Six Ways to Get Over Feeling Overwhelmed

B&W landscape by Jiří Rotrekl, Brno, Czech Republic.

I’ve disappeared from writing essays and sending out semi-regular email “newsletters”—disappeared along with so many writers, speakers, coaches, and everyone else who has tried to follow the admonitions of our marketing folks to put ourselves out there in the social media world. We find ourselves overwhelmed with yet another supposedly vital task—piling it on to everything else that calls to us, from cleaning out the cat box to our most passionate work in the world—and then faced with a very, very big question and an uncomfortable answer.

When I was on a recent episode of Linda Lombardo’s Voice of Evolution show (you can listen to our conversation here), we started off  commiserating about this challenge, and the big question that came up was, “How do we do the work that needs to be done in the world, work that also calls to our hearts, when there seems to be so much work to do, and when too often it simply doesn’t pay?”

Another friend once lamented, “I’m almost 40 years old, I’m living with my parents because I can’t afford to live on my own, because I don’t want to work for the ‘corporate man,’ and you can’t make a living selling herbs, which is my passion . . . It’s so upsetting and I’m so frustrated! How the hell do you make this work?”

So what’s behind this pervasive issue?

Largely, it’s that we’re in a society that rewards unsustainable work. To put it bluntly, our economy is insane; it tears apart the Web of Life—and pays handsomely to do so. Anyone who is trying to be awake, trying to do work that is both fulfilling and what the world needs, is going to have a tough, uncomfortable time, because this economy largely doesn’t know how to reward the work that really needs doing. According to the Sage character in The Holy Universe:

“. . . In this society,
.        a lot of important work
.        reaps very little financial reward
.                and often isn’t recognized.
.        Indeed, it often seems
.                that the so-called ‘unseen hand’
.                is more attached to
.                        someone who’s oblivious,
.                or to sinister or selfish forces,
.        than it is to one with concerns
.                for the greater good.
.        This is what we’re up against.

“As we change the way things are set up,
.        and collectively learn to support work
.        that truly serves humanity
.                and the Web of Life,
.        we still have to deal with the reality
.                of the way things are set up now,
.                and figure out how to make our way
.        as the old economic system crumbles,
.                and a new one arises.”

• • •

So how does one face being overwhelmed in an economy that doesn’t know how to pay for the work that really needs to be done?

I have a few things I’ve learned on my own path that I can offer, but let me first continue with what the Sage has to say when the Seeker asks a similar question:

“You get to create a combination
.        of the two [job vs. work] that works for you
.                and your family.
.        You might decide to reduce your
.                expenses so that you can
.                reduce your hours at work,
.                        if that option’s available.
.        You might find out that there’s work
.                available at your job,
.                such as finding ways to recycle
.                the construction debris
.                at your job sites.
.        You might break away and
.                create your own business
.                that focuses on green
.                projects and construction.
.        It all depends upon
.                what calls to you.”

[These excerpts are from pp. 292-296 of The Holy Universe. See other excerpts here.]

With this in mind, then, here are a few things I try to remember and a few actions I take as I face the challenge of feeling overwhelmed.

1. Remember that I’m in an insane asylum. Living in the culture of Modern Mind is indeed like being in an insane asylum—too many people are unaware of or in denial about the catastrophic damage we’re doing to the Web of Life and each other and are carrying on as if nothing is really wrong, or that our technology will “save” us.

I try to remember that many of us (myself included) are deeply and dangerously disconnected from our spirits, our physical bodies, and the Web of Life.

Quite naturally, there’s going to be enormous dissonance as I open myself up to the reality of this collective disconnection, to my own disconnection with spirit and with the Web of Life.

I’m damned vulnerable to the dysfunction I face within my own psyche and our collective psyche as I try to make my way through these times (especially when I acknowledge the part I play in causing the damage we’re doing), and I need to remind myself that this necessarily adds to the challenge.

2. Get clear about my work and my job. In their book Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin echo the Sage’s words above. (Indeed, it was their work that inspired this particular passage.) They stress the importance of distinguishing one’s work (the work that calls you and ignites your passion—and, to my way of thinking, the work that the world truly needs) from one’s job (what you do to bring in money).

Sometimes one’s work and job can overlap. In my case, they largely don’t (for now), but I have figured out what calls to me—though this has raised the challenge of keeping my focus on what it is that I can realistically do (more on that below).

3. Get clear about money. If I indeed am going to spend significant amounts of time doing work that I love but I’m not getting paid for, I need to be clear about what I’m making in my job and what I’m spending, so I can have healthier boundaries around work and job.

Dominguez and Robin offer an excellent nine-step program in their book, and when I was working as a financial recovery counselor (helping people with chronic money issues), I helped people create spending plans (versus budgets—that distinction is for another time), seeing exactly what expenses a person or couple had for a particular month or year, and how much money was coming in.

Having this clarity helps me know where I am and which way to go, and helps to clear up vagueness and stress about money (which contributes to my feeling of being overwhelmed), so I have more energy for everything else.

4. Get clear about what I can do. This has been a big challenge as I struggle with defining my work: figuring out how to deal with everything that is pulling at me to be done—and figuring out what not to do (I’ve played around with keeping a “Not To Do List”) and letting go of those things.

It’s hard for me because there are so many excellent and wonderful things to do and initiatives to take part in that call to me, things I could easily call “my work.” And I’m a perfectionist; I want to do everything in my power to do things well and to do them right. But the reality is that there simply isn’t enough time to do everything, much less do everything perfectly.

For example, I’m slowly clarifying what I honestly can do with this book project so I can have some sense of success with what I can do without burning myself out—and feel okay about not being able to do everything I could possibly do to promote it and get it out even farther into the world.

And it’s not just about the time, it’s also how I work that I need to pay attention to. For example, I’ve learned that the best way for me to write these essays is to take a mini writing retreat. Trying to write every day simply doesn’t work—for me. For some people it does—and the challenge for each of us is to figure out the places and times where the work gets done without losing a sense of our center of gravity.

5. Focus on the fun. Regarding the work that calls to my passions but I’m not paid to do, I’ve learned that I need to focus on fun. Perhaps I should be doing this thing or that, or following certain “best practices” for publicizing books, but if it’s not fun, then it saps my energy. For now, the fun stuff has to be the top priority when I do the work that I’m called to do.

For example, I love meeting with folks to discuss and expand on the many themes that come up in the book, so I’m looking for chances to do that (while being careful not to overload myself with all the logistics that come up when you try to do too many in-person events).

I’m also going to pare down my newsletters, and simply focus on taking excerpts from The Holy Universe and using them as themes for these essays (as I’ve done with this one). I’m hopeful that I’ll therefore be able to put more of these essays out into the world since, not only are they more fun, I’ve been told that people do indeed find them helpful—even inspiring.

6. Take care of myself. I’ve heard this ad-nauseam—haven’t we all?—but, as many of us do, I have trouble with it. We all know the basics: eat well, exercise your body, get enough sleep (the second and third are particularly challenging for me these days).

But for me, the bigger challenge is paying attention to what I tell myself, to the stories in my head (I wrote about this in the piece “Mind Your Stories”—see

For example, I had a story about how my book should be selling more, that I should be more successful, that if I don’t do more this would all be a waste of time—and that a publisher would never be interested in picking the book up (which is a goal of mine).

Oh, did this cause an avalanche of overwhelming feelings; I felt demoralized and drained because I felt like I already was doing a lot and didn’t know how I could possibly do more (to say nothing of the fact that, out of the hundreds of things one can do to promote one’s book, I wasn’t sure what I should do for this particular project).

But that story changed when I recently talked with a book coach. At first she was down on the prospects of a self-published author (that would be me), but brightened up when she found out I’ve got about 1750 copies of The Holy Universe out there; she thought that was actually quite good for a self-published book, and that I just might be able to interest a publisher or an agent after all.

And even if I can’t, I can still have a good time as the project continues on; I can still have fun as I focus on having conversations around the themes brought out in the book—which is what I really enjoy about this whole project.

Different story—a more positive, energizing, and lively one. I’ve decided to choose that story instead.

• • •

But sometimes I lose my way. Sometimes I forget that I’m in an insane asylum. Sometimes I don’t always do my spending plan. Sometimes I lose focus about my work, try to do too much, forget to have fun, and don’t take care of myself.

This is my last point: I find that these things just happen. Part of my spiritual challenge is to realize it’s not about eliminating overwhelming feelings from happening, because I know that every now and then they will indeed knock me down and cause me to lose my way.

The challenge instead is for me to use these feelings as a signal that tells me to slow down, even stop, and reexamine what I’m doing, to try not to beat myself up—or at least recognize that I’m doing so and stop it (because if I’m not good to myself, I’m no good to anyone). The challenge is also to continue to build my resilience so that, when I’m overwhelmed or otherwise lose my way, I can simply acknowledge that I’ve been knocked down—and then get up, dust myself off, try not to make a big story about it, and move on. ∞

• • •

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Image Credit

B&W landscape by Jiří Rotrekl, Brno, Czech Republic