Acknowledging overwhelm and getting clear

IMG_1792Over the last month or so, I have been feeling really charged, the drive and passion for achieving my goals, that had subsided somewhat since I left the UK, returned with a vengeance. On top of my day job, I found myself devouring books, having weekly accountability Skype calls, learning Spanish, going on 6am runs, writing 1000 words before even getting out of bed, participating in e-courses, working my to do list and generally just feeling pretty on fire.

Clearing the decks 

Two weeks ago the fire burnt out. When I found myself fighting back tears on my weekly call with my gorgeous accountability partner, I quickly realised that in the excitement of feeling on it, I had taken on too much. They (whoever ‘they’ are) say, “if you want something done, ask a busy person” and normally I couldn’t agree more. Why? Because when I’m in flow, on it, full of energy, flying high, I feel like I can do anything and everything and all of it today, in fact make that yesterday!

I’ve learnt that I have to watch that. In future I’d prefer not to get to a point where drastic action is required but last week that is exactly where I ended up. I cancelled everything, I stopped setting my alarm to get up at 6am, I stopped writing my morning pages, I stopped running, instead I decided to get up when my body and brain felt they’d had enough sleep (one day I slept as late as 10.40am – imagine!). I also stopped setting weekly goals, I cancelled my weekly accountability call and I started to breath again.

Time to relax 

Instead of trying to make every second of my day productive, I slept more, in my down time I watched episode after episode of ‘Friends’ without feeling guilty, I lay in my hammock and after a week like this my heart rate resumed to normal, I started to feel less anxious and instead I became centered and calm. With this new state of mind I decided to take a closer look at why I had got myself into a position of feeling so overwhelmed in the first place.

I got a piece of paper and I wrote down all the things I had on my plate (many of which I had put on my plate oh so willingly!). It included work, day-to-day activities, e-courses I had signed up for, books I had started reading, goals I was working towards and anything else that was floating around on my mental wish list. There was a lot of stuff.

Then I decided to tackle my personal email. I opened my Hotmail account to find over 650 unread emails. I took a deep breath and I got to work, I unsubscribed from what felt like hundreds of newsletters. As I did so, I realised how sign-up crazy I can get. Because I love learning and there are so many incredible and free resources out there, I find myself wanting access to them all but what I realised as I went through my inbox was that most of these emails had never even been opened, they just sat there in my inbox making me feel stressed every time I looked at them.

Getting clear 

Feeling lighter for my inbox clear out and the brain dump of all the things on my to do list, I sat down to look at the piece of paper now IMG_1793covered in book titles, courses and wish list items.

I told myself this: You can pick one course and one book for the month of August.

I had started The Artist’s Way a week earlier along with several other people who had formed a Facebook group to help support each other, but looking through my list I spotted an e-course I had downloaded months earlier and failed to finish. “30 days of Meditation” a course from Kate Swoboda leapt from the page. If I’m suffering from overwhelm what better than to set myself a goal of finding time for stillness everyday?

Now I just had to pick a book. One book. One book from the 10+ books I was currently reading and only one book from the 100+ unread books currently sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

Also in support of avoiding overwhelm and looking after my health, I chose to read ‘The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermittent Fasting” by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, who describe a new way of eating that helps us stay trim and live longer by eating normally five days a week and fasting for two days a week.

Having made my choices, I promptly forgot about all the other things on my list. These two endeavors: to meditate every day for 30 days and to fast for two days a week feel like a manageable plan.

What I’ve realised is that by choosing these two things to focus on I’m not doing any less than I was before, in fact I may even achieve more this month than I did last month, but clearing space in my life and in my brain allows me not only to focus but to breath.

Don’t forget to breath!


  1. says

    So beautiful how you describe the process! I think one of your best posts ever :-) Lean, humble, focused, kind on you… I like it.

    I’m curious too. Lots of things attract me, I share with you that desire to read/watch/try/know/… Anyway, my body soon give me signs to stop… So, I have to revert. I feel often annoyed by this (our society admires overdoing, while the opposite is suspicious). Unlike you, I have to manage my tendency to do less. Hyper/hipo-activity are at the two sides of the same matter, equally unhealthy.

    But… I can also say that fulness arises not from quantity, but from quality. If you can do more with quality, great!! If not, accept it and you’ll still be rewarded. As William Blake suggests, with the right attitude we can find the all even in the little… « To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour » (Auguries of innocence).

    I’m sure your nowaday plan will be successful! Then, when you’ll feel skyscraping again… fine too 😉
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    • Caroline Leon says

      Marco I love your comment, thank you. You are right when you talk of the two sides of the same coin. Balance is the goal and for me when I find time in the day to be still, as counter-intuitive as it may feel if I am busy, I know that it will bring me greater focus and presence in that which I do. Like the beautiful William Blake quote “To see a world in a grain of sand”, so beautiful :)

  2. Fiona says

    “..the 100+ unread books currently sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be read.”
    So the hoarding gremlin is still there then…just imagine if they were real physical books sitting on the bookshelf!!

    • Caroline Leon says

      Haha well spotted Fiona, that gremlin certainly is still there, I’ve made a promise that I won’t buy another book, till I’ve read what’s on my Kindle, we’ll see how I get on!

      • Fiona says

        I have to admit that this is something that affects me too, so I can really identify with your blog post. I love reading loads of books and blogs and am generally curious about all kinds of things, especially when it comes to personal development and how other people deal with the stuff in their lives. I’m always trying to learn things as well as trying to improve my health and fitness, so I’ve experienced that feeling of trying to take on too much, being fine for a while, but then burning out and not getting anywhere very much. Definitely better to take on fewer projects and actually make progress than having loads of unfinished stuff lying around!!
        However, when I think about all this in relation to my fears I think it may relate to a fear of not being “good enough” as I am. The fear that I’m not slim enough, fit enough…too quiet…maybe people find me boring…or stupid? I should have more energy…what if I’m too old?!? etc. etc. OK, so these aren’t major fears that I’m thinking about all the time, but I think they’re there, nonetheless, hovering in the background.
        So for now, I’m thinking about why I’m doing stuff – do I really want to, or is it because I feel the need to “improve” myself in some way?
        P.S. I have the same thing with the books…I have way too many unread books, both in my bookcase and in Kindle form, so have banned myself from getting any more until I’ve read what I’ve already got! :-)

    • Caroline Leon says

      Hey Willa, thanks for this, I tried it and used it on my gmail account and it is indeed amazing. Alas, my real problem is my hotmail account which they don’t cover yet, hopefully soon! I would also recommend it to others! :)

  3. says

    Sometimes we just forget to take time to relax, huh? And even when we love what we do and we have fun doing it, sometimes is required to “force” oneself to take a break and do things that are not necessarily productive. I’ve been there. I burned out. And I realized that I had to offered me few days of walking, read fiction novels, watch movies (romantic comedies, simple movies… ) and watching the sea for hours… Basically allowed me to not cross anything in the to do list without feeling guilt for days. And it was hard but so good!
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    • Caroline Leon says

      Hi Maria, thanks for your lovely comment, you make a great point, I think it precisely because we are doing things that we want to do and love to do that it’s so hard to stop and slow down, why take a break when we are loving what we are doing but as we both know it is oh so important to build in that downtime. I love the idea of watching the sea for hours – what a beautiful meditation that must be. I live about 5 metres from the sea and have never done that so will start doing so real soon, thanks for the idea! :)

  4. says

    This is a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. It hit home as I find myself thinking about this from the other side…wonderful, wise words.

  5. says

    . . . endless thanks for this marvelous post: love learning that you “cancelled” stuff, great advice for getting outta the overwhelm!!

    Al lei lu, Jah!! :)

    • Caroline Leon says

      Endless thanks to you Caz for your comment, I’m realising I’m very much not alone on this one!! :)

    • Caroline Leon says

      Thanks Ashlie, it is about saying yes to life for sure, and the crazy when I’m busy like that is always doing things I love but what I learnt recently is that I can do everything I want to do just not all at the same time! Happy to share with you about the meditation course, it’s lovely! 😀

  6. says

    Hi Caroline. No… you don’t know me. But I often feel I could have written your posts myself – and it make me feel less worried about struggles and challenges in my life – because I know I am not the only one. (This, by the way, is a huge compliment in my book.)

    This post, for example, let’s me know am the only one in the universe who takes on too much in an excited effort to be a happier me. As I read your post today I flashed back to this one…

    Keep doing what you do every day, even if every day is different. After all, The Journey is the Destination:

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    • Caroline Leon says

      Hi Gail! Thanks for your comment and the links to your posts – you’re right I feel I could easily have written the happiness is a sport piece! I like to think of it as an excitement and enthusiasm for life that sometimes gets a little out of hand, so all in all a good thing really but just something to watch. For me it’s about reminding myself that I can do more when I focus on less and that actually that tendency to take on everything only leads to burnout. When I allow myself to focus, I enjoy that which I can do so much more.


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