Making friends with overwhelm

“Work on skilfully accepting in an empowered way the often ever-present feeling of  being overwhelmed by too much to do”

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article focuses on the ever present sense of their being too much to do in our lives, and what we can do about it in mindfulness terms.

This weeks Tuesday and Wednesday (live and online) meditation sessions will be focused on the practices in this article, all are welcome to join!

In the spirit of confidently overwhelmed,



Making friends with overwhelm

In the Information Age there is always too much to do

Oliver Burkeman in his article “Eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life” says:
‘There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating. Today more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume any fit between the demands on your time – all the things you would like to do, or feel you ought to do – and the amount of time available. Thanks to capitalism, technology and human ambition, these demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed. It follows that the attempt to “get on top of everything” is doomed. (Indeed, it’s worse than that – the more tasks you get done, the more you’ll generate.)’
The essential point here is that for those of us living in the Information Age, the sense of there being overwhelmed by things to do is a fundamental characteristic of our experience.

Uncertainty and events like Covid don’t help
When you place on top of this unexpected events like Covid, and all the change and uncertainty around this, the skill of being able to deal with that feeling of being overwhelmed comes at an even higher premium!

Accepting that there is too much to do skilfully enables us to manage it, and then enjoy overwhelm
So then the first mindful position here is to work on skilfully accepting in an empowered way the feeling of being overwhelmed by too much to do. If you can really get comfortable with the feeling, so that it is no longer intimidating, upsetting or disturbing to you, then its going to make your life a lot more pleasant and less stressful. Acceptance involves:

  • Consciously seeking out the feeling of being overwhelmed, locating it in the body
  • Breathing and relaxing into the feeling of it. Get comfortable with the discomfort, or as I mention in another article, sit down to tea with your overwhelm!
  • Noticing that the feeling often gives rise to the impulse to start thinking faster, planning and doing, gently resisting that impulse

Taking responsibility today
If your habit is to feel comfortable with overwhelm, then much of the anxiety and stress around it disappears, or at least reduces enough for you to simply focus on what you can do today, and for that to be good enough. This then tends to give rise to quiet satisfaction  and confidence; knowing that you made good and effective use of your time, even in the face of the chaos of a never-ending to-do list!

Trusting in something bigger helps
Another object of mindfulness that I find combines very well with acceptance and responsibility is a trust in something bigger. This involves, in any way you personally conceive it, getting in touch with a sense there is some kind of higher or deeper intelligence that is guiding you in your life. Amidst all the overwhelm and the multiple factors that are too numerous for your everyday mind to process, there is is a fore that is for you and guiding you in a benevolent manner. Trust and let yourself be held by this guiding force, you don’t need to control everything!

A simple meditation on this process might involve firstly getting in touch with your feeling of overwhelm and working on accepting it. Then focus trusting an intelligence bigger than yourself, relaxing into that sense of being held. Briefly at the end you might think of the time period immediately ahead of you, and take responsibility for it, planning what you are going to do. Then as you go about your actions, be mindful of both your acceptance and trust, using them to navigate your overwhelm effectively.

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2020. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact  


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At a glance: All upcoming classes and workshops for at IMA:

Ongoing – Weekly Tuesday, Wednesday Online class schedule

Ongoing on Wednesday’s, 7.30-8.30pm – Wednesday Meditation for stress transformation and positive energy with Toby (Bukit Timah)

Ongoing on Tuesday evenings, 7.30-8.30pm – Tuesday Meditation for stress transformation and positive energy with Toby  (East Coast)

Friday 2nd  September @ 7.30-8.30pm – Live & Online Monthly Full Moon Meditation & Manifestation Session

Sunday 10th October, 3.30-5pm – Get Your Meditation Practice Started Now (Live & Online) – The Shortest and Most Time Effective Meditation Workshop Ever

Tuesday 27th & Weds 28th October, 7.30-8.30pm – Samhain Meditation (Live & Online) – Acknowledging the gifts and wounds of our ancestors

Ongoing – The Men’s Group – The path of conscious manhood

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