Dealing with overwhelm

Aimee Luther candidly shares the balancing act of leadership and how having it all is not always easy

Aimee Luther

Managing Director The Liberty Guild


I’ve recently self-diagnosed myself to be in a near-constant state of overwhelm.  It feels very different from stress. Stress is a fizzing panic. Overwhelm is a weighty blanket of pressure.

I’d never really thought about it, until NABS kindly asked me to join their Podcast series. And how you feel about work, and how you feel at work came up as a topic of conversation.  It’s easy to presume that most worries are typically related to your job; earning, progressing, commuting, over-thinking and over-drinking… But strangely that wasn’t the case for me.

So why the overwhelm?

Firstly, work feels great. I’m a grinning idiot on the Guild Window (our always-on Zoom) and skip into the office for our weekly IRL meet-ups.

Why? We work in the best industry in the land. A symbiotic coming together of Creativity and Business; the business of persuasion; one where you work with fascinating, colourful and often eccentric people every single day.

And at The Liberty Guild, we’ve managed to weed out any dicks, egos or politics. So it really is a pleasure to rock up to work. It's my place of comfort and confidence. When I'm not working, I'm parenting. And with 25 years more experience doing the former, stepping up the wooden hills to my desk is a lot less overwhelming than muddling my way through bringing up a child.  So work is usually my safe space.

It is a unique blend of a flourishing to-do list - something akin to Mary Poppins’ carpet bag; a great sense of responsibility (along with pride) for the people; mixed together with a constant rumble of self-doubt and anxiety.

Aimee Luther, MD, The Liberty Guild

So why the constant overwhelm? This deep, physical feeling of heaviness that I suffer from almost daily, about most things.

I am sure it is something many of us experience, yet it is hardly ever spoken about. It is a unique blend of a flourishing to-do list - something akin to Mary Poppins’ carpet bag; a great sense of responsibility (along with pride) for the people; mixed together with a constant rumble of self-doubt and anxiety.

I don’t believe for one moment that these feelings are unique to me. Every leader, at whatever level, will experience the same sense of duty and busyness. But I imagine there are others who are better at dealing with it, either by distancing themselves from the personal side of work, saying ‘no’ more often, or have a more bullish, confident streak.

I imagine, apart from those people who know me very well, this might seem at odds with how I appear. On the outside, I seem to be a very sociable person, a sort of a competent extrovert, but I’m very much the opposite. I need, and in fact I crave, solitude and sleep. So carving out time to decompress is really, really important.

I tend to manage the overwhelm by writing everything down. In every meeting. And lists. Long lists with accompanying diagrams, highlighted areas and illustrations. These act like a safety net. None of the burgeoning things I need to address will get lost or forgotten. (Think of it like Mary Poppins’ packing list.)  And that makes me feel better already. In an instant. Grab the highlighter AND MY TIPPEX ROLLER and I'm off. My heart pounds a little less heavily and I can see what I need to achieve for the week in one double-page spread. Contained, itemised and seemingly doable.

Becoming a Mum to Cosmo in my mid-40s kind of blew life, as I knew it, apart. Six rounds of IVF and a move to the country during Covid. My thrice-weekly hospital visits soon saw me being greeted by staff in full PPE. The most intimate emotional and physical experience quickly became akin to the board game Operation. Lockdown ensured I was locked away from friends and family, and my bump remained hidden beneath my computer screen.

Once our little boy arrived, the madness ratcheted up a gear or two. I struggled to see how being at home and doing fairly menial things for six months could be so utterly exhausting. But it turns out running a home with a baby can be much, much more challenging than running a business.

So, to stop me feeling any more overwhelmed or incompetent, I need to ensure I don’t feel like I’m failing on the parenting side of life, too. So, during every waking hour before 9.30am and after 5.30pm, I'm a full-time, fascinated parent. (I usually have old eyeliner smeared across my face and ask myself whether any other two-year-old on the planet believes a 4 a.m. start is acceptable.)

And, whilst I’m not very good at self-care, I have mastered the art of box breathing. It’s an instant remedy to take the edge off the old overwhelm. Breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four and hold for four. If nothing else, it calms your breathing and gets you to think about what your body is doing and not your inbox filling up.

And finally sleep. I typically go to bed before 9 pm. Even if I just lie there, cocooned in duck feathers, the sense of overwhelm begins to dissipate immediately. I flick through the paper notes in my head, explore the dusty crevasses of my mind to see if I've hidden anything, box breathing all the way. And sure enough, I've got through another day without too much WHELM. In fact, on reflection, I loved the day; smashed it at work, kept Cosmo alive and happy and did a Good Deed for someone. Funnily enough, today, like all the others before it,  turned out to be a good day.

Guest Author

Aimee Luther

Managing Director The Liberty Guild


Aimee is Managing Director at The Liberty Guild. The Liberty Guild is an invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world.

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