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August 27, 2017  |  3:42 am

How To Banish Overwhelm

I can’t. I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t. And other lies we tell ourselves.


“Argh, I’ll never get this done, it’s not good enough, I can’t do this” …  Sound familiar?
That’s always where it starts – some version of negative self-talk. But soon it snowballs into ‘overwhelm’ territory and before we know it we’re back on the downside again. And if our own thoughts don’t do it to us, then the 5,000 marketing messages we’re fed each day – telling us what to think, what to buy, and what success looks like – surely will. So, it’s no real surprise then that seven out of ten Smart Girls are not only lost in the forest but can’t read their own compass.


Lately I’ve had a lot of stuff going on. I’ve been wrapping up the manuscript for Smart Girls with the publisher and coping with all the thoughts and feelings that come along with finishing something like that. Thoughts like: is it any good? Is it going to help people? This is going to be on the public record for life … what am I doing? Then at the same time I’ve been helping my partner settle into a new role on the other side of the country.

The lesson being: we all get lost. We all find it hard to read our compass sometimes. That’s a given. For me, it becomes especially difficult during times of major transition, periods when the workload is higher than usual, or when I’m about to get my period. My old strategy used to be to simply head for the sofa, call in a personal health day and watch Netflix until it passed. Which is one strategy – and not one to be balked at. But sometimes taking that route leaves me feeling even more overwhelmed afterwards than when I began my Netflix marathon. Which is why lately I’ve been dealing with it differently: now I take a Breakstate.

It’s time for a breakstate.

So, what the hell is that?

Imagine a bridge. On one side is a bunch of tigers and the other side lies a cloud forest (hard choice, I know). In a breakstate you move from the side with the tigers to the cloud forest. In this way, you leave all the overwhelm behind you and move to across to place where things are emotionally easier.

So how do you know it’s time to traverse that bridge?

Any time your productivity slumps, the incontinent bitch in your head has taken the talking stick hostage and you want to break down into tears because they only have decaf left in the tea-room.

What’s the quickest way to cross that bridge?

Exercise. On a scientific level, when we face overwhelm our bodies inherit stress from our minds and start producing more cortisol and adrenaline. Neither of those are happy chemicals: they leave us angry, stressed and if we are really lucky, fat around the middle too. The quickest way to dial those chemicals down is to do some sort of physical activity that involves conscious and deep breathing. It’s often the last thing we ‘want’ to do when we’re feeling like that, but after jogging for thirty minutes or going to a yoga class, most people feel not only clearer but happier and more relaxed.

What happens when you cross the bridge?

And sometimes walking away from a problem is precisely what you need to do in order to solve it. Knowing this, I often set an intention at the beginning of my yoga practice or when I jump on my kiteboard; I ask for guidance as to the first action I should take to move through the problem at hand. And then I focus purely on the exercise and usually, the answer follows.