Being Overwhelmed – What to do when life becomes a bit too much

Being Overwhelmed – What to do when life becomes a bit too much

Sonal Kothari

Independent Professional Trainer & Coach


Being overwhelmed is a common experience for me!

It happens periodically as life builds up. I haven’t yet quite figured out how or why it sneaks up on me. But, I do have more of a grasp on how to sit with being overwhelmed, how to manage, dissipate and get past it. I have built capacity for not getting overwhelmed by things, that a few years ago, would drown my boat. I now also have experience in holding space for my clients, friends and my children who, like me, experience being overwhelmed from time to time.

Clarity and Compassion – Two essentials to manage the overwhelmed self

When I am overwhelmed, my view of myself and my situation are clouded with too many, often opposing, thoughts; lists of things to do, feelings, especially of worry and fear; several tracks are running simultaneously and my systems are jammed, frozen into doing nothing. To top that off, as if that isn’t enough, I have an overriding track of judgment. This runs in parallel, to varying degrees of severity –  “What’s wrong with you?” “Why can’t you…?”  “Get a grip…! You always … ” and on and on.

Therefore it is no surprise that the twin themes that surface time and again, for me and for others, in dealing with being overwhelmed,  are clarity and compassion.

Clarity is “seeing clearly”,  minus the drama;  and, Compassion is in terms of being kind to myself.

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Clarity is knowing, seeing and accepting what is, without being clouded by thoughts and emotions. It may be gained by accessing your intuition; when you quieten your mind, a clear picture emerges from all the clutter; and a to-do list emerges in order of priority.

Compassion can be read as kindness, understanding, empathy, acceptance, affirmation and love. Allowing myself to feel my feelings as fully as possible; without judgment, thus releasing their hold on me.

Clarity and Compassion work hand in glove. It is hard to be clear without being compassionate. Both these require acceptance. Acceptance of what is – be it feeling or fact.

When Overwhelmed – Many paths to centring ourselves

 There are so many ways one can gain clarity and develop compassion and we each will have our ways. Here, I share my favourite ones


I have been using my breath for many years to get back in touch with myself. For, being overwhelmed means I’ve lost connection with myself in some fundamental way. This fundamental way, I discovered this year, was the point at which my mind and body disconnect when I cannot bear the discomfort. Be it discomfort of a thought, a feeling, something someone said or did. The easiest way to connect mind and body is to breathe with awareness. There are as many breathing exercises and techniques as there are gurus out there. Breathe slow, breathe fast, hold your breath and count…and so on. It honestly doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it works for you. I encourage you to invest some time in exploring your breath and seeing how you can stay aware of it. It is magic!

Body awareness

With the breath comes awareness of my body. My body is the vessel through which I manifest myself in this world. The body is a finely calibrated and highly sophisticated instrument that tells us what’s going on in our life. A simple rule of thumb is – if there is ease in my body, things are aligned as they should be’ where there is dis- ‘ease’ things are misaligned. The more I tune into and care for (food, sleep, exercise, hydration) my body, the more capacity I build for avoiding and dealing with overwhelm.

Building support systems

This could be anything. Some of the things in my support network are – a hot cup of tea on my terrace garden, a good book, a long walk with my husband, a nap, comforting food, good music, an inspiring podcast, a cuddle with my kids – furry or human. And most importantly it is the phone call to one of the 5 people on my SOS list – who won’t judge and listen with empathy as I spill my guts.


I have learned the hard way that the less organised I am of my time and energy, the more overwhelmed I get. When planning my day, week and month, I need to pay attention to balancing my home and professional life; to make “me” time, “one on one” time with my family and friends and “all of us’” time.

A significant part of being organised is the ability to say “No”.

As I wrote this last bit, it hit me, that my inability to recognise my capacity – in terms of time and energy; that is, my not saying “no”, is probably the reason that “overwhelm” builds up in the first place. Maybe, keeping a closer eye on that is the key!


This article was first written at the request of Sailaja Manacha of,  for her facebook platform for women leaders, called “Lead Powerful Live Mindful”  

Please do leave your comments at the bottom and do share with others if you like this article.

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Ameet Mattoo

Lovely article Sonal.
I am reminded of a quote from my younger days, which indeed did help me a lot to deal with being overwhelmed. It went something like – whenever i am surrounded by crisis, i go to sleep. And by the time i wake-up, it is over – something 😉

Sonal Kothari

Thanks Ameet for your feedback :)! I like the idea of sleeping on your worries, I do find that sometimes I get answers in the morning :)!

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