How to Keep Your Head Above Water When Life Starts to Pull You Under


A guest post by Katie Tallo of Momentum Gathering.

Human beings can’t swim when we’re born. Maybe we don’t have the natural instinct or the gills or the muscles. We take lessons, splashing and gasping in the safety of our parent’s arms until one day we learn to do it on our own. Some of us take to it like fish, others sink like rocks. But all of us, the fish and the flounderers, are thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim at some point. It’s called growing up.

That’s when the waves of responsibility start to come at us. Some wash over us, others splash us in the face. Many of us end up treading the deep waters of debt, anxiety, loneliness or overwork. And even for the good swimmers, there are moments when our buoyancy leaves us and we feel like we’re sinking – being pulled under by the weight of daily life.

Overwork has been pulling me under lately. I’ve got too much on my plate, too much I feel I should be doing, too many ideas I want to follow through on, relationships I want to nurture, obligations I have to meet, people who count on me to take care of them, books I’d like to read, travels I want to take and new skills I’d like to master.

Even though I’m super inspired and jazzed by life’s possibilities, the multitude of options, advice, choices, directions, destinations and decisions feels so deep sometimes that I can’t possibly see my way to swimming across them all, no matter how many strokes off my to-do list I make. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits even suggests killing your to-do list altogether. I’ve thought about it, but I’m a list person so when I’ve reached this point, I know I have to do something differently so that my to-do list isn’t just one more thing pushing me under. I know I have to take action so that I don’t completely lose myself.

Here are five ways that help me keep my head above water when life feels like it’s pulling me under? I hope they help you too if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Let Yourself Float

Relax. Breath. Force yourself to pause, stop, and just be. Even if it’s just for a few moments, inside that calm space, beyond all your “shoulds”, “to-dos” and “what-ifs”, is room for you to gather your thoughts, your strength, your senses, your priorities and your purpose. Inside stillness is a place in which you can float, chill out and hear yourself. You likely already know what you need and what comes next. Let yourself float and listen.

Expend Less Energy

If you’re overwhelmed, simply decide to do less, take on less, be less and have less – just for now. Let yourself come up for air by expending less energy. Money is energy, time is energy, fear is energy, emotion and drama are energy – spend less and release yourself from the pressure of more.

Keep Looking Up

See and love each moment instead of what’s up ahead or behind. Stay right where you are and embrace the bright side, the upside, the half full, the wonder. Let go the weight of negativity. You are where you are. Love what you have and who you are. The rest will come.

Reach Out

Ask for help, join forces, be vulnerable, open, collaborative. Express your needs. Find a mentor, guide, advisor, listener, motivator or friend. Being overwhelmed by life doesn’t mean you have to be overwhelmed alone. Reach out, make yourself heard, let yourself be loved and energized by someone else’s assistance and understanding.

Swim in the Right Direction

Turn in the direction of your values and swim that way, every day. If each move you make is aligned with what you believe in, what makes sense to you and what carries you towards what you want, then you’ll start to get there. In fact, you’ll already be there, just by swimming your way. But if you keep going in the same direction that got you overwhelmed, in debt or unhappy, then you’ll find yourself back where you started. Decide to change direction. That shift can make a world of difference.

Swimming through deep waters is not easy. It takes practice, strength, stamina and sometimes a little kicking along the way. But, if you learn to float, expend less energy, look up, reach out and head in the right direction, swimming can be as joyful and simple as it was when you were a kid.

I might be a little water-logged at the moment, but I’m ready to float for a while so that I can catch my breath and see where the ripples of my soul decide to take me. Then, and only then, will I swim in the direction of my dreams.

How do you keep your head above water when life overwhelms you?

Katie Tallo is a director, writer, motivator, runner, vegetarian and mother who writes a blog called Momentum Gathering where she encourages simple, positive actions for joyful and vibrant life change. She is also a Managing Editor for The Daily Brainstorm.

About the author


Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.


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