3 Powerful Questions to Shift Out of Overwhelm


When I interviewed the amazing Deborah Lagasse (see Episode 1 of the Podcast), I was struck by the “three questions” she has relied on for years to get herself and her family through challenging times. In his thirties now, her son Tyler Lagasse still asks himself these questions when life seems out of control.

These are the 3 questions to ask yourself - and coach your kids to ask themselves - in a moment of overwhelm:

1)    Am I safe?

2)    Am I loved?

3)    Do I have choices?

Deb says if you can say “yes” to at least two of these questions, you’re okay.

The 3 questions seem super simple, but they pack serious power. Why do they work? I looked into it and was fascinated by what I learned. It turns out that the questions are based (at least loosely) on research in neuroscience. Each one addresses and soothes different brain states, enabling access to clearer, calmer thinking. Even if you ignore the neuroscience, they get to the heart of what really matters!

Here’s how each question works:

1) Am I safe? = Survival Mode

“Am I safe?” This is a fundamental question that addresses our most basic need for safety.

When we’re triggered by a threat (real or perceived), we go straight into survival mode. The reptilian base of the brain stem - which is ruled by fear - takes control. Our only responses become “fight, flight, or freeze”. There isn’t room for clear thinking until the threat disappears and/or we can calm ourselves and reclaim our brains. To be soothed, we first need to feel safe - physically and emotionally. Asking yourself this question is a good reminder to stop, notice what’s happening and do what you can to address it.

2) Am I loved? = Emotional State

When you’re caught up in your own difficult emotions, it can be all-consuming. In this state, it’s harder to have empathy or see things from another person’s point of view. The question “Am I loved?” reminds us first that we can always practice loving ourselves, even if it’s hard. It also reminds us to connect with others who love us. Love and connection help us shift out of tough emotional states so we feel supported.

3) Do I have choices? = Executive Function

Asking this question helps us consider that there are more ways than one to respond to a situation. Maybe there’s an option that didn’t immediately come to mind. Maybe the best choice is to do nothing! In an executive state, we are ready to problem-solve and learn. This is a kind of relaxed alertness that gives us access to our own inner brilliance. Considering whether we have choices puts us in a better position to respond skillfully to situations, rather than react automatically out of habit or in ways we might regret.

Shifting Out of Overwhelm

By asking yourself these three simple questions, you can become more aware of your own thoughts and emotions - and manage them better. When we self-regulate, we feel calmer and happier. We respond to tough situations in more optimal ways. And our kids pick up on that vibe and (eventually) learn do the same. Worth a try for sure.

Thanks to Deborah Lagasse for sharing this technique! You can check out our podcast conversation here.