The One-Word Answer to Complete and Total Overwhelm

Over the holiday break, I read a quote by author Glennon Doyle regarding productivity and overwhelm. It read, “We’re in productivity detox right now. That’s why we feel itchy and worthless. But wait it out. Be still. It’s good. We’re remembering our inherent worth.”

For me as a mom and a woman, I know that I attach my “value” to my productivity. Meaning, the busier I am and the more I can “get done,” the greater my value. When my productivity decreases, I feel less valuable. I’ve subscribed to this idea that I have less to offer the world if I am not maximizing every second of my day.

I started to spot this thinking in myself over the Thanksgiving weekend and the holidays. I had made grand plans to get multiple tasks accomplished. Of course, I did get to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones, but for the rest of my well-laid plans, nothing got done. What I did was binge-watch a series, watch football, and snack more than I ever have before.

“How was your break?”

When a friend asked, “How did your break go?”, I responded, “Great, I actually didn’t do very much.” As I said it, I could sense my discomfort with my own answer. I struggle with the idea of being unproductive or “lazy,” and I hated that I didn’t accomplish anything I intended to tackle.

Looking on social media, I saw a bevy of posts about how everyone was out and about, gathering for multiple dinners, hosting family and Friendsgiving, decorating for the holidays, finishing their Christmas shopping, reading multiple books, etc. It was one post after the other, with multiple checks placed next to the items on their never-ending to-do list. And here I was, not one check next to any boxes on my list.

What the Pandemic Showed Me

During the pandemic, I spotted this flawed self-belief on many occasions; this keep-going mentality to get through these challenging times. And then I asked, why? Why do I feel this way, and why can’t I give myself permission to do nothing? What’s wrong with doing nothing sometimes? I recognize that doing nothing all the time is a different concern. But in this case, why is it so hard for me to accept that I did nothing?

This last year and half through the pandemic has been extremely taxing. Like many others, to say “my plate is full” is an understatement. While I recognize this, I continue to struggle with the idea of being idle.

Where Would We Be Without Brene Brown?

I’m an avid reader and podcast listener, and by my good fortune, author Brene Brown’s new book Atlas of the Heart was set to release on November 30th. I knew she was going to be interviewed on the We Can Do Hard Things podcast with Glennon Doyle.

I couldn’t wait to soak up every wise word. In the episode, this idea of overwhelm came up. Brown described overwhelm and said, “The answer to complete and total overwhelm is nothingness.” Doing nothing is the answer. I felt seen in that moment.


It all made complete sense. I have had so much on my plate since the pandemic; I recognized that although my mind could not tell me to stop, my body intervened. Couple that with mother nature sending us a snowstorm, and nothingness is what proceeded.

My body knew I needed to shut down, rather than rev up. I had nothing left in my tank. As Brown calls it, I was “blown” — a term she describes in the book about reaching that point of overwhelm where you can’t keep going.

Looking Ahead

I now reflect on this time with immense gratitude because I saw that my body did for me what my mind wouldn’t allow. I felt protected. In my nothingness, I rested, took multiple naps, and when Monday arrived, I eased into it with steadiness. My time of nothing was what I needed.

All of this is to say, if you — like me — measure your worth based on your productivity, you will reach a point where your busyness is no longer sustainable. In that moment, you will get a nudge to stop. Give yourself permission to bask in the nothingness that your mind and body needs. Your future self will thank you.

For more on what to do with the feeling of overwhelm, check out Stacy’s post all about how self-care isn’t selfish.


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