Overwhelm and Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s)

Liesel Teversham

Liesel helps HSP introverts to embrace their sensitivity as a superpower, and overcome obstacles so they can thrive. She also works with clients to solve their health issues, and has authored 2 books. More here.

Published on 2022/08/18

I just love synchronicity.

I have not written much in the past few weeks because I’ve been dealing with a big, uncomfortable bout of fatigue, coupled with overwhelm. When you’re exhausted, just about everything feels overwhelming.

I’m an HSP – and you might be too. High sensitivity is the “ability to register and process environmental stimuli”. Those stimuli can be both internal (body sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions) as well as external (temperature, expectations, responsibilities, food, childhood experiences, others’ moods, what’s going on in the world). For more on this, read the excellent book Neurosensitivity, by Dr Patrice Wyrsch.

An exhausted HSP needs to minimize ‘inputs’ in order to recover. I’ve been doing that over the past few weeks and I have energy again to write and interact.

Back to synchronicity. So there I was this morning on FB to copy something I posted recently, when I was distracted by my FB memories. And what do I find? A post I wrote in 2013 about overwhelm!
I decided it’s a brilliant topic for today. Sometimes FB is an extremely helpful tool, grin!

First… what’s overwhelm?

It’s the experience of being overcome by powerful forces or feelings. We can experience incapacitating emotional or mental stress when something overwhelms us.

You might know the feeling? We feel unable to deal with whatever is there. I’ve experienced this often in the past 4 weeks:

I open my email program and see Allllllllllllllll the hundreds of emails in there, and go blank. I can’t focus on one at a time. There’s just a mountain and my mind switches off. It feels like a huge tsunami-wave coming at me. I close the email because I can’t face being overwhelmed by so many.


I open my tasks in ToDoIst and look at allllllllllll the tasks. I’ve already prioritized them so I only need to look at a few. But my mind can’t face the pile at the moment, nor decide which one to tackle first. I close ToDoIst because it’s overwhelming my current energy resources to make any decisions.

What can we do when this happens?

For an HSP, one key is to shrink the list as much as possible. We process much more from the environment than less sensitive people. If we’re already in a less resourceful state (low energy), we need to shrink down anything we must face as much as we can.

I asked my Facebook followers this question in 2013:

“What guidance or advice do you have for someone who feels totally overwhelmed with everything they have to get done?”

There were some great ideas. Maybe something here helps you. At the end, I provide my own summary.

  • “Delegate wherever possible, read your book on the Upside of saying No …and do all the simple easy things first which may give her the energy and necessary willpower to tackle the larger things. She probably is usually very capable but now that she’s feeling low can’t cope and needs to start small.” (Clare Hoekstra)


  • “Ask her : how does one eat an elephant? And then tell her to eat it one small chunk at a time. And help her enjoy the chunks. If you chop up everything and enjoy every small chunk it’s fine, isn’t it? I did that and I am half way now eating the elephant, enjoying every little bit.” (Liesbeth van Woerden)


  • “Stay in the now. Learn how to take care of herself first. Breathe. If it ain’t fun ask “then why the hell am I doing it?” “(Forrest Samnik)


  • “Take a step back, take a deep breath, and let go. In other words, go for a walk, take a nap, or several. Take a mini vacation, a staycation. Do one thing that will replenish the soul. Read the bible, see a good movie, sit in silence. Exercise, yoga, embrace what is most important, life itself. Just one of these recommendations will change one’s outlook for the moment and weeks to come.” (Paul Lawrence Vann)


  •  “Being a mom of 7, I have so been there on so many accounts. I so lovingly suggest that first she first take a moment to rejoice in the fact that she is well on her way to reclaiming her time because she has now recognized that she is overwhelmed! Yeah!!! Congratulations, now she knows that while maybe earlier she felt the need to take on so much, now she can choose to do things differently from here on out one step at a time. Even though there are many obligations to follow through with, she can now think about how they can be done with something in it for her. While planning, can you sit down alone with a nice cup of tea, some relaxing music? Or before starting to work on projects, take 10 minutes to do something that she wants to do. Or set time limits. ’30 minutes on projects, 10 minutes for me’. I am sure it is important for her to follow through, but she must take some care of herself in some fashion, otherwise, her energy will be doubly depleted by the feelings of anxiety, frustration, and in my case – I was crabby! Which is no fun for anyone. The most important thing is to begin today, no matter what doing something for yourself to recharge and feel like you are moving forward and learning your message of the “Upside of Saying No”  (Kelly Wagner)


  • “TAP ” (Marie Holliday) (She’s referring to EFT tapping here.)


  • “Chill girl – go for a dip (pool or sea ) then pig out on something you like , while making a priority list and start one at a time after a good night’s sleep. With baby steps, you’ll soon be winning. “ (Elmarie Castlemaine)


  • “Pray and ask for guidance. Hand over what you can’t control. Tap.” (Sue Goutier)


  • “Do any small task that in some way works toward knocking down the larger “to do” list. It’s amazing how accomplishment can breed confidence and make the difficult seem much more achievable. “(Valerie Ormond)


  • “People take on too many things because they feel they have to be responsible, no one else can do it, taking time for themselves is a luxury etc… when the reality is, if you don’t take time to take care of you, you can’t possibly take care of anyone else. It’s like trying to run a car with no petrol, fill yourself up first with what you love and take one step at a time from there.” (Nicky Davies)


  • “Someone one I know wrote a book recently about the power of saying no …. I would suggest she read that to start. And the most important bit of advice being ” no is a complete sentence”. But on a more serious note, I find that when I need to buy time, I say things like: That sounds great, but can I please check my diary before I commit, as I have so many things going on at the moment, and I don’t want to say yes now, and then have to bail out on you later. I’ll let you know tomorrow’” (Sue Schoening)

My own Summary:

Taking on too much and getting overwhelmed are very intertwined. When we have a sensitive nervous system, it’s easier to feel overpowered by everything…. And if we’ve taken on too much, it leads to overwhelm as well. We need to strike a balance between our care for others, and our care for ourselves.

There are immediate actions necessary, as well as mid-term and long-term.


  • Take a step back. Do something to get some distance – a walk, breathing, a swim, a cup of tea, your favourite music. Something enjoyable to break the stressed state.
  • Get as much off your plate as possible right now. What you can delegate, delay or drop completely?
  • Do some EFT tapping to restore calmness to your nervous system. This would be especially necessary if you’re already committed to too much and need to let people k now that you need to delay some. Here’s a video to tap along for overwhelm. 

Mid and long term:

  • We need to break the pattern of getting too much on our plate in the first place, and not feeling okay to take it off and rest first.
  • Read my book “No Problem. The Upside of Saying No”.
  • Keep tapping for all the reasons it’s hard to say no. They’re all in the book. There are tapping ideas, and many other pieces like Enneagram Types that also contribute to the pattern. It’s ultimately first of all necessary to address the emotional contributors, and then we can learn new skills for the long term.
  • Keep reminding yourself that other people are capable, resourceful, creative, whole and complete, too. That privilege is not only yours <grin>. If we let them know we need to delay, there might be a few grumbles and mumbles… and ultimately, if it’s the kind of person who respects you, they’ll make a plan.

There’s more to say about this topic, and I hope there was something helpful here for you.

What tips can you share with us to deal with overwhelm and too much on the plate?


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