Shifting Out of Overwhelm: Ten Simple+ Soulful Ideas

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to start taking steps towards simplifying your life and charging it up with more tranquility + fun. Here are some simple, gentle ideas that can get you started on the journey, from my own blog archives.

Don’t try to do all of them at once. Choose a small change or two that resonates, and start doing it… today.

Because shifting from overwhelm to happiness, like all journeys, begins with a choice + a few small steps. And you get to proceed at just the pace you choose. Every stage of the journey is okay, even if you get stuck at times and even take the occasional step backwards or sideways. Keep going; it’s worth it. You can’t do happiness wrong. (And by the way… I totally believe in you!)

Ten Soulful Sanity Ideas Just for You

1. Do something nice for yourself every day… in just 15 minutes.

2. Create one tiny corner of space that is restful for your eyes + arranged just as you like… and help that oasis slowly expand outwards.

3. Create a list of things that help you recharge when you’re tired.

4. Find tiny ways to embrace peace in the moment throughout your day.

5. Create a calming + nurturing bedtime routine… for yourself!

6. Get in the habit of saying yes only when it’s right for you.

7. Get some things you don’t really want to do off your to-do list.

8. Create spaciousness in your time with the magic of a mindful calendar.

9. Redefine what balance looks like.

10. Celebrate what you are doing right as a parent.

Choice and Action

What small change calls you the most in your journey to a less-stressed life? What is one small thing you can do today to move forward with making that change happen for yourself?

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Nine Moments of Peace Amidst Chaos

It’s the small things that truly give us peace. Tiny decisions, each one alone with limited impact. Incremental, microscopic rainbow-light prism-moments we gift ourselves. Little gems of peace, love, joy or rest.

Listening to my son chatter loudly and bang things around in his room during “rest time,” I slowly and mindfully eat a single square of dark chocolate. Teeny tiny bites, letting each one melt on my tongue before swallowing and eating another. Eyes closed, focusing only on taste and scent and mouthfeel, LittleA’s sounds and my own annoyance wash over and through me. A meditation in cacao.

Sitting down in my car about to head out for errands, I ignore my pressing sense of urgency and take the extra moment to hook up my phone to the car audio system and hit play. As I pull out of the driveway Michael Franti’s wise grooviness both transports and centers me. Taking that extra moment to add one small thing I love to my space, some delight to my duty.

LittleA is painting, and I am watching him because he insists upon my full attention. I start to feel bored and resentful and decide… to get my own paper and paint something too. Something messy and goofy and totally inept, just for fun. Peace in participating instead of grumpy watching.

In between two productive, fulfilling + intense client coaching sessions, writing a blog entry feels like the shouldiest of obligations. I check in with myself and decide to read other peoples’ blogs, instead. Connection and learning, feeding my creativity that I might in turn create again.

After my son is in bed and quiet-ish, before my husband comes home, I walk down to the basement and spend just five minutes painting with acrylics, then a few more cleaning my brushes. Slowly, in soft layers and deep textures, the painting emerges. In those short spontaneous bursts of creation.

My son is building endless towers of blocks at a coffeeshop, and I’m scanning my email, wishing I had my laptop so I could write a few longer responses. I put my phone away, and sip my coffee staring with a soft gaze into the middle distance, allowing myself to smile at nothing. Rushing is not required. Nothing in this moment is required.

Exercising against my inclination, limbs moving through water, because I know it’s what I need to do to heal my body. Flash of choice: continued resentment for the whole class? I give in and let the resentment come with all its might. I even do a flurry of a grudging resentment-dance in the water, thrashing my arms angrily. And turn my attention to the way the water feels against my skin, and gratitude for what I can do with my mighty mortal body.

My husband and I reading silently side by side, totally immersed in separate endeavors. One of us reaches across to the other– a hand on a knee, a head on a shoulder, resting for a moment. Connection across parallel play. Bridging the gap.

Frustrated with my book-writing progress, I shut down the computer. Head to my basement room, where I do art and dance and have an altar. Light a candle and brainstorm on index cards. Peace through engaging my muse on her own terms, instead of pushing… or giving up.

I am like you. I could tell the stories of decisions that go the other way, too, oh believe me… the ones where I chose stress and busy-ness and angst instead of allowing myself that moment of peace. The ones where I procrastinate and half-work/half-play instead of giving my all to something for those precious few moments. I waste time and energy. I choose the opposite of mindfulness. I screw up.

We all face those small moments of choosing, everyday. We all go both ways on them, myriads of choices both messy and sublime. We are human, and trusting in the okayness of that is, itself, peace. But I am not telling you those stories today. Today, in this moment, I am focusing on the times when I chose love and peace.

How do you choose peace?

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Claiming Holiday Spaciousness

Space. Openness. Fully enjoying traditions and family time. The holiday season is here, and sometimes it can feel more like a time of pressure and rushing than a time of enjoyment.

Original image by Leondardo Dasilva, modifed by Thekla Richter

Original image by Leondardo Dasilva, modifed by Thekla Richter

Here are some themes I saw in the responses to my survey a few years ago about holiday stresses and joys, which some of you participated in a while back:

  • Most of you would love to have more time to savor the parts of the holiday season that you love. Some of you want time to do tasks with your own hands that you enjoy when not rushing… for example, baking and wrapping presents. Some of you just want to bask in holiday music and sip hot cocoa.
  • Many of you feel a lot of pressure from extended family to celebrate with them in specific ways and at specific times. Many of you mentioned how hard it is to have so many sets of parents with their own celebrations, expectations and timetables. Some of you also pointed out how particularly hard this is when extended families are far-flung, and travel enters the picture.
  • A large number of you volunteered very specifically that you really want a massage. (Excellent idea!)

None of these challenges have simple solutions– except maybe that desire for a massage– but here are some ideas to get you started on creating a holiday season that feeds you instead of draining you.

Decide What Matters… To You

Spend some time daydreaming, journalling or otherwise thinking through what you most want to take away from the holiday season this year. Talk with your spouse/partner (and children, if they are old enough) about what matters most to them about this time of year.

Commit yourselves as a family to honoring your priorities and fully making space for them. Make a list and post it somewhere that all of you can see, or choose some other method to keep your shared priorities top of mind. Refer back to this list of what matters most when you make decisions about what you will, and won’t, do throughout the holiday season.

Embrace Spaciousness

If feeling relaxed, savoring the season and enjoying your family matter to you this holiday season, give yourself the gift of slow + unrushed time. Prioritize and hold space for what matters to you, and say no to things that don’t fit. It can feel like giving things up, but really? It’s actually giving yourself the ability to fully savor the things you do without stress. Here are some ways this might look:


Dramatically simplify crafts, decorating, cooking, shopping and gifts… except for the activities that you actually enjoy doing more elaborately. Choose just a few things you really enjoy doing and allot lots of time for them. Let your spouse or partner, and older kids, take on a few tasks they would enjoy or make some tasks a family project to enjoy doing together.

Skip, or outsource, things that don’t bring you great joy. Even if you’ve done them in the past, you don’t have to do them this year. Less can be more if you can appreciate instead of resenting these tasks.

Not sure whether something is an expectation or a joy? Do a gut check. If thinking about doing something makes you tense up your body or feel anxiety or pressure, it’s probably not something you want. If thinking about it makes you feel longing, eagerness, peacefulness or nostalgia, it might be one of the things worth making time for.

Skip the comparison game this holiday season, too. If looking at pictures of other people’s decorations, baking or crafts makes you feel bad about your own family’s choices, avoid spending lots of time drooling over Pinterest boards. Instead, step away from your computer and go do something you really love.

Let Go

Make a list of the things that you are NOT doing this holiday season. Perhaps you’ll do some of them another year, or another time of year, or never. When the chance comes up to do something on the “let go” list… remind yourself that you’ve decided not to do that activity… this year, at least… so that you can enjoy your other activities more.

Book Yourself First

Use your calendar to hold LOTS of time for things you might not have formally scheduled in the past.

Create actual appointments for quiet time by yourself, mellow unstructured family time, holiday crafts if you enjoy them, shopping and other activities that come up during this time of year. Give yourself at least double the amount of time that you think something “should” take and plan to do it earlier than you need to. All of this helps you avoid crises and rushing. If you are an introvert, highly sensitive or otherwise the kind of person who thrives best with lots of downtime, make sure that any especially busy interludes or draining social events have plenty of rest time scheduled beforehand and afterwards. You can literally put “rest” or “nothing” on your calendar.

Don’t stand yourself up. Holding open space requires noticing and reinforcing the edges of the container around it. Reschedule appointments for downtime or preparation if you need to shift things around, but avoid outright cancelling on yourself.

Say No

Say no to invitations and events that aren’t your top priorities. Putting aside time on your calendar for your own family’s needs is great, but it will work only if you actively defend that time against other priorities. If you feel torn, ask yourself… is this more important than my commitment to a less-stressed holiday season? What will I be giving up to say yes to this?

Saying no to things you’ve said yes to in the past takes practice. Be kind to yourself if you encounter a learning curve or internal resistance as you strengthen your saying-no muscles.

Get Strategic With Extended Family

Saying no to invitations, events and travel often means setting some limits on time with extended family, such as your own parents and siblings. This might mean travelling less, or insisting on a less-packed itinerary when you do travel. If you live closer to your family, this might mean saying yes to some invitations but no to others. It could also mean renegotiating expectations around gift-giving or how time is spent.

Discussing social justice and politics– or not discussing them– is another issue that we can plan ahead for. If you are progressive and your family is more conservative, the SURJ Thanksgiving guide applies to more than just Thanksgiving and is a fantastic resource if you are willing to do the important work of having meaningful discussion over holiday turkey. This powerful piece by Southern Poverty Law Center also has some beautiful approaches to discussing tough issues with family, among other common situations. And if you make the choice not to have these conversations, you can still set boundaries about topics are not willing to discuss.

In some families,  peoples’ evolving needs + expressed boundaries are accepted cheerfully and with grace. In others, not so much. Some folks feel ready to rock the boat and do more self-advocating; others don’t. Changing long-standing family of origin dynamics can be hard, obviously, and digging deep into doing that is well beyond the scope of a single blog post like this. If you need support, therapists can help with family of origin work like this.


After the new year, check in with yourself and your family again. Did the pace of the holidays feel right to you – do you wish you had done more or less? Did you skip something and actually end up missing it a lot? Was something particularly wonderful? Any plans for changing how you spend time with extended family for future holidays? Talk it over while the experiences are all still fresh in your minds, and learn for next year. Creating a peaceful holiday season is an ongoing project as needs and desires shift from year to year.

Get That Massage

Get the massage. Or if it’s not a massage you long for, create the space for whatever nurturing experience you yearn for. Grownups get to do nice things for themselves. You do have an hour or two to spare if you desire it, no matter how busy you feel.

Your Holiday Spaciousness

What has worked for your family to keep the holiday season unrushed + pleasant? What are you trying this year?

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Three Self-Connection Rituals for Honoring Exhausted Emptiness: Too Tired for Me Time

Readers have asked me before how to break out of the feedback loop of being too tired for fun or self-care or me-time… especially during that window of time after the kids are in bed and you are not. Sometimes it seems like when you most long for self-nurture, it’s hardest to find the energy to step into that loving quiet space. Because, damn are you tired… right?

Photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani, Creative Commons.

Photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani, Creative Commons.

Here are a few super-simple ways to give richly to yourself without lots of effort, when you are exhausted but not ready to sleep and need some serious self-nurture.

1. Tune into your breath.

Mindful breathing can be a great mini-retreat from the world and reconnect you to your body… all while doing something you need to do anyway… breathing! Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, and close your eyes.

Focus on your breath. Just notice it at first, without trying to change anything. Then, if you choose, you can slow down and deepen your breathing gently… no effort. If your mind feels busy and full of thoughts, that is normal and totally okay. Try to lightly notice them and let them float by, returning your attention to your breath.

Do this for however long feels good. Unless you have an ongoing meditation practice, that will probably be just for a few minutes at most… which is fine. When you are done, check in with yourself. How do your mind and body feel right now? What would feel good to do next? Follow that feeling.

2. Savor your space.

Try this 10 minute activity to help you deeply experience the enjoyment of your space and the present moment.

Whatever room you are spending time in… living room, bedroom, office… set a timer and take 2 minutes to declutter it. Don’t spend more than that and don’t overthink it. No need for perfection or efficiency. Just focus on whatever’s most bugging you that can be quickly remedied, and do it. Stop after 2 minutes… no turning this into a big cleaning session.

Now spend 3 minutes doing things to make the space beautiful and pleasant for yourself, right now, using all your senses. What could you do to give yourself the gift of a few really decadent minutes in this room? Like this… Put fresh sheets on your bed. Arrange the pillows just so for a comfy nest on your sofa. Light a candle. Spritz the room with a scent you love. Place a glass of your favorite beverage on a table. Put the book you are reading somewhere accessible. Put on music that you love.

You’ll find your own version of these ideas, depending on your taste and the room you’re in. Simply do whatever tiny things you can do to set yourself up for a short interlude of simple pleasure.

Now spend 5 minutes… or more if you feel so moved… simply enjoying your space. Read, close your eyes and listen to music, or just sit in the room and BE for a moment.

3. Soak up serenity.

Make yourself an epic + awesome bath.

This activity might require a bit of advance preparation in the form of a short shopping trip if you don’t normally keep decadent bath supplies on hand. Buy some essential oils, bath salts, bubble bath or whatever makes you love luxuriating in the tub. Plain epsom salts can be great too if scents aren’t your thing. Set up the room lovingly for yourself… dim lights, candles if you like them, music or silence as you choose. Run the water cool, warm or hot as your mood and taste dictate. Step in and soak for a while. Even a 10 minute bath can feel wonderful so don’t feel like you have to save this idea for when you have lots of time.

Not a bath person? Create a super-sensual shower for yourself instead. That’s totally allowed! This is all about you and taking a bit of time for what you enjoy.

And what else?

What can you do to slow down and be kind to yourself for a few short minutes, in a way that feels super gentle + easy? Do you want to try any of these short self-care rituals? Do you have other ones of your own? Please share your tips, ideas and experiments in the comments.

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Islands of Tranquility in a Sea of Chaos

When you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start creating the serenity you crave, don’t try to do everything at once– and don’t simply give up. Build islands of tranquility in your life. Even if– especially if– your life feels like a sea of chaos sometimes.


If your home is beyond cluttered and you feel like you are swamped with chaos, clean and beautify just one small space for yourself. Choose something that can be done in whatever amount of time feels easy. Choose something that you will enjoy, not something you “should” clean. Your island of tranquility can be as small as a chair you love next to a window, a corner with a cushion in it for meditating or dreaming, your bed, your desk or a small shelf that holds things you enjoy looking at. Make this one space clean and beautiful, and devote a few minutes each day to keeping it lovely… just for yourself.

If you feel like the items on your to-do list are rising up to drown you, take a deep breath and remember that you can only do one thing at a time. Choose just one thing that you can make tangible progress on today. Work on it for a short time… five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour or whatever feels easy. Remember all the things you did that weren’t on any list. Notice the progress, big or small, that you made today. Know that your time, energy and persistence can rise to the occasion and accomplish enough.

If you feel unmoored because your life is lacking desired routine and structure, add just one small habit or mini-routine into your day. Make one change, commit to it, and see what else needs to shift to support that change. Once you have one needed routine added into your life, you can evaluate whether adding more structure would help. Start simple. Start easy. Lay just one stone of the foundation and trust that even small shifts can support you greatly.

If you are awash in loneliness, who are the people who anchor you? Your spouse or partner, your best friend, your sister or mom? Whoever they are… be with the people you can count on to love you. Invite them. Offer something to them. Ask of them. Call them on the phone, chat with them over coffee or lunch, take the kids to the park together, or watch a movie with them after the kids are in bed. Sure, perhaps you also long for new connections or more community in your life or much more time for connection… but the love you long for most is likely closer than you think and nourished more easily than your brain would have you think. Look nearby and open yourself.

If you need time to yourself, find a time where your spouse or partner or friend can be on point, or your kiddo is reliably asleep, for just 15 minutes per day. And give yourself whatever it is that your soul most needs with your small island of alone time. A little self-nurture, done consistently, goes a long way.

Create an island of tranquility, and simply dwell there for a time, replenishing. Return often and nourish yourself in small sips and deep drafts. From these islands, built one by one, you can expand outward when you are ready. Root yourself, and grow.

And someday your islands will be so many and so expansive that they will begin, magically, to overlap and connect. And you’ll find that tranquility and chaos can coexist more easily than you ever dreamed.

Look around you, and look within you. Where will you create or expand your next island of tranquility?

Need some help adding tranquility into your life? Sign up today for my upcoming free teleseminar on making space for self-nurture on September 18th.

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Overcoming Self-Resentment

When I’m doing the priority dance right, the steps feel light. I might be pulled quickly between directions, but my steps are instinctive, sure. And I feel the pulls attracting me as shaping my dance rather than competing for my energy and time. Sure, I would love to have more time. Who wouldn’t? But I feel peace about my choices.

Image by Alex Bellink, Creative Commons License.

Image by Alex Bellink, Creative Commons License.

I don’t always feel that way, of course. Right now I feel downright resentful about where some of my time is going and how my choices are constricted. And I am resisting the pulls I feel, instead of lightly and without attachment adjusting my steps for a while to suit.

I am resenting and resisting my body, which hurts a lot of the time because of some mysterious misbehavior in my upper back. As I write this, I notice that even the metaphor I began this post with involves my dancing body. I use dancing metaphors all the time because to me dance can encompass all of me in a way that nothing else really does. But literal dancing is fleeting just now– I can do it only a few minutes at most– and edged with the threat of accidentally overdoing it and causing burning pain that once awoken can take days to calm down.

“I hate that,” I said to a fellow coach about all this, “I just hate that.” Part of me wanted to just repeat that over and over to her for a while as a tearful mantra. Part of me felt seriously annoyed with myself for being so upset when other people have far more serious illnesses, disabilities and problems. A lot of attachment going on to some pretty harsh perspectives. A lot of emotional flailing.

The back pain is one of those situations where I can only control what I do; I can’t control the outcome. So in an effort to address the issue more meaningfully, I decided to treat fixing my back as a project fully co-equal with the other major things on my plate right now. To me, that meant things like writing up a document with goals, action items and notes. Making sure that something is always happening to try to move forward. Giving the project a name– I chose Body Temple Love, to help reinforce the values that make taking care of myself important to me. To some these steps might feel unimportant, but to me they are part of making intentions real. And I intend to take my body seriously, whether I resent it or not.

Of course adding another big project to my plate means making space for it. I pushed out plans for other things that I really want to do this year, lightening my own workload. I don’t know how much I will have to keep pushing out in the name of  fixing my back… getting to appointments, doing exercises and whatever else might be involved as I keep trying different approaches and hope that I find something that works.

But I am going to live in this body for a long time to come, I hope. I need to take care of it. I am worthy of taking care of myself including this body. I can’t keep pretending that if I ignore pain it will go away. I can’t tell myself that just because I virtually did all my physical therapy exercises, the universe owes me predictable healing on a neat and tidy schedule. Sometimes things don’t work that way.

It’s funny, but when LittleA gets sick and I lose sleep and work time as a result, I might resent the situation but I don’t ever resent LittleA or the needs of his little body. Somehow, in my mind, his illnesses simply come with the territory of being a parent. I accept them with a love and matter-of-factness that seems a lot harder to bring to my perspective around my own body’s less-than-perfect functioning.

Bodies falter, even fail. That comes with the territory of being alive. (And it’s better than the alternative.) Overall, in fact I enjoy very good health – even my back is not limiting my major activities too much. I am careful with lifting and I can’t walk as far or dance as long as I could before, but I can still move about, walk, drive and do all kinds of other life tasks. I am grateful for my own health, and I am grateful for my family’s health, and I am grateful for the access we have to medical care. Gratitude, acceptance and conscious choice are the only things I know of that can cut through resentment. I will keep trying to open myself to them.

What do you do when you resent your own needs? How do you work with yourself to accept them, and yourself, more lovingly?

P.S. Please, please, please don’t give me any advice on fixing or healing back issues. Thank you for understanding!

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