feeling overwhelmed

Truth: every single time that I start something new, it’s at least a little bit overwhelming.

Every. Single. Time. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’ve created several courses or programs. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’ve read a gazillion books about formulating the just-right training program for upping my running mileage or preparing for a triathlon. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve attended thousands of hours of coaching as a client.

When I am creating a new course, or planning a new training season, or when my coach challenges me to step into a new way of responding to a chronic life challenge, I think things like:

  • How am I going to make time for this?
  • I hate feeling this stressed-out.
  • Should I have started this? Maybe now wasn’t the right time.

I’m leading with that simple admission, because there’s no secret to be had, no bones about it–when starting something new, we have to make space for the new thing, learn about the new thing, and we will wonder whether or not the investment of our time and energy is worth it, when it comes to learning about the new thing.

Any time we’re embarking on something new, fear arises–and sometimes, “overwhelm” is the code-name for “fear.”

Feeling overwhelmed? Get Conscious

Now, first: overwhelm is a societal issue and I’m down with Kelly Diels when she says that overwhelm is a feminist issue. Women, in particular, are bearing the brunt of overwhelm in a way that I don’t believe society has ever seen, before. And being poor or facing other oppressions? That’s automatically going to up the overwhelm factor.

So there’s the larger, cultural issue of our norms around overwhelm and what needs to shift so that groups who are overwhelmed in large part because of chronic denial of access to resources, get those resources.

And, then, there’s this other piece. And this other piece (which is what this post is about) is about bringing patterns of overwhelm to some kind of consciousness.

Let’s say that we’re defining “success” in this case as following through on those things that are important to you–not a crazy goal-driven success that’s all about hustling into exhaustion and externalizing happiness, but simple follow-through on your commitments and the things that are important to you.

There’s a mindset difference that is important, here: consciously deciding to learn how to work with overwhelm.

This means deciding to be more committed to the larger dream and unshackling yourself from overwhelm, than being committed to the overwhelm–and some of us are really committed to our overwhelm. We loooove the high of being busy.

* * *

I’m thinking of an intensive online course I took awhile ago. There were audios to listen to, new worksheets to download each week, calls to attend, homework to complete between sessions. I’d been excited when signing up for the course, but hadn’t really thought about the actual time commitment that would be involved (uh, mistake #1).

Pretty quickly, I was completely overwhelmed. Each week, the work was piling up and I was feeling frustrated with myself–and the inner critic voices were piping up to remind me of how “stupid” I felt because I “wasn’t getting it.”

And then, in week four of the course, after having barely put time into the materials each week and after having been skating by, I said: ENOUGH.

I cleared my calendar (painful) and found an entire four-hour block of time. Then I sat down during that four-hour block and went through every single one of the audios and homework sheets, and re-did anything that I’d done half-assed.


This was one of those cases where overwhelm wasn’t “happening to” me. I was creating the overwhelm, spinning in it through a series of my own choices. I was the one who kept not making time for the assignments. I was the one who kept half-assing them when I frantically tried to complete them before our weekly call.

ENOUGH. I was turning that ship around.


A Funny Thing About ENOUGH

A funny thing happens when we declare “ENOUGH” in our lives: things change, and the mental shift of saying ENOUGH can bring immediate relief.

When you say “ENOUGH,” you shift out of external circumstances for your overwhelm. In this particular course, I was even blaming the medium through which the instructor was giving out materials for some of my overwhelm–I was having trouble finding where things were located, purely due to my own choices. I was the one who hadn’t made the choice to actually spend some time really getting familiar with how the course module worked.

Of course I didn’t know where things were located–I was popping into the course module for only a few minutes at most, and getting upset when things weren’t immediately right under my nose!


When you say “ENOUGH,” you move into more pro-active, solution-based thinking. You’ll decide to find that four-hour chunk of time to get yourself organized, or you’ll hire someone who is great at organization to step in and help you, or you’ll find just the 3 things you need to focus on and think, “Who cares if the house is a mess or XYZ isn’t really looking perfect?”


You Got Options

We so often step into overwhelm when we choose to take on the belief system that we don’t have options.

There are a great many people in the world who don’t have options–really really and truly truly–but when I was skating by in the online course that I was taking, my head was riddled with thoughts that limited my options, mostly thinking about lack of time and just spinning in that instead of doing something about it.

Translation: I wanted all the benefits the course had to offer, but there was a point when I wasn’t willing to unhook from overwhelm and do what it would take to complete the material.

I had to get unhooked.