The Pain of Overwhelm: Using the "Control, Influence, Adapt" Framework to Reclaim our Power

The Pain of Overwhelm: Using the “Control, Influence, Adapt” Framework to Reclaim our Power


by Elizabeth Lucas-Averett

Overwhelm (in verb form) means “to bury or drown beneath a huge mass, to defeat completely, or to inundate.”

Often what we mean when we say we “feel overwhelmed,” is to say that we are in a state of despair by all that we need to do, or by all that we are feeling, or by all that we are supposed to do (and don’t know where to start).

You may be in a state of overwhelm created by a myriad of factors that demand your time and energy. Maybe it’s parenting, or working, or managing a household, or too many projects… or, too many businesses! Maybe you are overwhelmed by your financial state, your relationship, or the general feeling that you could be doing more, accomplishing more…

Perhaps you’re falling prey to misconceptions of your own worth, and you are overwhelmed by your need to meet a certain standard for the way you look or show up in this world. Or you may feel overwhelmed by the pain you see every day, and that you feel powerless to stop.

Current events, injustices, the lack of fairness and equity that are prevalent in our culture… Does your internal radar ping at any of these?

Overwhelm keeps us small.

As long as we are crushed underneath the weight of a thing, we are right where the oppressive weight wants us to be. Flat out, pinned to the floor. Overwhelm robs us of our power by robbing us of our mobility. We cannot move forward. We are held in place by the oppressive weight on our back. And so, we despair.

Despair can be paralytic. Despair says “I don’t know WHAT to do here, so I shall do nothing.” That despair robs us of our power, too.

Overwhelm robs us of our power by robbing us of our mobility.

Many women experience this cycle of overwhelm, despair, and paralysis. As a speaker, coach, and passionate believer in self-actualization, in these moments, I am moved to remind us of who we are, and what we’re capable of when we recognize our own power. We are not here to be crushed under the weight of our own overwhelm, or by the despair we may feel when we look at the world.

To address this, it’s useful to consider a new lens through which we can view our circumstances. That lens comprises the comparative concepts of CONTROL vs. INFLUENCE vs. ACCEPTANCE.



Experience has taught me time and time again that I control so much less than I used to believe that I could. Here’s a short list of things I thought at one time or another that I could control, at least in part:

  • What people thought of me
  • How smart, or capable, or worthy people thought I was
  • Whether my social group would accept me
  • How my partner in life might act, think or feel
  • How my career would unfold, and on what timeline
  • How my children would develop and whom they would become
  • How my body would respond to different food regimes, exercise, and various treatments that were intended to control it

The list goes on and on and on.

The reality is that, while there are some things that we can control, there are far more that we cannot.


If you cannot control the thing, I ask you, can you influence it? My observation personally and professionally is that we think we can control so many more things than we can, and we wildly underestimate the amount of influence that we do have.

I cannot control the world’s economies. I cannot control the world’s systemic injustices. I cannot control what happens in the media, what comes out of other people’s mouths, or how my now-adult children operate in this world. Nope… but where do I have INFLUENCE? And, what can I do with that influence?

I cannot change other people, but I can lead by example. I can speak up. I can use my money a certain way. I can read a thing, I can teach a thing, I can start a conversation, I can end a conversation. I can examine my influence in my own home – what about my neighborhood, my community, my country, the world?

News flash – if you’re alive, you’re an influencer. Can you write, can you speak, can you create something that matters to you? Do you have a passion that you can pursue? Because if you have that passion, my friend, that is where you will have influence.

Where do you have influence? Where is your influence needed?


Ok, you say. I know there are some things I cannot control, but I do in fact have influence. But sometimes life comes at you hard, and not only do you not have one iota of control, but truly you have no influence. Let’s call these circumstances “hurricanes.”

A hurricane is a force well beyond your control. It is happening around you and to you. It is from somewhere else, it will stay as long as it likes, it will do what it wants to do. This might be a) an actual hurricane, or perhaps, b) an illness, a world event, an injustice, or a condition of human existence. Maybe it’s a rejection or a closed door of some kind.

Or maybe it’s in human form.… disloyalty, a death, a divorce that you didn’t see coming. Maybe it’s a job crisis or – who knows – a worldwide pandemic with universal economic implications.

There are a multitude of hurricanes in our lives, and we would be hard-pressed to contain them, much less control them. So that’s it then? If I can’t control it, I can’t influence it, I must ACCEPT it. I must adapt.

This isn’t great news if that’s where it was to end. That powerlessness carries us back to overwhelm, and back to anxiety, despair, sadness …whatever feeling you tend to feel when you lose your power.

When you open your eyes to your own power, you can truly dismantle the overwhelm, you can break it up, take it apart, and handle it.

But here is the powerful truth: Your sphere of influence is so much greater when you realize the power that you do have, regardless of circumstance.

When you have to adapt to something beyond your control or influence, how you adapt is your power.

What does that mean? It means that even in the face of circumstances you cannot control, nor influence, you can determine HOW you will accept and adapt.

“Success in almost any endeavor is made possible not by the circumstances, but by malleable factors, we can actually change with effort and intention.”

*by Brendon Burchard, High Performance Habits


Consider these few examples of your influence right in the eye of the storm, as inspired by Burchard’s “High-Performance Habits.” You get to choose:

  • The mindset you choose to adopt
  • The language you use with others and yourself
  • The amount you focus on any single thing
  • The way in which you strive for your goals
  • The way you take care of your physical body
  • How and how much do you demonstrate resilience
  • The way you treat others
  • How open or closed you choose to be – your heart, your eyes, your mind

What is that thing that is creating overwhelm for you right now?

Is it money? Your career? A relationship? a disordered relationship with your own body? A diagnosis? Is it an environment of tension or hurt or resentment? Is it injustice or unfairness?

Whatever it may be:

Where do you have control?

Where do you have influence?

Where must you accept and adapt?

I want to remind you of your great power no matter what your particular hurricane is right now. The next time those feelings of overwhelm creep in, try taking a step back, get curious, and consider:

  • Where do lack control, but you have more influence than you realized?
  • Where is your influence needed? What can you do with that influence?
  • Where are you trying to control, but you need to accept and adapt?
  • Inside of that accepting/adapting, over what factors do you have influence?

Even in the most challenging of times, in almost any context, your sphere of influence is so much greater than the despair of overwhelm would have you believe.

About Ella

Elizabeth (Ella) Lucas-Averett

Elizabeth Lucas-Averett is Managing Partner of The Trivista Group, a strategic communications consulting firm that she co-founded in 2003, a professional speaker, host of the On Air with Ella podcast, and a founding member of CHIEF Washington D.C.

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