How To Get Over Overwhelm by Jackie Yun

Guest Post By Jackie Yun  @JackieYunTweets












Photo courtesy of via Benjamin Miller

“Jackie will have a full report and recommendation for a financial and accounting system on your desk in 2 weeks”.

That was the confident voice of my boss’ boss.  I had no such confidence.  I had no clue how to start, what to do.  I was just a programmer, not a senior business analyst, not a manager.  I had no background in finance or accounting, unless a couple of classes in college counted.  I was just a few years into my professional life.  Back then, there wasn’t much on the Internet, nor was Internet access easy.

Shaky, sweaty and hunched down.  I felt overwhelmed.  While there was no Staples® Easy Button™ to push to meet this or any challenge, I did discover that there are things I could do to get over the overwhelm.

Make Your Environment Work For You > Not Against You.

When my boss came to my cubicle to find out about the meeting, I was so stressed that I burst into tears.  With a comforting hand on my shoulder, he sent me home.

His actions were precisely what was needed.  In her book, The Power of Place, Winifred Gallagher tells us that “our environments are not just backdrops to our lives — they affect how we think, feel and act”.  She cites Roger Barker, founder of environmental psychology, who further clarifies: “once the environmental particulars of a modus operandi work their way into our nervous system, they help close our minds to better options and incline us toward knee-jerk reactions.”

In other words, when you’re overwhelmed, just getting out of your current surroundings, where the negative triggers are located, can change your perspective.

Going home isn’t always an option.  Instead, go to a nearby coffee shop or book store, take a stroll in the park, or even go down to the cafeteria and grab a snack.  If you can’t go somewhere, use the Internet to your advantage and let great photography take you away from those negative triggers for a few minutes.  I love the sunrise pictures Leia Cator (@mscator) tweets.

Your Body Speaks. Help Your Body Say the Right Thing.

Christine Caldwell writes: “I feel the presence of fight/flee/freeze somewhere in my musculature and physiology.  When I isolate, I also feel my defenses. In fact, that is all I feel.” ~ from her book, Getting Our Bodies Back.

When you’re overwhelmed your body feels it and it screams that to yourself and all who see you.  How can we move our body from feeling overwhelmed to one that says it is open and ready for the challenge; not contracted, small or ill?  Use your body’s 5 senses.  Engage in yoga to re-gain flexibility, taste the warmth in a cup of tea to give you resilience, breathe in the fragrance of lavender or rosemary to give you calm or fortitude, or listen and watch Rocky Balboa in his “Gonna Fly Now” scene for the “I Can Do It” stance and feeling. Why not even get up and do that scene with Rocky?

This tweet from Tony Richards (@tonyrichards4) is a clever way of remembering the impact our body’s actions have on our psyche:

║            *Behavior wags the tail of feelings.*

Stop Your Mind From Reaching The Red Zone.

The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, tells owners to make early corrections for their recalcitrant dogs. Past a certain point, the dog won’t heed anything you say or do, his mind is in the Red Zone.  Humans can be like that, too.

Before your mind reaches “The Red Zone of Overwhelm” try settling into meditation (something that leaders should have in their toolkit as evidenced in the HBR Post, The Power of Pause, shared by Rick Ross, @RickRoss10), read poetry and find balance (Terry Del Percio, @WorkIntegrity, tweeted an NPR piece describing how poetry gives peace to the author’s life), or playfully use prompts such as @AnitaBondi’s Interplay Inspiration Deck to gain a different perspective on the situation (and no, I’m not an affiliate, but I am an Anita Bondi fan!).  If overwhelm has not completely hijacked your amygdala, try to engage logic.  Break down the challenge into smaller pieces to see where this takes you.

Reach Out – Your Relationships Can Help.

If you’re in overwhelm, your focus is narrowly centered on yourself; not surprising, given what your body and mind are doing.  Instead of looking inward, look outward.  Look to connect with your network of support.  Your network of support are the positive people who have your best interest at heart, who will uplift you and help move you forward.  Your network can be comprised of friends, relatives, mentors, coaches, colleagues or even kind strangers!  My boss and my husband each gave me learnings that I’ve kept with me throughout my career with good impact:

  • • Even though time is of the essence for almost every project, there is time to stop to recalibrate. Make sure you take that time.
  • • Figure out what you can do, then humbly without apology make your offer, their decision is not a reflection of you ~ and remember, you don’t have anything to prove.

Use The 4 Quadrants To Give You The Answers

James Flaherty, founder of New Ventures West (my professional coaching alma mater) introduced the concept of the 4 Quadrants as a way to evaluate a snapshot of a coachee’s integral state.  It’s a very revealing model when you look at someone from the perspective of their 4 quadrants: environment, body and behavior, individual consciousness (what I’ve been calling the mind), and relationships.  As we’ve seen, it is also a framework to help you get unstuck, such as when you are in overwhelm.

If you’re stuck, take the time to analyze each of these quadrants, see if you are out of balance, and then do work within those quadrants. Soon, you will be liberated and be open to the possibilities!

To Will and all you followers of Will’s blog, much gratitude to you for including me in your day’s reading.  I’d love to hear from you about how you’ve gotten over overwhelm or become unstuck.  Do you use a special framework like the 4 Quadrants?  Do you think the 4 Quadrants would be helpful to you?  Please share your feedback in the comments below. We can learn much from each other.

Jackie Yun is an Integral Coach ® and Former IT Executive.  For more information about Jackie, follow her at @JackieYunTweets



  1. I love this!……I wonder what my “tail” is saying to the world these days. I have just returned from a beautiful urban retreat with fellow female biz owners and my incredible biz coach Darla LeDoux of Align and Profit. My “”tail wagged the whole time…..Now, it is a matter of “keeping my tail out of the cracks of everyday life”-balancing owning a coaching business, QuickBooks, Invoices, coaching my clients, family, marriage and art. So, I love Jackie’s perspective on getting present by having a cup of tea or a whiff of lavender. All are very doable and empowering.Thank you Jackie for the reminder to be present in, not pounded by, all four quadrants! Going to go make myself a cup of tea, now, before I do anything else:)

    • Hello DeAnne,
      I like how you put it: “be present in, not pounded by, all four quadrants”. Your use of the word “pounded” brings to mind the word “bullying” and notably, “overwhelm” is often touched by fear. That, of course, reminded me of your beautiful poem “Oh Fear” and the motivating message within. A must-share must-read piece…
      “Oh Fear” by DeAnne Pearson (1st Three Stanzas)

      Oh fear, oh fear, my old friend,
      I have put you on a shelf.
      It is not that I don’t expect to see you again,
      But while holding onto you, I can’t be myself.

      You have poked me and prodded me as a tool,
      That I have relied on too long and it has made me still,
      And often you have made me the fool.
      But, it is time that I live, and you can watch from the window sill.

      I have things to do and you weigh me down,
      Through Leading Change, that is what I again and again have found-
      That each of us, including me, really does matter.

      Appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post. My question to you is: when can we have that cup of tea together? Love having you in my network of support. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Jackie, for another wonderful post! You shared many creative ideas for restoring calm to chaos: making your environment work for you, helping your body say the right thing, stopping your mind from reaching the red zone, and reaching out to others and then you presented a 4 quadrant method as a way of testing one’s integral state at any point in time. These are wonderful tools to carry in one’s daily toolkit, as life has its inevitable unexpected stresses.

    My current favorite method for getting over overwhelm is to stop my mind from reaching the red zone by meditating. I find this a very helpful approach. That said, I can’t wait to try out the 4 quadrant evaluative measure the next time I’m taken unawares by overwhelm 🙂

    • Hi Dorlee,
      Meditation seems to be so good for so many things. After reading your post, “The Power of Art in Healing” ( ), I’m wondering if there is some meditative power when doing art. In your interview with Pamela Hayes, Board Certified Art Therapist, she said: “The creative process has a way of calming our aggressive behavior, focusing our awareness on the present, and enhancing our self-esteem.”. She also relayed that “… art can reduce anxiety”. Her description sounds so similar to what meditation can bring. Maybe, doing art, is another tool for our toolkit to address the Red Zone of Overwhelm? I’m certainly going to try it next time.

      Thank you for visiting me here! I always appreciate your insights and I learn so much from you on Twitter and via your blog. Hugs to you!!

  3. Jackie – Thank you for this inspiring and practical reflection. SO many wonderful suggestions and links! For me, when I am in overwhelm, I find my mind “chatter” is in overdrive and in control. I’ve learned to give myself permission to take a 15 minute break with the intention of breathing to quiet my mind. This short ‘oasis’ time creates the space for my intuition and “higher self” to provide me with “next steps”. The inspiration I receive always leads me to the solution I am seeking AND helps me to feel better!

  4. Hello Joan,
    Ahhhh ~ your use of the word, “oasis”, conjures up such calm and how it’s almost magical that creating space leads us to solutions for the challenge facing us. Thank you for sharing your approach to getting over overwhelm.

    By the way, I’m including the link to your post “3 Easy Steps to Calm Yourself” as a resource for those who are interested in using affirmations to get oneself to the state of calm > > Hope everyone will try your “Leaping Exercise” and notice the impact for them. I also hope folks will explore your blog for more “Leaping Exercises” and nuggets of wisdom for “Come to the Edge Living”.

    Much gratitude for your support and friendship. ❤

  5. Excellent tips Jackie. As I read each one, I pictured having implemented it, or doing so in the future. Your writing elicited this rehearsal, which will increase the likelihood tips will be available to my overwhelmed mind when they are most needed.

  6. Hi Jackie,

    I love that your toolbox is full!

    One of the unstated ways that you (and I) get over overwhelm is to use the power of your heart. You do it daily on Twitter, and now you do it in your posts. You regularly shine a light on the people you know, helping them and others to be brighter and better. And you do it with an open heart.


  7. First of all I want to say fantastic blog!
    I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.
    I have had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there.
    I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips?
    Thank you!

    • Thank your for your comments.
      I would suggest by doing a brain dump. Just write every thoughts on a piece of paper. Don’t edit them, just let your thought process flow. Once you’re done, apply the law of association and categorize them. Then at that point, start selecting what you like and find the common pattern to start your post.
      Hope this helps.

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