Five Alternative States to Overwhelm

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

No mud. No lotus.
Lotus flowers will only grow in mud.
It is the mud of life that offers the nutrients for our souls to strength and our hearts to grow.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I call to mind the lotus when I feel overwhelmed.

This imagery helps me shift my state.

In addition to that feeling of having 1000 things to do, overwhelm is also a “state”. And it’s not a resourceful nor a productive one. Our poor minds are juggling all the things we need to do, and it may feel like our head is spinning. We may also feel ungrounded in our body and perhaps emotionally anxious.

Overwhelm is an challenging state.

When we’re overwhelmed it’s not immediately clear how we can move out of overwhelm, except perhaps to keep on going and checking things off the to do list. It’s the worst kind of way to be productive, because we’re hyper-aware we’re not functioning at our best.

And when we pause, we feel the spin. As if we just off a merry go round. And even though we’re off, we’re still spinning.

In this article I’d like to offer you some alternative “states” of being other than being overwhelmed. These states are ones we can cultivate either when we’re overwhelmed or when life is more calm. They’re called “practices” because they take practice.

To support in learning to shift out of overwhelm, call to mind the lotus. The lotus thrives in the muck. So, simply connecting to how a lotus floats so calmly in the swamp is an access point through overwhelm inviting a new, more productive state in the midst of a busy day.

Overwhelm as a state

Do you recognize your own state of being overwhelmed? If I were to ask you how it affects your mind, body, heart and spirit or sense of what is possible how would you describe it?

Alternative states to overwhelm

When I work with women, I have them describe for me how life is now. As in — tell me about overwhelm…

Because the more you give voice to and recognize the good, hard and challenging parts of where you are now, the easier it is to move towards or shift into a new state of way.

Then, I ask how them how they want to feel instead.

More joy, more ease and calm… to feel more grounded, more present. Intentional. More relaxed…. these are just some of the “other” ways they might want to feel.

How about you? What state would you like to create?

What follows are some micro practices for creating a different state. Pick one and practice it a few times a week (or more). Over time it will become easier to move out of overwhelm into this new state.

A Practice to Return to Intention

When someone makes a request of you, practice pausing — perhaps by using an inhale and exhale and saying “thank you for considering me”. Then instead of responding in the moment let them know that you’ll get back to them in 24 hours.

Give yourself time to thoughtfully consider if you’re able to commit.

A Practice for More Spaciousness

Today, take one minute between your main calendar events to pause. In this pause breathe in and out ten times allowing yourself to be fully in this minute. Notice the space between this event and the next. Try doing this a few times each day for a week.

Use your breath to help you create space when it feels you have none.

A Practice for Greater Presence

After planning out your week, commit to being present only with what’s currently on your calendar. Make a practice of not adding anything new to the week and be fully in what you’ve chosen knowing this is what will receive your full attention.

Let this week’s work be enough.

A Practice for Ease

Identify something that is filling you with dread; perhaps it’s hard or especially challenging. Assuming it’s on your plate because it has to be, determine how you can do this thing with more softness or comfort. Do you need help? Can this task be broken into smaller parts? Does connecting to the reason why this task matters shift your state?

Allow yourself to be open to doing this challenging thing differently.

A Practice for More Joy

While drinking your morning coffee or tea remember joy and how it feels. Then, think of what could make you feel more joy and schedule it in your day. Remember to keep it small and easy to do. Joy can be as simple as smelling the lilacs, or watching the squirrels run.

Punctuate your day with joy.

A Tip to Support Creating a New State

Remember how I mentioned that overwhelm is a state you know in your whole body?

Bring this thinking into your practice by considering what spaciousness or ease or joy feels like in your:

  • body…. is it relaxed, centred, open or…
  • mind… is your head full, clear, curious or…
  • heart… is it beating hard, to your own pace, or…
  • spirit… do you feel what’s possible, or open to something new…

Allowing your whole body to experience this new state helps you “embody” a change — not just know about it in your head.

And don’t forget about the lotus. Just like she thrives in the mud of life, so can you.

If you’ve enjoyed this practice, and would like fresh perspective and practices on the how you make success happen, sign up here to receive my weekly letter:



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Susan Doerksen Castro

Susan Doerksen Castro


Entrepreneur & Integral Master Coach™ helping accomplished women redefine success so they can realize a new, more fulfilling agenda for their lives.