When life feels overwhelming

Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. Ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what is happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.
— anonymous

When Life Gets Overwhelming

Overwhelm and I are great friends - but until the last year or so, the friendship wasn't healthy. I can't even count the number of times I've sat on the couch or in my bed for hours - days - too overwhelmed to move, typing "life is so overwhelming" in the search bar of Pinterest hoping to find a quote (or someone) that might understand. Being overwhelmed was my default and I got trapped in it. But what I've learned since taking control of my energy, and getting accountable for my life and how I want to live, is that while overwhelm is part of this human life - it's a beautiful way our bodies tells us to slow down and reassess - spending too much time indulging in the feeling of overwhelm is a waste of this life I was given.

Overwhelm is meant to guide us to our next steps, not immobilize us so we can't take any.

Though I don't spend as much time overwhelmed these days, from time to time the feeling rears its sensitive head. This past weekend being one of those times. I just couldn't get out of my own way. I slept in until 11 and went back to bed at 12. When I woke up again at 7 I took a bath and decided to 'just try again tomorrow' - I was overwhelmed and I was immobilized and when I woke up the next day I had a decision to sulk in it or move myself through it... and I chose the latter because being overwhelmed is a choice. 

We don't have control over what happens in our lives but we sure as heck have control over how we react. And since overwhelm is a reaction to life's situations, we have control over whether or not we feel it.

If a similar 'life is so overwhelming' search brought you here, I want to first say, I get you. What you are experiencing is valid - this world is complicated and cruel and there are a lot of expectations that don't align with those with sensitive hearts and needs that fall outside the norm. We aren't robots. We care and that means we get overwhelmed. We have unique needs and that means we get overwhelmed. It would be odd if we didn't. The second thing I want to tell you is that even though being overwhelmed is normal, staying overwhelmed doesn't have to be your norm. You have the ability to choose how you feel in every single moment no matter how overwhelming life might be. But that takes accountability. It takes getting out of your own way.

And because we know it's not easy to be accountable and get out of your own way when you are drowning in a messy life situation, I wanted to share a step-by-step for how I pulled myself through this weekend. If you are where I was - on the couch feeling like you can't possibly take one tiny step forward even though you wish you could, just do #1. The rest will follow naturally.

1. I took a REALLY deep breath.

When the world feels heavy, I take a deep breath. But not just any breath, I take a conscious breath where I make sure my belly pushes out when I breathe in and my belly falls in when I breathe out. This type of breath centers me enough to take a second. After about five - six breaths I am in a space to think consciously about my next moves.

2. My next move being to question what was going on in my life to make me feel the way I was feeling.

Because even if I don't have the answer right away, asking this question helps me realize that I'm not ill, flawed, disappointing or worthless for not feeling my best. This question gets my mind thinking about my life and where I have energy invested in something that is not in my best interest. This weekend it was about relationships but usually it's a mindset. This weekend I was trying to be too many things to too many people and embracing the idea that feeling overwhelmed was for a reason put things into perspective and gave me space the insight I needed to regain control. 

3. Which is the next step, because control is everything.

We feel overwhelmed when we feel we don't have control, be it when we feel we have to do something we don't want to do, when we feel limited by money, resources, expertise, when we feel incapable because of our mood. Whatever the reason, when we feel overwhelmed we are giving our power to something external to us. This weekend I was overwhelmed because I was giving my power to other people in my life; I was trying to accommodate them by living my life on their schedules. I was also giving away my power to my tendency to want to retreat to my bed when life gets hard. Of course I couldn't get out of my slump, I'm sensitive and being sensitive means having a greater need to escape, lay low and recharge - which it does, to a point. After that point though, needing to escape, lay low and recharge becomes a way of avoiding responsibility and remaining powerless. 

4. Then I built momentum.

By visualizing the energy I put into those external things (other people and my 'need' to escape when overwhelmed) coming back into my body. Once the energy was back in my control I made the decision to do one small thing from a list I've made of things I enjoy doing. For me that was listening to a new favourite song and then walking myself to a local juice bar. If you're reading this in the midst of feeling overwhelmed, you probably don't have a list handy, so you can try some of mine (texting one of my empathic friends, touching my feet to soil or just laying out flat on the floor) or do some of these listed here. What you'll notice once you make the jump to doing ONE of these things is that you'll have energy to do another, and then another and then another, because that's how energy works. Positive energy follows positive energy. Doing something that makes you feel good (or even just a tiny bit better) is how you create momentum to feel better and better. 

5. Finally I took action.

Because doing step 1-4 (breathing, identifying where I was losing power, regaining my power, and building momentum) put me into a space where I could. When we feel overwhelmed we usually know what it is we need to do next. We need to cancel a plan, make a plan, write that e-mail, apply for that job, make that choice, set that boundary, get to the gym, we just don't have the headspace or energy to realize it or follow through. And that's normal. So, so normal. After listening to a new favourite song and getting myself to the juice bar I was able to cancel a date I had planned for later that night. From there I was able to make plans to spend time with myself and write out my to-do list for the week ahead, reducing my overwhelm and helping me feel better. Then I wrote two blog posts (to post when the time is right) and got myself into my cozy bed at a reasonable time. One thing lead to another and when I looked back on my day, and where I was a few hours earlier, I was amazed at everything I accomplished because I made the decision to just take a breath.

Struggle with self-care?

I send a weekly self-care reminder every Wednesday with real-life tips for putting you (and your energy) first.

Excited to have you! Powered by ConvertKit


We aren't meant to go from 0-100, we are meant to go from 0-5, 5-15,15-35... until we get to 100. And its really important we acknowledge this, especially when we are laying in our bed or sitting on our couch feeling like it's all too much. We don't dive into exercise without first warming up, and we all have that coffee addiction (or morning ritual) so we have a few minutes to get going with the day. We also don't often just close our eyes to sleep. We read or look at our phones (my bad habit) or have a gentle conversation. Human beings need to ease in. Thinking we don't is the result of our hustle culture and we need to remember that when we feel overwhelmed, especially as sensitive people who can't hustle no matter how hard we try. We can't get out of overwhelm with a snap of our fingers (well we can, but it's only because we go from step 1-5 really fast) and thinking we are somehow flawed for our inability to do so makes the overwhelm worse. 

When you feel stuck in overwhelm, try not to get down on yourself. Instead of ruminating on how much you need to do/aren't doing, or how weighed down you are about what it is you need to do, take a breath. Then another breath and when you're ready, ask yourself 'where is my power' - then go get it back so you can build momentum and move yourself through that feeling that was only ever meant to guide you to make change.