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Emails to my Therapist

Feeling Overwhelmed: Email to My Therapist

Hiding out under my parked car

Dear Nicholas, The “feeling overwhelmed” situation cropped up twice in the last week. I made it worse by reminding myself that I have it so easy compared to millions of other people. Other people, for example, take care of a spouse with ALS while also raising children and holding a demanding low-wage job. That’s not even counting the overwhelmed Syrian refugees.

Obviously, overwhelmed was a feeling I “shouldn’t” have. So I Googled “feeling overwhelmed” and found an impressive number of tips for feeling capable and in charge: a total of 42 on the first page of results.


13 questions to ask yourself from Oprah

17 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Totally Overwhelmed from

5 Tips That May Help from

From 7 Things to Do If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Maybe overwhelmed people like lists.


Most relevant question from Oprah site was: “Am I Breaking Out Because I’m Stressed Out?” Well, yes, I did. Within a half an hour of my hitting a low point, a madly itching patch of little blisters had broken out on my left hand. Healed pretty quickly, I’m happy to say.

There was one idea among these lists that I hadn’t thought about: working in relatively brief focused surges, an idea attributed to Tony Schwarz in The 90-Minute Solution.

Most of the rest of the ideas were familiar: breathe, exercise, be grateful, be mindful. But where to get the willingness at such moments? (Note: there is anger threaded through the overwhelmed feeling.)

The best answer I found was in a link on the Oprah page titled “How to conquer your resistance to rest.” In that article, Martha Beck points out that “Humans are the only creature in nature that resist the pattern of ebb and flow.” One of her tips is to simply let the low emotional points happen, figure they’re part of the deal.


I think this is the heart of the matter, this resistance to rest. The resistance is no doubt caused by the feeling that I’m in control and can’t go to sleep on the job. But in fact, the world continues to turn when I skip out and read for fun or putter in my garden (my favorite forms of rest.) Still, it feels a little dangerous in excess.

In Costa Rica, near an active volcano

I remember something you, Nicholas, said a while back, that I should rest more in order to work better. Chilling makes for better work. I don’t doubt it. Still it feels a little dangerous….

Plus, there’s stuff I’ve promised to do. More rest is going to require better planning, I fear. Not only am I supposed to rest, but I need to put rest on the calendar. That’ll take two surges of courage. I’ve resolved to do this before and then the resolve dissolves. A couple of months ago, I felt I’d slid into a more easy-going way about the writing biz. What has happened is that I’ve felt more detached from results, which is important and useful, but I have worked just as many hours.


Maybe I need to write myself out a contract and stick to it. A key provision in the contract has to be: no comparisons to the far-more-crammed-full schedules of others.

So, write a contract: I’ll put that on my to-do list.


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  • Lou Lipsitz
    May 12, 2017 at 10:43 pm Reply

    Ah Peggy, I know a feeling(s) of that sort – not overwhelmed exactly but crushed by burdens self-imposed and time limits quite arbitrary. I’ve learned mostly now to step away. Chinese poems by Li Po, WangWei, Tu Fu, and others are a great help. A different sense of scale slowly develops. I see the trees doing nothing, leaves shifting in the breeze. The evening, if you stop to watch, comes on very slowly. Robert Bly poem: I feel I can give up ambition/suddenly I see with such clear eyes/ the snowflake that has fallen in the horse’s mane. – something like that. Though certainly momentary – still…

    • Peggy Payne
      May 12, 2017 at 11:40 pm Reply

      It’s calming just to read your comment, Lou Lipsitz. Thanks!

  • Miller Sigmon
    May 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm Reply

    As caregiver for a spouse, you are “on” 24/7… You are iIT ..but you need to know when to take a break.. As Sheryl Sandberg says in Option B….” (her new book) self-compassion….. You don’t have to be perfect.. Then there are the pressures of a career..deadlines..editing..reading emails ..the burden of being a talented and gifted writer.. with ambition…( Did you know that Hemingway wrote 600 words each morning…while he was still sober…(?) then ” wine,women and song..”.. or something like that.. you understand.) You put the ;pressure on yourself and I’m sure it does more harm than good to the ” creative muse..”……)ALSO…you must say “no” when the demands are too great
    …….AND take a 20 minute’ll feel better..Don’t beat yourself up..You are doing great….!!!

    • Peggy Payne
      May 13, 2017 at 9:14 pm Reply

      Miller, you are so kind!I am definitely the source of the pressure. And Sheryl Sandberg is still on my list!!

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