Overwhelm - and lessons from dogs!


It's something that I hear so often. More and more people that I speak to are feeling overwhelmed, just far too much to do. What can you do if you're feeling overwhelmed?

If your life feels out of control, you might want to think about making some changes. Or perhaps lots of changes.

But how do you make those changes? Life after cancer treatment, or life in midlife for anyone can be a time for reflection, thinking about what's working well in your life, and what is just not working for you, you may be thinking about how you're going to adjust?

I want to share some thoughts with you on how you can go from feeling completely overwhelmed, but you're not quite sure what to do next, to feeling calm and serene.


For me, I thought a lot about what I wanted less of in my life and what I wanted more of. And I've talked before about how I wanted less negativity, I wanted less to be around people who didn't make me feel very good. And a few things have come up in the last few days that have made me reflect on this is such a common problem. Not just for me, you know, you might say, well, I can't really choose the people that I'm around. But is that really true?

Why can’t we be more like dogs?

I love this picture, it show perfectly the cause of a lot of misery, when we can't just enjoy being in the moment, like the dog can. Good boy!

Why are negative people like wet dogs?

Mel Robbins said recently on one of her podcasts, being around negative people is just like being around a wet dog.

And what she was saying is, if you've ever had a dog, and you take your dog out for a walk on a rainy day, your dog's going to love to find a muddy puddle, they're going to find some smelly water, or they're going to find some fox excrement, or something equally disgusting really to roll around in. They love it. They love rolling around in that,  they'll run off, they'll roll around in whatever it is. And they'll come back to you very excited, very happy. And what did they do when they come back to you? They shake it over you. Mel was saying was negativity is like a wet dog shaking their stuff all over you, you can't help but be affected by it as much as you think,  ‘I'm going to keep it at a distance’, people's energy, it touches on your energy. And I'm really into Reiki, and Feng Shui, which are all modalities of your life that are all about energy and how you can control the energy around you and within you. And so being around negative people, it does have an impact.

A big lesson from corporate life

A few years ago, I went on a leadership course. All the senior managers had to attend, it was about stress management. The course leader was very good, and said ;I want you all to just write a list of all the things that you've got on your to do list’

(If you're feeling overwhelmed, I would always recommend just get it out there, get it all on a piece of paper and write a ‘to do’ list)

So I scribbled away for a couple of minutes and filled aside of A4, probably two sides of a4 paper, and I had this big list and all the people around me, they all had huge lists as well. And then the tutor looked at us and said, ‘Okay, so you've got these things that you have on your to do list. But how many of them have you GOT to do?’ and the penny sort of dropped for me then because he said, very calmly

‘The only thing you have to do, that you really have to do is breathe. Everything else is a choice’.

And that was a huge moment of learning for me because I realized that I am choosing the job, I'm choosing to live this busy life that I was living. And it's a choice. Sometimes we do things and we think we have no choices. That may be true if you have , for instance, a sick child or relative that you've got to deal with, But for a lot of us in midlife, or a lot of us that have gone through cancer treatment, we might have a little bit of space now to do some reflection, to do some adjustment and to make some changes. And so I would ask you, What do you want to change?

So going back to this feeling of overwhelm, the first thing I'd say is if you're dealing with overwhelm, is to focus on what you can control. There are some things maybe in your life, you can't control, maybe can't control other people's behaviour, maybe can't control an illness that you've got some things you can't control, but there's so much that you can control. And remember  what that man said to me, the only thing you've got to do is breathe.

Once you take that step back and be quite objective about it, try and take the emotion out of it. And think about what you can control, and what can’t you control? Because once you start looking at the things that you can control, you've got choices.

The next tip I would give you is to make some time for you, to do things that you want to do. And that might sound counterintuitive. You may be thinking ‘I'm so busy. I've got no time, how could I possibly add another task to my list?’

Sometimes just taking that step back is just what you need some space to actually get your thoughts together.

Another story I heard was all about ‘sharpening your saw’

This is relating to a story about two wood cutters in the forest, both given a task to chop down as many trees as they could within an hour. And one of the guys just  set off with this saw, chopping down trees in a frenzy, but he ran out of energy halfway through the time allowed. The other guy spent 10 minutes not doing any chopping of trees. He was sharpening his saw. So when he set off a steady pace, he was much more effective. He was in control, and he was able to double his work rate, and won the contest.

And that might be a strange analogy, but I know now that  time spent setting my priorities for the day makes me much more efficient.

How could you sharpen your saw? It might mean getting yourself more organised. It might mean getting rid of some commitments that you've got in your life that you don't really want to do, it could be  decluttering your workspace, or maybe decluttering your wardrobe, whatever it is, that would allow you to have more focus, and more time for you focusing on the things that you want to focus on focusing on what you can control.

The other tip I would give you is to do what you enjoy. So you've got this busy to do list, you've got this busy life, but are you spending time on things that you really enjoy? Because you know, all of this is not a rehearsal. ‘We're here for a good time, not a long time’ as the Irish say. So if you're not enjoying your life, then something has to change,

Really give yourself the gift of just 10 minutes just thinking about this, well, what can you that you really enjoy, that you are not doing at the moment?

Self care – and a date with yourself

If you're completely overwhelmed, what you may need is a short period of intense self care. And some people don't like that expression. They think it's a bit cheesy. But I'd invite you to think about  it. Sometimes when couples are going through bad times, one of the things that quite often gets suggested is to have a date night, and get to know each other again. But when was the last time that you had a date with yourself? When was the last time you did something just for you. You call it a play dates if you like, but just for you doing something that you'd really enjoy? And I've spoken to a few people that have done this. So a date with yourself can be sometimes just something that you need to re energise yourself to focus again, just clear your mind of all the nonsense that we all carry around with us.

Another tip for overwhelm, if you're completely wiped out, is make your sleep a priority. And again, that might sound counterintuitive. If you're feeling far too busy.  You need to replenish your energy. Nobody can run on empty without having an impact on their health. And we all know if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.

I have a checklist for what to do when you are overwhelmed, you can find it here:

10 steps to go from overwhelmed to calm

I wrote this article as a first aid kit for severe overwhelm, it seems it is needed more now than ever, and I hope this helps.

 So let's do what we can to keep ourselves healthy.


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