When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed: Create a To-Live List

“The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself” ~Mark Messier

It was enough. I was lying in the bathtub with the water up to my nose when I realized that I couldn’t go on like I’d been going.

I had been working incredibly hard over the few months prior, so hard that I had forgotten why I was even doing it. And now that I was stressed out and exhausted, I was trying to remember.

That’s why I had escaped into the bathtub, without any books or magazines to distract me from myself.

I thought back to when it all began, to the beginning of the year when I was just another college student.

I had just moved out from my parents’ house. I was constantly broke and not sure if I liked the path I saw laid out for me. The thought of ending up in a cubicle scared me. I had seen so many people fade into misery, their dreams dead and their hopes crushed.

I didn’t want to grow up just to get by.

I wanted to live.

I knew there was a little spark in me that would turn into a big fire if I fed it the right thoughts and worked hard.

When I learned that there were blogs like Tiny Buddha, solely devoted to your quality of life, I was ready to listen.

I dove in head-first and studied whatever I could get my hands on, from positive psychology and old school philosophy to conscious business and doing work you love.

I decided that I would become an entrepreneur. I would find my passion and purpose and turn it into a profitable business so that I wouldn’t have to wait tables after class and get sucked into a cubicle post-graduation.

I wanted to screw all the rules and be a rebellious young entrepreneur, an independent and strong woman.

I wanted to change the world.

So I went on and buried myself in work. While others enjoyed their semester break I learned all I could about entrepreneurship and working online.

I decided that I would start a blog on things I cared about: living like I mean it, socks, and world change.

And that’s how I ended here, in my bathtub watching the foam disappear.

It had been an incredible journey, but I was tired. I didn’t know if I could handle it all—the pressure, the public exposure, being fully responsible for the success or failure of the blog that was supposed to turn into my dream business.

My blog’s launch date was less then twenty-four hours away, but I didn’t feel like I could put in the last few hours of work to launch it.

Something needed to change.

So I put myself together, got out of the tub, wrapped myself in a cozy bathrobe, and grabbed a pen.

I wrote and wrote, and, when I looked up, more than an hour had passed. To the outside, not much had changed. But on the inside, everything was different.

The Power of a To-Live List

A to-live list is simply a collection of wishes, dreams, and moments of joy you want to experience in your life. It’s not just a bucket list, but also a collection of things you’d love to do more often. It helps you get excited about life while gently reminding you why you’re doing what you’re doing.

If you’ve been powering through to reach a goal and you’ve lost your passion on the way, this guide is for you.

How to connect with your liveliness to rediscover your why:

Realize that you’ve put yourself under a lot of pressure.

You wanted to reach your goal no matter what, so you’ve been a little harsh with yourself. If you realize that you wouldn’t force your best friend to do as much work as you’ve done, it’s time to acknowledge the truth.

Accept what is.

Forgive yourself for all the stress you’ve put on yourself. It happens to the best of us. Just know that you don’t have to feel stressed and tired all the time. There’s another way, which you will take from now on.


You can even meditate if you like. Put yourself in a state of mind where you can focus your creativity on the task at hand: writing your to-live list.

Write down all the things that would make you happy right now.

Write down the experiences you want to have, the big and the small. Write down little pieces of life that you want to create for yourself. This list doesn’t have to be complete. It’s supposed to give you an idea of the joys you could allow yourself to have and the things you believe make life worth living.

Read your to-live list out loud.

How does it make you feel? Do you get excited? Does it make you smile and give you a warm, tingly feeling in your belly? If yes, then it has fulfilled its purpose: to make you feel alive again.

Think about the goals you have been working toward.

Do they fit into the snippets of life you’ve just envisioned for yourself? If not, can you change them to fit your dreams and needs?

Take your time to plan how you can make your dreams a reality.

Some points may be easy to cross off your list, like munching your favorite cookies while watching an open fire. Others, like “do work I care about” might take longer to realize. Those are the dreams you want to have a plan for.

Revisit your list often, especially when you feel like you’ve lost your direction.

It will give you the focus you need to reconnect with your why and make your dreams a reality.

The to-live list is supposed to help you feel more alive and get you all fired up, both about your goals and dreams, and the everyday joys you can experience.

If you feel that what you’ve been working so hard for doesn’t fit into the life you want to live, imagine what the worst-case scenario would be if you were to drop that goal immediately. It might not be as bad as you think to change course. If you decide to keep moving forward, are there other ways to reduce the amount of work and stress related to it?

If you’ve rediscovered and reaffirmed your why in pursuing this goal, it should be a lot easier to put things into perspective now. You know that it’s worth it.

After I wrote my to-live list I didn’t have less work to do. But after reconnecting with the purpose behind my efforts, I had the strength to keep going and make my dream a reality—without feeling so overwhelmed.

Photo by ewen and donabel

About Iris Barzen

Iris Barzen helps courageous women become Wild Woman - the most radiant, soulful, feminine version of themselves. Fiercely rooted in their feminine Wild Women lead their lives with ease + grace. Iris teaches women how to intuitively create the life you want, feeling the way they want to feel on the journey towards their goals already.

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  • friend forever

    First of all, you have a beautiful name! I love it!
    Your post……I love it equally. I can relate to that manic working ordeal that just robs you off your peace and also the purpose behind the work. I think a to- live list is what I need right now. But, every time I set out to make nay list or get to know myself, doubts pop up. The most common- ‘Is this right? Is this how I really feel? I hope I am.’ You can see where this leads me. I doubt myself so much, that most of the time I am not able to implement that which I preach or read. Please give some suggestions to help.

  • I think the best way to go about this is to create your to-live list anyways. The best part about the list is that you’re writing about things that make you happy and there’s not really a wrong or right with that. Start with things that have made you happy in the past, this should be the easiest.

    You’re probably going to write a pretty big list, because once you’ve written down your first 10 things, you get into the flow of it and it becomes a lot of fun. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Maybe you’ll go back over the list tomorrow and cross out a few things that don’t feel right anymore. That’s okay. The purpose of the list is to make you feel alive again, not to create a bucket list of things that are guaranteed to make you happy.

    I hope this helps 🙂

  • sanz

    omg iris .thank you sooo much i recently moved out and i jus felt as if i was about to give up but you give me a reason to carry on. here in jamaica starting as business is easy but to keep it goin is hard after reading your post i must say im empowered.

  • Congratulations on your discovery Iris. It’s often those dark moments that birth our change and renewed courage and strength. Finding your “why” with a “to-live” list is awesome.

    Most of the time, most people just accept a life that has been handed to them by others. We get caught up in the “system” of work, money, bills, and goals (if we still think about them) that society says is life. Very sad. Life can be rich and fun if we just let out our whys that are locked inside.

    Good stuff, Iris!

  • Thanks for the kind words, Carmelo! It means a lot.

    I definitely agree that the dark moments often define our life -in a very positive way. Sometimes we need a push to change something and those moments are often a trigger.

  • Hey sanz,

    it sounds like could really use a to-live list right now. Will you create one for me? 🙂

    I’m really glad the post resonated with you. I hope the list will help you too.

  • suzieuda

    Thank you for this article. It came at the right time for me as a Muslim because we had just celebrated the Islamic New Year. The timing is perfect 🙂

  • Jo

    I love this idea, Iris! And I love the idea of ‘little pieces of life’. All too often we forget that now is life, and waste it. Mind if I steal that phrase?!

  • Adycakes

    Makes perfect sense to me! Im going to try the list.. Im sure it will help me at this time..

  • I work in a cubicle

    Good advice, but I’m not a fan of the pretentious slant of this article. What’s wrong with working in a “cubicle” if you’re doing work that is meaningful and working with people you like? Come on now…

  • Wishing you all the best for your new year!

  • Feel free to use it, I’m really glad it resonates with you 🙂

  • Did you try it? Any results you want to share? 🙂

  • It’s perfectly fine to work in a cubicle if you’re loving it. It’s just that most people don’t. And that’s what I’m afraid of, to do work I can’t stand or that bores me to death. If you love you’re cubicle than that’s great! More power to you 🙂

  • Brittany

    I can completely relate to this! I’m at a crisis point where I am in the final year of my degree, having put soo much pressure on myself and being completely stressed out in getting to this point, and coming to the horrific point of thinking “has is all been worth it? Am I doomed to a stuffy office job and getting stuck in a rut?” Good to know that I’m not the only one! Thanks for the advice, much appreciated :))

  • Cari

    This is exactly where I’m at right now. Reading your experience made me exhale a sigh of relief..totally lost the purpose working so hard, time to do that list. Thanks for sharing!

  • I’d rather post as a guest

    HOW does this stop you feeling overwhelmed? Knowing that I want to be in Berlin for three years does not stop me feeling overwhelmed right now. Knowing that I WANT more time to be able to do the things I like does not make me feel any better about having no time even to meet my obligations now.