Harnessing Willpower When You’re Overwhelmed

“I want insight on wheels.” This is the catchy phrase that summed up what a client recently told me she wants to get out of somatic psychotherapy. In other words, she wants to organize the insight she gains, and then have it translate into conscious movement in the areas in her life that she feels both overwhelmed and stuck.

Insight on wheels? I love it. She is speaking my language for sure.

Which brings me to the topic of willpower.

Remember the cartoon character (yes, I am dating myself) Popeye the sailor, often the underdog who, while not eating canned spinach, used his bulging muscles to get shit straightened out with characters much more daunting than he.

Now that’s willpower.

Harnessing willpower is often the last thing we are motivated to do when our bodies and minds are so taxed that clear thinking and decisive action seem as accessible as a trip to the planet Jupiter.

However, sometimes it is just that… the ability to tap into shear willpower that will shift you out of doubt, uncertainty or confusion.

For me, there are times when things feel so overwhelming that it is shear willpower, and shear willpower alone that will guide me back to a state of emotional regulation. From here, I am then able to refine how I am interacting with the world around me with a calm body and focused mind.

Willpower (and maybe a little spinach) has the power to give wheels to insight.

But let’s back up for a moment and examine what happens in the body when we are in emotional and mental turmoil: the kind of state that makes it really hard to like yourself because you are so damn uncomfortable in your own skin. According to ancient Chinese medicine, brought current by modern approaches to mind/body healing, overwhelming experience causes energy to literally get stuck in the body.

Willpower is one way, amongst others, to help the body release or discharge these pockets of stuck energy that hold us back and perpetuate overwhelm.

Where are your unprocessed emotions stuck like superglue in your body? Is your throat constricted? Does your back ache? Is it hard to breath? Do you feel like you have a lump in your stomach?

Yes, a back ache hurts like hell. But this pain is also your body’s wise way of clueing you in on the fact that something is stuck and needs a nudge from you.

Which brings me back to the topic of harnessing willpower to set into motion actions that will help bring the body back to a state of ease and rein the spinning mind back in.

For me, summoning willpower in the face of overwhelm means accepting my present state, breathing with intention, resting my body and mind, eating mindfully, exercising, and reaching out for safe connection with others.


Accepting or being present with rather than resisting overwhelm assures you a swifter passage through it. And, by turning not only to face, but also to address the turmoil ups the likelihood that you will pick up nuggets of gold — new learning – as you navigate back to calmer waters.


Breathe. I mean really breathe. Breathe with intention. Rather than avoiding the areas of discomfort in your body, purposefully breathe some nourishment and TLC into them.


If you want something to move, you yourself have to do some moving, literally. Swim, dance, run, ride, skip, sail, surf, glide… There is no better way to release stuck energy, in my opinion, than moving your body. If movement does not come easily to you, keep it simple, and go for a walk or just some light stretching. Just five minutes can do the trick.


Your nervous system is stuck on overdrive when you are overwhelmed. How exhausting. Make time to rest, maybe more often than usual. Perhaps curl up with your dog or cat for one of the many naps they enjoy daily and with no guilt?

Eating To Nourish

Eat foods that are healthy, full of nutrition and quite possibly make you feel like you could eat steel and look good in a red cape. Lentils, kale and lean proteins are surefire ways for me to get both energy and clarity fast.


Just when you think it is best to crawl into a cave and hide, consider the possibility that reaching out to connect with a carefully chosen someone might help you feel less alone with the overwhelm. Healing happens in community not in isolation.

When we harness willpower in the face of overwhelm and uncertainty, we ground and strengthen ourselves in both body and mind, put our best selves forward, and connect more effectively with the world around us.

When you are overwhelmed, what does willpower look like to you? I would love to know.



2 Responses to “Harnessing Willpower When You’re Overwhelmed”

  1. Kelli

    how poignant and relevant after our recent conversation. I will be back to read this probably daily for the foreseeable future. Thanks for pointing m in this direction!

  2. Nicole

    Hi Kelli,
    Yes, I thought this might resonant for you. Looking forward to hearing more about how you experience willpower in your life.


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