How to stop feeling overwhelmed and stop overloading yourself (lessons from my body shutting down)

A few weeks ago my body decided it had had enough and it gave up. I was paralysed. Not only paralysed but I would get muscle spasms crushing my spine when I tried to move and if I attempted to stand I would black out. It was terrifying.

The past few weeks have taught me some great lessons in slowing down, appreciating more, being present with my family and prioritising. I have learnt what is important to me and that I, like many others, do not live a life that is sustainable or healthy. We live in a constant state of overwhelm and stress.

How to stop feeling overwhelmed - lessons from when my body gave up

To give you an idea, one Tuesday morning I bent down to pick up a bobby pin and my back seized up. I called out to the friend living with me to come help me. I rang [email protected] (I do a fair amount of work with them) and said I’d be unable to come in for a couple of days but could still work from home.

No, I could not. Not to the level I expected and I was not back within a few days.

I injured my back in netball as a 15 year old and at the end of my second pregnancy I was paralysed and nothing could be done until I gave birth. I selected an epidural once induced, and there were some issues with that. After my daughter was born the pressure on my sciatic nerve was relieved and I could walk again, for a short while. Soon after her birth I was paralysed again and it turned out I had a slipped/ruptured disc in my lower back. This would be a problem for life.

I have aggravated it before, each time it lasted only a few days, so assumed this would be the same. I was wrong.

The past few weeks have changed my life.

To be honest, I am not that surprised my body said “STOP!” in such an extreme manner.

I have been putting in full time hours at a job, running my company, on the board for a charity, been in the media and at a variety of events about domestic violence and homelessness and many people in my life were getting quite concerned at the pace I was going. I had some of my best friends tell me to slow down, my dad called asking me to be careful and even my uncle, whom I reached out to when I was laying in bed crippled with pain (medical professional) was not surprised my body physically gave up.

I don’t ever want to get back to that place where I am overwhelmed, stressed, doing everything for everyone and not looking after myself.

How do you stop feeling overwhelmed?

1.) Learn to say NO!
I find it hard to say no. I have overcome great obstacles and am capable of sharing my story without it destroying me emotionally. Because of this, I get asked to share it quite a bit with media, at events, attend events or promote various charities.

I take on too much work with my own company because being self employed and a single parent I get nervous about the income.

This had to stop. I had to say no to all the requests. I had no idea when I would be capable of walking again and between the pain, the medication I was on and the limited consciousness I had, there was not a lot of time in a day where I could do anything.

One of the biggest surprise lessons for me in all of this came in the first week. The first week was horrendous with pain, hospital, passing out and in general being incapable of anything. In that first week, when my coherent and capable time was so severely limited I had to prioritise highly and accept help. I ended up making more money that week than I had any other week this year.

That’s right. When I cut back everything to the bare basics and had a sole focus in the limited time I had, I made more money. This leads me to tip number 2…

2.) You don’t need to rush around and do it all
I accepted everything, I would take it all on and do it myself because I wanted it done a certain way or did it faster or whatever. This is not sustainable. It is also a really stupid way to live.

I let go in other areas of my life, but for some reason, there are parts of my company I have struggled to outsource even though I know it would benefit me.

Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you have to do it.

Step back and take a proper look at your life. What are you taking on that you don’t need too? What can you outsource or let others help with? What is important to you?

3.) Let others help
I am fiercely independent. I have been a single mum for over 3 years now. When I was married he was a shift worker and the bulk of things fell on me to do anyway.

After experiencing domestic violence, homelessness and other horrible experiences, I learnt to rely on and trust myself. I found it difficult to let others into my life or to allow them to help. I would be friendly and approachable, but rarely let people help when they offered.

I had no choice the past few weeks.

I tried, much to the frustration of my friend, to continue to do things myself. It didn’t work.

The first day I got them to assist me in getting to the toilet and was determined to do this myself. Before I even got in there the room was closing in and my vision was going. I managed to finish and get my pants up, called out for them, but blacked out and hit the floor as they came around the corner.

The next time was worse. Still determined to do these things myself, but with my back deteriorating, I was sat on the toilet and they walked away at my request. I wanted to keep some dignity.

I realised very quickly this was not going to work and as soon as I finished I started to black out.

There I was, sitting on the toilet and had to be lifted off. This was so humiliating to me I started to cry. A few tears fell down my cheeks as they put their arms around me then I passed out in their arms.

I was not capable of anything. I deteriorated more that day and the next to the point I could not roll over without assistance. We had called the ambulance on the first night, but they said as we already had the prescription medication the hospital would give us there wasn’t much point. It was my choice if I went in or not. I decided to stay home.

Within 2 days I could not move at all and any slight movement caused intense, long muscle spasms. We called the ambulance again and I went into hospital.

It took me two days of intense pain, high medication, and the persistence of my friend before I relented and accepted help. I had accepted I needed my friend, to a point (I still wanted to do a lot myself and attempted to once out of hospital, which set my recovery back further.)

In hospital I realised two things:

The first – I cannot do this myself.

The second – I have many people who want to help, have offered help. I need to swallow my pride and reach out.

I allowed people to cook for me. I relaxed, listened to my friend and instead of trying to be independent, I let them help and my recovery went much faster and smoother.

I realised, I have this independent attitude across all aspects of my life and it has to stop. Independence is great in many ways. Inner strength is essential, but we do not and cannot do everything on our own.

Also, this was not all about me. As a single mother, I have two young daughters who needed to be cared for during this time, taken to and from school and various things. If I continued to push myself, I would not be here for them.

I know how much it hurts to not have your mum around. My mum died of cancer when I was 15. She was 37. I don’t want my daughters to grow up without me.

You don’t have to do everything yourself either. Let others in.

4.) Know the why
Why are you doing everything? Why do you feel stressed and overwhelmed? What are you taking on you don’t need to? What do you realistically have control of and what do you need to let go of.

I know my why’s for doing all I was doing:
Fear. Fear of failure (predominantly failure as a mother followed by failure in my business). Fear of not living up to everyone else’s expectations. Fear of not having enough money to give my daughters the things they need. Fear of getting hurt, being let down or worse by relying on other people. Fear of so many things.

Why are you living the way you are? Once you know the reason behind your behaviour you can actively seek to change.

My fear of failure – ridiculous! I am an over achiever and if I died tomorrow, I have not failed. I have succeeded greatly. Not only that but failure is fantastic.

Failure is only the opportunity #quote #inspiration

You will learn more from failure than from success. Failure teaches us, shapes us, helps us grow and builds our character. Failure is beneficial. Embrace it. No one is perfect.

Fear of not living up to everyone else’s expectations? RIDICULOUS! No one else is living my life. This is my life, and who cares what others think? What they think is more a reflection on them than it is on me. And if I want to give up everything I currently do now, throw it all in and take a completely different path, that is my choice.

Fear of money is based on my past experiences of homelessness. When married, he was out of work for some periods, we often lived on the poverty line (for Australia, not third world countries). I have lived in a garage with my two daughters at one point, couch surfed and not known how I would be able to afford the mortgage, private rent and speech therapy because I was scared of and hiding from my ex husband, couldn’t live in either home, but would not lose my house or reputation and my daughters needed that treatment. Living through that I took away the lesson that I always manage to survive. I always manage to find the money and most of the time I live with that belief. For some reason, this year I have let the fear of money creep back in.

Looking back on the past few years, when I stress and worry I won’t have enough money, I tend to get close to not having enough and sometimes haven’t. When I focus on the positives in my life and keep optimistic about my finances, the money always comes. Not because it magically appears, but because I have worked to set myself up to have multiple streams of income and opportunities which at any time can go up or down. The optimistic attitude sees more ups happen.

Lastly, my fear of being hurt, let down or worse from relying on other people has been possibly the most debilitating. I don’t want to go into much detail, but the snippet of my past I share online, most are not surprised by this. It is the hardest for me to overcome and something I work on daily. Being wary is good, but I would rather live a life where I allow people into my life. Most of the time it is wonderful and learning to trust again has positively benefited my life.

5.) Work out what is really important to you
What are your values and are you living according to them? I know my values, but I had not been living them. Family comes first. Integrity, health, charity/helpful, balance. (Finance used to be in there too, but not so much these days.)

My life became so unbalanced, my family was not coming first in everything, my health failed and I was not helpful to anyone as a result. Laying on my back unable to hug my children hurt more than the physical pain that was so intense I passed out. I knew I had to make drastic changes. I know exactly the life I want for us and it is not how I have been living. I have assumed we will be able to live like that in the future, but the reality is the future is not guaranteed, only the present is.

Know your core values. Take time to sit down, work out what is important to you then make the changes you need to live according to what is important to you.

When you know your values and what is important to you it is much easier to make decision, set goals and direct your life.

6.) Simplify
This is still a work in progress for me. Simplify every area of your life.

The thing I wanted most when I was unable to do anything was to be able to play with my daughters, to hug them properly, kiss them, pick them up from school and spend time with them. I dreamt of travelling, family holidays and activities. Realistically, I have a business I can shape around my family.

When I got home from hospital I looked around my house and felt overwhelmed with stuff. There is so much stuff in this house and I want it gone. I don’t care how it goes, but a good 50% of the things in this house need to leave. I need to simplify how I live.

How am I simplifying?
I am taking it a room or cupboard or drawer at a time. I am asking myself if I really need it, if I use it, if it is worth the feeling of being suffocated by stuff. The answer to a lot of this is no.
I am saying no. I will avoid the shops. I turn down the multiple offers of stuff to review on my sites. I don’t need more stuff. I switched back to my old beauty routine of cleaning my face, using coconut oil as moisturiser, my hair has faded to be closer to my natural colour and I am lightening it a little to do that better. I wear BB cream and mascara, if that.

I have reduced my wardrobe to a few key outfits. It means I am not constantly thinking “What will I wear?” I have a few items for specific things and someone who makes clothes as I need for special events (more on her in another post.)

I have started to outsource more. Accept more help and utilise things in my life that are there to help me save time and money.

I make a point of having breakfast daily. Previously I would skip breakfast.

I switch off the radio in the car so I can talk with my daughters.
In fact, this morning we had a wonderful conversation about what they want to be when they grow up, the options for doing that, different levels of education and what is required for what they want to do. I am open with them in everything. They know I dropped out of school in year 11, but they also know I work hard now. They know I will support them in anything they choose for their lives, unless it is harmful to others or dangerous and as a result we have more open conversations.

We live by The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, or are at least attempt to. We have set meals which are very simple. Specific foods we do and don’t eat, then one day a week there are treats. My kids know this and the requests for junk has dropped significantly. They even say “We can have that on Sunday.” They know that is the day they get to pick treats and that most things should be had or done in moderation.

The change in their attitude and behaviour is astounding.

7.) Lower your expectations
In an ideal world my house would be spotless, my kids would be at school on time every day, I would not work weird hours at times, my favourite outfit wouldn’t get ripped or dirty when I am out the door to a meeting, but hey, life happens.

Stress is a choice.

I realised, through this experience, in the end it probably doesn’t matter. I no longer stress if we are 5 minutes late to school. Obviously we aim to be early, but sometimes the morning just doesn’t work like that and you know what? It is not the end of the world.

What is the end of the world to me is me being a stress head, yelling at my kids to get ready, crushing them emotionally by doing so before they go off to school, affecting their education because they left home feeling their mum was angry or that being on time/work/a meeting or whatever was more important to mum than they are. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING in this world is more important to me than my daughters.

We don’t have to be overwhelmed and stressed. Step back. Breathe. Take a look and cut back where you can.

What changes do you need to make? How do you think you can stop feeling overwhelmed?


  • Maggie Squarepennies

    Kylie you have been through so much in your lifetime and accomplished so much. The questions you raise are important and I will be thinking about them for quite a while. Living according to our values can be tough, but it’s still the main goal. You are wise to accept help. You can only do so much. You might wish to clone yourself several times over to try to do all you had been doing. You are only human. Prioritizing is a challenge, but a crucial thing to do. It’s always a work in progress and we get better at it with practice. Perhaps you can prioritize keeping your energy level healthy. Health is a wonderful thing. I heard someone say that in order to be “responsible” we had to be “response-able.” When we are healthy we are more able to respond. That applies to being there for your daughters. Keep healthy for them as well as yourself. Wishing you well.

  • Kate Horrell

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through this, but you have certainly learned a lot.

    One thing that really jumped out at me is turning off the radio in the car. While my family does sometimes listen to music, I find that our car conversations are always the best. I’m the odd mom who loves to do school runs and taxi my girls everywhere, because we have such lovely discussions during that car time.

    I hope that you will be able to put your back troubles behind you!

  • Alyssa

    Great tips – I have been feeling quite overwhelmed by everything going on in my life at the moment and these tips definitely fit with a lot of what I have been trying to do. Love this post!

  • Amy

    wow, hope you are feeling better now! I find a daily meditation helps me go through whats happened in my day and work out what I’m going to take on and what I’m going to let go. Nothing fancy just a guided meditation i listen to on my iPhone. I see it as a daily maintenance thing!

  • Lyndall

    Hi Kylie – you’ve certainly had some trials and overcoming them depends on your attitude, sorting priorities and being able to let things go. You’ve illustrated this beautifully in the article. Great tips for anyone feeling like everything is closing in on them. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Rachel Stokes

    Thanks for the reminder. A great article. I have just started practicing saying no. I am a serial yes person, i say yes to everything. Just yesterday i was listening to a podcast about the importance of saying no. Even before you say yes, say let me think about this for an hour or two or overnight and get back to you. So far it has served me well. I’m glad you are feeling better.

    • admin

      I think many of us (women) are serial ‘yes’ people. That tip on saying let me think about it can be a great one to use! Thank you for that.

  • Jenny

    Kylie, I am so sorry to hear all the things you’ve gone through. To think that you still have to go through health issues as well must be devastating. I wish you the very best and hope these episodes get less frequent as time goes by.

  • Rachel Smith

    Wow, your blog is amazing and I love this post. I haven’t been there quite so scarily or intensely as you, but I definitely relate to the shutting down / overwhelm thing and just needing to say STOP. For me, the panic of just stopping and recalibrating is about what I think will happen / what people will think / what my editors would say etc etc. In the end, you realise it’s ok and that nothing bad is going to happen if you step off the treadmill for a week or more.
    I loved your point about outsourcing. I started doing that when I was newly pregnant and have continued – just two main things, a cleaner twice a month and doing online grocery shopping, but those two things have changed my life so hugely and taken the pressure off a great deal.
    Off to read some more of your posts now 🙂

    • admin

      Thanks Rachel. Those two things, a cleaner and online groceries can make a huge difference and it is great you recognise and recalibrate as needed.

  • Alysha Herrmann

    Definitely feeling some of that overwhelm lately. Mine has been a cumulative experience building over the past couple of years and it’s something I’ve been aware of managing but is reaching a ‘now or never’ point and I’m making some small and large changes to find a better way through. Big love to you as you navigate yours.


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