How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed – Hold It Lightly

two cupped hands holding a baby bird. Black background.

Are you holding your ideas too tightly?

Recently, while working with a coaching client on defining goals, I heard myself say, hold it lightly. She had writing projects she’d started but never finished and ideas for new projects she wanted to get to work on. She loved her current projects and was excited by her new ideas, but they left her overwhelmed and paralyzed.

What does it mean to hold things lightly?

Holding a dream, desire, idea, or goal lightly eases your attachment to it. Relaxing those white knuckles gives your ideas the breathing room to unfold and show you what they want to be. You can then decide what to hold on to and let go of. In the case of the overwhelmed client, holding her ideas lightly allowed her to examine, sort, and organize them. In the end, she only let go of one, but by prioritizing them in a way that felt right to her and worked in her writing practice, she could resume her forward momentum.


I often use this expression with clients who plan to attend my writing retreat with a project in mind or one already underway. While I welcome participants to bring a project to my retreats (it’s not required), I always caution them to “hold it lightly.” Why?


One of my primary goals during any retreat or workshop is to get the writer into the creative flow and beyond their internal critic. Once in the creative flow, the writer has an opportunity to explore new and unexpected directions and ideas. If they cling to a specific path or steer resolutely in one direction, they can miss valuable signposts and inspired detours.


Of course, it’s tempting to hold on tightly to a good idea; there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, if your grip is overly tight, you may miss nuances and creative nudges to explore another direction. Holding something lightly is not letting go of it; it’s just relaxing your grip so the creative energy can flow.


What does holding it lightly look like? 

When I asked myself this question, I imagined my hands cupped, cradling a fledgling bird. The image of holding the young bird works well with the concept of letting your ideas unfold. If you imagine holding that fledgling bird lightly in your cupped hands, it will eventually relax and unfurl its wings showing more of itself to you. Yes, the bird will ultimately want to fly away, but unlike the bird, you can hold onto the ideas that come to you.


Do you dismiss your ideas too quickly? Another aspect of holding it lightly touches on the creative process. Imagine you’ve just come up with a new idea. How long before your inner critic chimes in? Maybe you tell yourself it’s a stupid idea; it’s been done before, it’s too difficult, and so on.


What if you were to say yes and give this nascent idea a chance? Is it the best idea you’ve ever had? Will it lead anywhere? Maybe, maybe not. Would you open your hands and let that bird fall to the ground? Hopefully not. What if you held this new idea lightly and allowed it to reveal itself to you? It might be the best idea you ever had.


Are you holding your breath? Holding your breath goes hand in hand with clinging to something tightly, even desperately. I talk about this regularly with my students, especially during a workshop. If one person starts holding their breath, inevitably, the group begins to follow suit, and then the creative flow shuts down. Creative energy flows on the breath, and nervousness or deep concentration can cause us to hold our breath. Consequently, I begin every session with some centering breaths and regularly remind my group to take a breath.


Check in with your breath.

    • Are you breathing?
    • How are you breathing?


Many of us only breathe from the upper part of our chest, making our breaths shallow. Have you ever noticed when you’re having a conversation, it feels as if you’re panting, running out of breath? You are probably not breathing deeply.


Practice breathing deeply. Of course, we know breathing happens in the lungs, but let your belly relax and expand as you inhale, and imagine the breath flowing into your low belly. This helps your body learn to take deeper breaths, filling the lungs completely.


Awareness is key. When you feel overwhelmed, stop, and step away from whatever you’re doing. Find somewhere quiet, and sit and breathe (with your eyes closed if possible)—take a pause. Even two or three minutes of quiet breathing can reset you.


Taking a pause is a wonderful habit to cultivate. Eventually, with practice, your body/mind will automatically pause when it senses stress building.


Is your plate overflowing? You can apply the concept of holding it lightly to your everyday life, not just your creative life. Take a good look at that overflowing plate of yours. Are you holding on for dear life, praying nothing important tumbles off the edge? Or do you have everything organized within an inch of its life, with no room for error (another way of holding on tight)? Are there some things on this overflowing plate that you could hold lightly, contemplate, set aside, or let go of completely? As you relax your grip and take some breaths, you might be surprised how many things you can let go of.


How to cultivate holding it lightly.


A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.   

Charlotte Bronte


I like this quote for a couple of reasons—the ruffled mind reminds me of the bird, and the restless pillow speaks to our overactive minds.


Certainly, this idea of holding it lightly can be applied to any area of your life, to anything that seems overwhelming. We all have too-full and overflowing plates—even if with goodness.


Four steps to remember:

    • Awareness: Are you hanging on for dear life?
    • Breathe: Are you breathing?
    • Pause: Can you pause?
    • Relax: Can you relax your grip?

Try this:

    • Set your timer for 3 minutes.
    • Sit down with your hands cupped on your lap.
    • Breathe slowly and deeply.

As you breathe, imagine you’re lightly holding whatever it is you’re struggling with. There is no striving here or trying to do anything. Just breathe and hold it lightly, and it will tell you what it wants to be.

Let me know how it goes. Leave your comment in the box below. Thank you.


Follow me on social:

Share this post: 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I’m Kathryn Kay, the founder of A Writer Within. I offer support and inspiration to women writers through one-on-one coaching, editing services, and week-long retreats in Tuscany. My focus is on getting writers into the creative flow, beyond their internal critic, and their very best stories onto the page. If you have a writer within, let’s set her free!

Subscribe to my Newsletter

in Just 10 Minutes a Day

Ready to unleash your writer within….but not sure how?

This series contains everything you need to kickstart your writing.

“After reading Kathryn Kay’s lovely debut, I had the best kind of cry. What a beautiful, emotional novel. I loved the way she writes about love, necessary secrets, and the dark unknowability of another person, no matter how close. She writes so well about the vulnerability of strong women, the complexity of long friendship, the ways mothers and daughters protect each other, and sweet, tender forgiveness.”
– Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author

40 Question For Creating Compelling Characters

Want to create more interesting characters?

This free gift contains everything you need to start creating compelling characters your readers will remember forever!

Subscribe to A Writer Within

Sign up today to get the Free Resource:
“40 Questions For Creating Compelling Characters” and receive news and more: