as machines and can power through anything, the pre-frontal cortex is more like a re-chargeable battery (you may be familiar with that craze from the 90’s). It only has a limited amount of power before it requires to be recharged again. 

That’s why we use phrases like “my brain’s fried” or “baby brain” when the baby is now at school. Its why we forget to pick up milk & bread on the way home from work after a big meeting.

If you ever feel like you just can’t remember things like you used to, more likely it is because you are navigating a more complex life and your brain (specifically pre-frontal cortex) has run out of power.

The pre-frontal cortex uses oxygen and glucose as it’s power. One sign that your brain has currently run out of power for your current activities is sugar cravings. Another sign is you start to feel sleepy or tired. This is actually your brain shutting down.

Your brain will recharge when it has sleep, oxygen (exercise or deep breathing), water, food or time disengaging with conscious thinking activities. Automatic activities (things we can do without thinking) also are recharging because they are run from a different part of the brain.


Your brain is freshest in the morning or after exercise. 

One of the best ways to work with your brain and optimise its limited power is to work on what is the most important first thing in the morning or after exercise.

Another way to work with your brain is to write everything down. Stop trying to remember details of life. Once something is written down, your brain doesn’t need to maintain that detail in its consciousness anymore.

Overall, give up trying to ‘push through’ and make your brain work without breaks – its not designed to do that. Give yourself permission to work with your brain and do intervals of working hard and then having ‘brain breaks’.


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The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation.