My Recipe for Overwhelm

My Recipe for Overwhelm

One of the most popular videos I’ve ever recorded was on Running a Business as a HSP (highly sensitive person).  So many people replied to say that the video had hit a chord with them.  It either helped them to realise that they are an HSP and to finally see why they struggle with certain things that others may take in their stride or provided a valuable reminder that as an HSP  it’s important to understand and honour who you are in business instead of trying to do things like “someone else”. If you didn’t see it, you can watch it here:   Running a Business as an HSP

One of the things I talked about in that video is how for me, overwhelm is my kryptonite. While others can juggle – and even thrive on juggling – multiple different tasks, projects, people, and responsibilities – I’m just not wired that way.

When I take on too much I don’t thrive and end the day feeling on top of the world – instead, I feel overwhelmed and unhappy.  If ever I find myself questioning my business and whether I’m doing the right thing with my life (yes, I’m human this happens to me too) I quickly realise that it’s not my business or my life that’s the problem, it’s simply that I’ve taken on too much and become overwhelmed with it all without realising it.

And this is pretty typical of my wiring as an HSP. Instead of trying to “do different” or push myself to “be different” I’ve developed my own personal strategies for overcoming overwhelm, that I thought I’d share as they may be useful for you too….

I try to prevent overwhelm in the first place

I’ve learned over the years that for me it just doesn’t pay to take on too much, so my first step is to prevent overwhelm in the first place.  Ways that I do that include keeping my business model simple, not committing to too many projects at one time (yes, this one can feel frustrating!), and having strict boundaries about how I communicate and how much time I spend responding to emails incoming messages each day (and yes, this does offend some people – but my health and wellbeing is of higher value to me than the need to please everyone all of the time).

But of course, I also live in the real world – it’s never about perfection. I run a busy business with an online programme, a membership of 300 business owners, and sometimes a small group mastermind (though not currently).  I have a team that is with whom I liaise every day, friends, family, and a home to look after.

So it’s inevitable that I hit overwhelm – particularly work-related overwhelm – on a pretty regular basis

Telltale signs that I’ve fallen into overwhelm:

  • Waking up in the morning and feeling a knot of anxiety, or even just a lack of enthusiasm about the day ahead (I enjoy my business so on a “normal” day it’s extremely rare for me to procrastinate about hitting my desk in the morning).
  • Jumping from one task to another without feeling like I’m making any progress on any of them, or (and this feels worse) being focused on one task but being unable to make progress because of all the other tasks vying for my attention. In this scenario my brain will be whispering “what about me, what about me? Aren’t I more important? No, I am – NO, I am!
  • Being snappy, short-tempered, or impatient about interruptions e.g. from members of my team.

When I see that these 3 things are happening I know that unhappiness and dissatisfaction are not far behind and that burnout is not far behind that.

Thank goodness I have a recipe for getting out of overwhelm quickly – read on if this is something that affects you too….

My recipe for overwhelm

1. Journalling

The more overwhelmed I am the more likely I am to start the day journaling, and the longer I’m likely to spend journaling.

(I think the Dalai Lama was once quoted as saying: “I meditate every morning for 1 hour. But when I’m stressed and busy I meditate for 2 hours”)

The way this works is, I start my day with a nice cup of chai – usually two, and I sit down with my journal and I do one of two things:

First, I write down all the different things that are on my mind and that are creating the overwhelm, and I journal and write to myself until I get clarity – which usually happens surprisingly quickly. I have always found that writing things down gives me a level of clarity that I just can’t get by “thinking” alone.

This helps me to prioritise what needs doing that day and in what order.

Then, for anything where I feel that I just can’t get clarity “on my own” I call on my “higher self” (aka source, universe or god -small “g”). By writing questions to my higher self (which I like to do with a green pen) I find I get answers and clarity that I’m not able to access on my own.

2. I Stop Working

Journalling is the way that I start my day on those days that I know I’m starting the day already in overwhelm. But what about when the overwhelm hits in the middle of the day?

The first thing that I do when I recognise that overwhelm has hit –  when everything on my plate feels urgent “right now” and my head is literally spinning trying to figure out which one of 20 things could actually be left until later – is I stop working.  I take myself away from my desk, usually by going outside for a walk in nature, but having a shower or doing the washing up has the same effect of creating what I call “space” in my brain.

Yes, I know that sounds totally counterintuitive – how will I ever get things done if I’m out in the woods?

But taking myself away from my work completely by walking or any other activity where I’m with myself and in connection with my whole body, I find that the clarity comes.  It’s as if my brain is a pond and all the activity of trying to “get things done” and jumping from one item to another – even only mentally – has the effect of stirring up the water in the pond, and the more I stir it the muddier it becomes.  Going for a walk or getting away from work on my own has the effect of causing all the mud and silt to settle back at the bottom of the pond and I can suddenly see my priorities very clearly; what REALLY needs doing and what can wait until later.  It also helps me to see where I’m chasing my tail trying to meet other people’s agendas, or am delivering on way more than I have promised to clients.

3. I make a list. And another list. And another.

Quite honestly, if you saw how many times a day I rewrite my “To Do” list for the day you would probably say “hang on a minute Catherine, if you didn’t spend so much time rewriting your list of priorities you could actually have completed some of them!”  and I say this because so many people resist what I’m suggesting here – they believe that pausing to reprioritise tasks, or taking a break for a walk is something that will only further delay “getting things done”. But I find it’s the opposite. If I’m crystal clear on my priorities, I find I can focus fully on the next important thing that needs doing until it’s done and then move on to the next.  That break, or that pause to reprioritise, actually helps me get more done more quickly over the course of the day.

The way I manage my list is that I always start the day with the 3 highest priorities for the day at the top (again I like to write these in green!). Then all the other things that “have to happen today” go underneath that.

I do have a project management system for project and task management (Asana), and also use my Google calendar as a place to store reminders – but I like to transfer the day’s highest priorities onto one sheet of paper every morning so that only the most important tasks are written down in front of me (I know the time management gurus teach to do this the evening before, but I like to do it in the morning when my brain is at it’s freshest).

When I’m over-busy and overwhelmed I simply go back to that list over and over and rewrite it – always highlighting my 3 highest priority tasks at the top in order of priority – 1, 2, 3. I know that if I get those 3 done, then I will probably have time for everything else, and even if I don’t, I still end the day feeling that some progress was made.

4. Sometimes I just need a nap!

And sometimes all I need is a nap! As the day goes on our brains naturally become fatigued, so the further into the day you go, the more likely you are to lose clarity about the most important task, and you run the risk of losing the ability to laser focus until it’s done. Sometimes all I need is a 30 minute nap after lunch or mid-afternoon (and a cup of chai to perk me up again afterwards), to hit the “refresh” button on my brain and I’m good to go for the rest of the day.

5. Acceptance

Finally, over the years, one of the important things I’ve learned is acceptance.

Acceptance that I’m not superwoman (some women are but I’m just not wired that way), acceptance that sometimes really important things won’t get done, acceptance that sometimes I will let people down, or I will let myself down, and sometimes I will cause unnecessary stress and pressure for members of my team by not getting things to them on time.

Not getting everything done and learning to accept that things won’t ever be entirely perfect is an important part of running a business. It’s not an easy pill to swallow (because at the same time, being an HSP, I’m also a high-achiever with big dreams and perfectionist tendencies) but it’s essential that I can accept the reality of who I am and how I need to operate to be at my happiest and healthiest, and to make sure I don’t create a business that ends up running me, creating burnout and unhappiness, which is the very opposite of what I set out to create at the beginning.

What about you? Do you have any valuable strategies to share to help overcome overwhelm? Or are there any that I’ve shared that you are going to adopt? Do let me know in the comments!

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Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. Natalia Vaduva on March 22, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    Yes! Thank you Catherine for this amazing topic. I am also a HSP and i do struggle with overwhelm. Sometimes I struggle with overwhelm when I am alone at my computer working and my mind goes in 100 different directions and wants to do 1000 things at the same time. And sometimes I struggle with overwhelm when I am around people that look like Superwomen and get 1000 things done a day. It makes me feel like I will never get there. But as you said, having strategies to get out of the overwhelm is great. Thank you for sharing yours. I pretty much have the same strategies. I also find that going for a run or a walk Alone really helps. Thank you for sharing yours and the beautiful wisdom. It feels good to know I am not alone. Love, Natalia

  2. ClairWN on March 9, 2022 at 11:29 am

    Very interesting. I do a lot of these things, but always thought they weren’t the right approach, that I was procrastinating by re-writing lists and going for a walk.

    Now I can see that if I do these things with purpose, rather than as an avoidance activity, they have a benefit. I particularly like ‘get tasks 1, 2, 3 done’ as a way of making things feel manageable and finding achievement in a day that isn’t going so well.

    Thanks Catherine!

    • Helen Vits on March 21, 2022 at 2:19 pm

      We’re so pleased you enjoyed the blog and even better to see that it might help you enjoy those lovely walks as a part of your wonderful routine. Good luck with the journey with spring weather and all the beautiful colours around it is the perfect time to get outside.

  3. Lucy Harper on March 9, 2022 at 11:28 am

    You make a very good impression of being a super woman! I love your pond analogy and will bear that in mind when I feel overwhelmed. My escape is often the garden but if too cold a book. I will feel far less guilty about it now as it is something I know to be true that to make things clear you need to step away from them!
    Thank you for that!

    • Helen Vits on March 21, 2022 at 2:21 pm

      Couldn’t agree more some times we just have to give ourselves some self love and time to reflect to get the best out of ourselves. Hopefully with spring arriving you are able to dive back into the garden and enjoy some beautiful new emerging colours.

  4. Jo on March 9, 2022 at 11:01 am

    I just know when it is one of those days and I choose to have a duvet day, if I can. I still often work, literally from my bed.

    I also use EFT Tapping – Brad Yates is wonderful and has tapping on You Tube for overwhelm.

    And I also know, as I often coach clients on this, that if you do not take time out to do activities to replenish your battery you will run on empty be far less productive, resilient and efficient. So cuddle a dog, play with a little human, go for a walk…..

  5. Virginie on March 9, 2022 at 10:42 am

    Hi Catherine, it is funny, I don’t consider myself as easily overwhelmed, but I use all the tips you give : I even bought myself a nice whiteboard with lots of colors, and I use it everyday to go through my todo list of the day 🙂
    Thanks for sharing, take care !

  6. Christie Flora on August 25, 2020 at 2:19 am

    I’ve reread this article a few times now and find such comfort in it. Thank you very much for writing about this topic.

  7. Sonja on August 7, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Hi Catherine,
    I appreciate you for recommand breaks. In the end it is our wise body that gives us good advice and we should hear its voice!
    See you in your next Q&A session!

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