When the 'Overwhelm' kicks in

The building feeling that everything is all too much, that life is getting away from us, that we just can’t cope or have too much on our plates, seems to be almost a fact of modern life.

The juggle of a job, family, friends, responsibilities, keeping fit, eating right and everything else can pile up into insurmountable to-do lists that seem perpetual and endless. As someone whose job it is to help people find time to add meditation into their busy schedules, I hear conversations about busy-ness and overwhelm all too often.

I also experience it myself, and when it starts to creep in I have some tactics that over years have helped me navigate the experience and learn from it.

1. Slow down and simplify

During these times it’s essential to simplify and do less. An activated nervous system can trick us into believing that we need to speed up to keep up, but really we need to put our foot on the brakes and strip things back to the essentials.

2. Meditate more

I’ve had a twice-daily mediation practice for over nine years, and in times of duress, I meditate even more. For me, and countless other meditators, there is nothing so restorative and grounding than this process of meditation. One of the byproducts of a practice is that we also become much more efficient at prioritising (which is helpful for point #1).

3. Recommit to my Morning Pages

Before I meditate each morning I handwrite write three pages of anything and anything, stream of consciousness style. It’s all the stuff that might be cluttering my mind. It’s an exceptionally powerful way to get the nonsense out, and quite often, once on paper, the things that wake us up at 3am don’t seem quite as intimidating and unmanageable. This is from a process I highly recommend called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

4. Exercise

I find that when I have ‘a lot going on’ I really need to make rigorous exercise part of my day. It gives me an outlet to burn off excess energy that otherwise might get channelled into anxiety. It’s also another way the flotsam and jetsam of my mind settles and I come back into my body rather than up in the clouds of future tripping in my mind.

5. Quit the coffee

Even if it’s just for a week or perhaps a couple of months. For me, caffeine puts me on high alert. It activates my adrenals and triggers cortisol – the last thing I need. These days I feel the warning signs long before it gets out of hand (thanks to my meditation practice). Instead, I’ll drink beverages that calm and comfort me – cacao, Tulsi Tea, or sometimes if I really need the coffee taste I’ll have decaf.

6. Saying no

All of the above require an ability to say ‘no thanks’ to unnecessary social activities, to people-pleasing, doing things we don’t really want to do and anything that clutters up our lives. In turn, we’re saying ‘yes’ to ourselves; to listen to the cues our bodies are giving us as we practise taking notice and honouring ourselves.


Claire Robbie teaches Awareness Insight Meditation. She is currently setting up The School of Modern Meditation, a centre for practices that help us slow down and reconnect to ourselves, and each other as a community. She’s also the founder of the social initiative No Beers? Who Cares! Helping people reset their relationship with alcohol and communities drink differently. You can find her on Instagram @clairerobbie or www.clairerobbie.co for more information on her courses.