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The Secret to Ditching Stress Overwhelm: The Power of the Pause

When I was growing up, my Nana was adamant that any more water in the bath than the height of your hand was too much. That was probably more to do with having 5 grandchildren come to stay than her principles. But it stayed with me!

In child-like rebellion, when I have a bath now the "right" amount of water is so that if I move it sloshes over the sides. But that overflow stresses me out! I hate it when the water splashes out and creates a mess. Often I'll also inadvertently make it too hot so I have to add extra cold and every extra drop threatens to overwhelm the sides of the tub. It can be like this with the levels of stress we get used to in our lives.

If we had a stress bathtub, every day it would get filled up by the stresses and strains of our life. Each tiny stressor adds extra drops: overslept your alarm? drop. Burnt the toast? drop. Argued with your partner/child/family?...a few drops. Before we've even fully started our day we can accumulate stress, and that's without the extra layer of what we tell ourselves about what's happened: "How could I oversleep again? I'm hopeless" "I'm so angry with him/her." " I shouldn't have snapped. I'm a terrible Mum/partner/person". At the end of your day, when you try to relax and unwind you hope to lie back and be comfortable. Often though, the water is sloshing near the very edge and so all you can do is attempt to prevent overspill. You forget what it feels like to be able to just lie back and enjoy the bath. Oh, the dreamy bliss of getting your bath to be "just right" so you can enjoy life and do what matters!

Managing your load

If you want to manage how much water is in the tub, you have two variables:

  • how much water is coming in

  • how much water is flowing out

That's it.  

It's that simple. If there's more water coming into the bath than leaving the bath, pretty soon it will overflow. Water will pour all over the floor and eventually soak through the floor. Then maybe the whole darn thing will come crashing down!

Sometimes feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make much sense – it can feel like it comes out of nowhere and like it’s out of our control. Have you ever experienced a time when you thought you were fine and then suddenly it felt like everything was too much and it was really hard to cope?

I call this "Stealth overwhelm"….it can show up as anxiety or feeling agitated or not being able to switch off. It happens when we aren't aware of what's happening in the tub - like the plug is in and the tap is on but we've left the room.


The modern world is geared up to take us to that place – too many things to juggle, notifications always on, and supporting other people with our many roles and responsibilities. When you add mid-life hormonal fluctuations for women then it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise that we can become overwhelmed.


We tend to think it’s going to take big actions to change it – we need to leave our job, change our partner, take up a gruelling new regime…but the truth is that it can be a lot simpler, and easier, to change your experience.


And that’s what we’re going to dip our toes into today...

Managing the water level

We can manage the levels in the bath at either end, either through slowing down or stopping the water coming in, or by finding ways to make the water drain. It’s the same with stress our stress levels. We can manage the stress coming in and we can manage how we release it. But before we turn to that, it's important to define what we mean by stress.


When we hear the word “stress”, we often think of it in a negative way – that it’s something we don’t want. In reality, just like you wouldn’t have a bath if there was NO water in it, you need some stress in your life to feel motivated and engaged with life and to work towards your goals and what matters to you. It's only when we don’t feel like we have the physical, mental and emotional resources to cope with the stress in our lives that it becomes a problem.


There are two things to bear in mind with that:

1.   No one else can tell you what the right level of water is for you in the bath

It’s a bit like Goldilocks and those bowls of porridge: too hot, too cold and just right.


If you’re my nana, then you don’t let the water get higher than your hand. She was forever pulling her hair out when we came to stay with how much water we were using!

 But if you’re like my adult self, the water needs to be virtually slopping over the sides, physically and metaphorically. So we’re all different and there's no right or wrong.

It’s the same with stress. This is your bathtub and you get to decide what the right level is.  We can easily get caught up in comparing ourselves with other people – especially in judging ourselves for how well we’re coping.


So we might look at someone who on the surface has more stress to deal with and think that means we’re doing something wrong if we struggle with our responses.

2.   Even “good” stress can make you feel overwhelmed if your bathtub is too full for you.

I recently met up with a friend for coffee who had messaged me at the last minute to see if I was free. It was lovely to see her and we always have a great time but it added to my overwhelm at that moment. 


I had been away so had a backlog of things to do, I had plans for later in the day and urgent phone calls to make. Going to meet her tipped me into overwhelm. However, on another day, that same activity would have been a glorious thing to do and been a positive way to relive stress.

What this shows is that it’s not always about what you do. It’s also about being able to know what you need

What happens when stress happens and the bathtub fills?

Let’s take our attention for a moment to the stress coming in to our bath. It’s not just the volume of water that determines if our bath is comfortable. It’s also the temperature of the water. Who cares if the level is right if it’s freezing cold?


Imagine for a moment that the warm tap is the relaxation side of your nervous system. When you’re in that mode, it's warm, and comforting and you can restore, heal, digest.

Imagine, in contrast, that the cold tap is the stress response side of your nervous system – your fight, flight, freeze response that's designed to prepare you for threat and danger.


Now we evolved to have an 80/20 split so our bath was supposed to be mostly warm, with a dash of cold. The problem with our modern world is that the balance has gone wrong. We live in a world where the cold tap is jammed on and we have barely any warm in comparison. Our lives are full to the brim with things that add stress.

This imbalance has an impact on every aspect of our lives – right down to our immune system, our digestive system and our emotional regulation.   

The stress response being triggered places demands for stress hormones, for example, cortisol and adrenaline. This directly impacts your body's ability to produce enough of the other hormones. If you think of your hormone production like a factory, the production schedule will prioritise stress hormones over all others because it is linked to survival.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to distressing menopause systems.

When you add in the peri-menopause transition, this stress response is catastrophic for your body. Your system is trying its best to maintain balance whilst navigating fluctuating levels of the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones aren't just for reproduction: they're needed in every organ system of the body, including the brain.


 How can you empty water or stress from the tub, even when life is busy and you don’t have time?

 This is where the power of the Micro-moment Pause comes in.

Imagine sitting In a cold bath, constantly. Of course, you would feel on edge and slowly suck the joy out of your life. (Have you ever got the mix of water wrong and sat in a not-quite-warm-enough bath but resolutely decided to stay in it anyway "because I've spent this long running it"? Yeah, me too!)



When you stop and take a micro-moment, whether that’s one minute or 5 minutes, you activate the relaxation response in your nervous system – so it’s like you’re giving an extra blast of the hot tap and you also release a little bit of the cold water out of the plug hole.


What’s important to know about that process is that it doesn’t mean you’ll always feel relaxed when you do it.  One blast of hot water isn't going to warm your entire bath and one micro-moment isn’t going to necessarily make you feel dramatically more relaxed.


But that’s not the point of it.


That might seem a bit counter intuitive for me to say. We tend to think that’s the point of pausing – to feel relaxed. That's especially true when you’re stressed and you want to get results. If you’re going to make time to pause, you want to feel like it’s working.

However, the results from a micro-moment are more subtle and potentially more life-changing than being able to feel relaxed – even though what we crave is the feeling of being calm and relaxed.

The magic of it is not just in the relief that you get but also in finding out what’s happening in your bathtub.

Imagine trying to run a bath without knowing how much water is in the bath, it’s going to be tricky to get the levels right. You’d likely create either a massive puddle on the floor or a mean-feeling "Nana" bath – neither of which is going to feel enjoyable. 

A bathtime example

Let me share a story that shows the power of the tiny drop.


A few years ago, we finished a two-year building project at home  (needless to say, I needed a LOT of micro-moments to get through it).


In our spare bedroom, we have a lovely bath in the middle of the room and it’s a beautiful tranquil space. Not long after it was finished, my teenage daughter decided to road-test it.

She filled it up with Epsom salts, fragrant bath oil, lit some candles and had a gorgeous time.


Then, being a teenager, she just left it. She didn’t pull the plug out, she didn’t clear anything up. She just walked away. If you have a teenager in your life or can recall being one, you might relate to this. (As an aside, I suppose I should be grateful that she DID blow out the candles or this could be a very different story).


Anyway, at the time I had no idea she had that bath but about a week later, I noticed a huge damp patch in my studio which is directly underneath the guest room. When I went up, there was still water in the bath, but much less. It transpired that there was a tiny leak in the plug hole and another in the pipework. So drop by drop, day by day, the contents of the bath had emptied into the ceiling!


 What this shows (apart from our rather lax housekeeping), is that even though it can feel like a tiny drop or micro-moment isn’t doing anything, each drop you take out matters.

Awareness and Relief

Micro-moments do two things:


1.   First of all they gift awareness:

One of the casualties of being in the stress response most of the time is that we stop noticing just how stressed we are.   We get so used to being in cold water, that we don’t even realise.

Awareness might not seem like much of a gain but imagine a day where you’ve been busy all day long, jumping from task to task, looking after other people, and getting stuff done. You get to the end of the day and it’s time to unwind….except you can’t!

Have you experienced that? You’re like a coiled spring and even when you try and do something that should be relaxing you still feel wired or when you go to bed, even though you're tired, you can’t sleep?


When we create micro-moments during the day, we interrupt that coiling of the spring and we create an opportunity.  I can decide what I need right now:  am I ticking along just fine? Do I need a break? What kind of break? What small thing can I do right now? Or can I even just acknowledge how I’m feeling.

Suddenly I’ve created a choice point. I know what's happening in the tub.


2.   Secondly, they release and soothe a tiny dose of the stress out of your system

They are like a little blast of warm water AND they -take a few drops of stress out of the bath

Research shows that micro-moments can accumulate to be as effective as a longer pause. The key is consistency.

It can also be much more achievable to create micro-habits than to try and build elaborate new routines. The best practices are the ones you actually do!

Imagine if...

  • What would be different if there was no overwhelm in your life?


If you knew that no matter what came up, you’d be able to manage it. Even when stressful things happen, you can stay calm. Even when difficult thoughts and feelings show up, you know that you’re ok?

What would you say yes to? What would you say no to?


If I was to follow you around with a film crew for 24 hours a day, what would I see you doing? What would I see you not doing?


How would you be feeling?


What difference would it make to the relationships in your life?


Let me know what came up for you as you thought about a life with no overwhelm.


When your stress bathtub overflows...

April is Stress Awareness month. If you've read this blog, you're already taking steps to build your awareness.

There are a few ways I can support you to manage stress and overwhelm.

Start small:

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Let's have a call to see how I can help you break the cycles that keep you locked in overwhelm. The Be. Mindful Mindset®️ is my unique combination of CBT, Hypnotherapy, Mndfulness and Meditation.

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I've designed workshops and programmes for a diverse portfolio: NHS, Cancer Research Council, WHO, Ernst and Young, Finance, Marketing, Construction, Women's groups.

See you soon

Laura @ Be. x

"A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul." Lysa Terkeurst


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