Saturday, September 30, 2023

Feeling Overwhelmed? Why Our Latest Book Club Pick By Dr Brené Brown Is Here To Help

Welcome to Capsule’s book club! We’re SO excited to bring you a new book each month to devour and savour. Whether you indulge in a few hours of luxurious alone time each Sunday, or finish your day with a chapter or two, we invite you to relax and enjoy, and if you’re so inclined, connect with fellow Capsule readers and your own family and friends to have a yarn about the book you’ve just read. We’ll be mixing up the titles we feature every month, so you’re in for an eclectic monthly journey. If you need any more reading recommendations, click here for our previous book club instalments!

Atlas Of The Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience By Brené Brown

If you were to boil down everything we try and achieve at Capsule, and everything we tried to achieve in our many years of print journalism, the single biggest goal would be: connection. The best stories are the ones that make you feel less alone in the experience of your life and in this great period of disconnection – from each other, from ourselves – there’s little wonder why the topic of mental health has reached centre stage of our lives.

Maybe we’re born with it, maybe it’s the pandemic (the lesser known Maybelline tagline?) But either way, if you are someone who has struggled over the past two years, you are in very good company and you may have also stumbled across the work of Dr Brené Brown, a best-selling author and researcher who looks at why we are the way we are and why we communicate the way we do (e.g. quite often very badly).

All of this research has culminated in several globally successful books, two podcasts, a Netflix special and now this, Atlas Of The Heart, where Brené Brown and her research team map out 87 of our most important and common emotions – what they actually mean, what they mean to us, how they feel in our bodies and how they affect our experience in the world.

Are you surprised to learn there are 87 emotions you could possibly feel? Lord, same. But that is the beauty of this book, as it slowly unpicks the chaotic ball of string that makes up our brains and tells us why we feel what we feel.

It starts – as any good book released in 2021 should – in ‘Places We Go When Things Are Uncertain or Too Much,’ which covers stress, overwhelm, anxiety, worry, avoidance, excitement, dread, fear and vulnerability. Or as I like to call it, a week day (*finger guns*).

If pre-2020 times was everyone answering, “How are you?” with “SO BUSY!”, then this current world sees “I’m overwhelmed” as the new stock answer.

If pre-2020 times was everyone answering, “How are you?” with “SO BUSY!”, then this current world sees “I’m overwhelmed” as the new stock answer. But this is where the book starts immediately paying its dues, because as Brené Brown says – the words we use to describe our own situations matter as well. Because stress is one thing, but how we view our own stress is another.

As Brené writes, “High levels of perceived stress [emphasis my own] have been shown to correlate with more rapid ageing, decreased immune function, greater inflammatory processes, less sleep, and poorer health behaviours.”

The cure for overwhelm isn’t a plan, it’s literally doing nothing.

Overwhelm is so hard because it’s when we feel the most, well, overwhelmed by our emotions but we understand them the least, so it’s a straight-up terrible time to try and make decisions or think rationally. But in Atlas Of The Heart, Brené writes about first identifying the difference between stress and overwhelm, and what a huge difference that narrative shift can make to our understanding of what’s happening to us. She also writes about how to treat overwhelm – and why having someone ask, “What can I do to help?” is often the least helpful thing to ask.

The cure for overwhelm isn’t a plan, it’s literally doing nothing. That’s right – it’s taking yourself out of the situation completely and “engage in non-doing.” I cannot tell you the impact knowing this has made on my daily life and that’s just ONE emotion – there’s this much knowledge and understanding around the other 86 as well.

Would you like a deep dive on regret? Or comparison? Or jealousy? Perhaps you’d like to know the ins and outs of grief? Or shame? Or gratitude? The pandemic has left a lot of us unable to plan or look forward to things, because we’re so used to events being cancelled at the last moment. That’s where the chapter on ‘Foreboding Joy’ will tell you what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.

“No emotion is more frightening than joy, because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster.”

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding,” Brené Brown writes. “No emotion is more frightening than joy, because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster. We start dress-rehearsing tragedy in the best moments of our lives in order to stop vulnerability from beating us to the punch.”


If you have felt lonely, confused, sad or scared more than you’d like over the past few years and you are looking for a warm, wise person to help you disentangle all those emotions, this book is a great place to start. Brené Brown’s superpower is managing to be an incredibly intelligent and experienced social researcher, who is able to deliver complex information – that is often completely contradictory to the stories we tell ourselves – as if she is your warm older sister. This would be a great book to suggest at your next book club, because boy, will it kick off some interesting discussions!

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