My Recipe for Overwhelm

My Recipe for Overwhelm

I had an incredible response to my video last week about doing business as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).   So many of you replied to say that the video had hit a chord for you.  It either helped you realise that you are an HSP and it helped you finally see why you struggle with certain things that others take in their stride.  Or provided a reminder that as a HSP  it’s important to understand and honour who you are in business instead of trying to do things like “someone else”.

You can watch that video 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 if 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 the 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 avoid 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 avoid overwhelm in the first place.  I talked in the video I linked to above about how I do this – it includes 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 incoming messages each day (and yes, this offends 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, I run a busy business with an online programme, a membership of 350 business owners and a small group Mastermind programme, I have a team of 3 people I liaise with every day, a partner, a family and a home (at least I did have a home – right now I’m living and working from a campervan – more on that next week!).

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 love my business so on a “normal” day I’m pretty much raring to go and 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 my brain whispering “what about me, what about me? Aren’t I more important? No, I am, no I am!
  • Being snappy, short or impatient about interruptions from my partner or members of my team.

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

Read on for my recipe for getting out of overwhelm quickly:

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 – sometimes two (the Twinings variety – I don’t make my own!), 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 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 in green pen – that’s the colour that I always use when I’m accessing a higher consciousness) 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 in a little bit of 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 10 things could actually be left until later – is I stop working.  I take myself away from my desk, usually by going outside 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 other activity on “auto-pilot” 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 (this needs to be on my own though, not with someone else) has the effect of causing all the mud and silt to settle back at the bottom of the pond and I can suddenly very clearly see my priorities, 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.

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!” .  I know you are thinking that because 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 – 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 on to 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. Knowing that if I get those 3 done, then hopefully I will have time for everything else

I often end up rewriting the list out after I complete each task – something about that helps keep my mind clear and focused.

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 lose 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 time to perk me up again afterwards), to hit “refresh” 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.  That sometimes I will let people down, sometimes I will let myself down (big time), 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 as being HSP I’m also a high-achiever with big dreams) but it’s essential for me to accept the reality of who I am and how I need 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 that is the very opposite of what I set out to create when I started on this path

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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With Love & Gratitude,


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


  1. 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!

  2. 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.

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