For the past five years, I’ve run a business and tried to be a “present” parent. During this time I have pretty much mastered the art of overwhelm, and I’m sure I’m not the only one….
The rising sense of panic.
The sick feeling in your gut when you wake up and realise what the day holds (as opposed to what you would like it to hold).
The general sense of rushing, even when trying to maintain a “calm” facade. This is particularly ironic for me as I have structured my time during this intense season, to enable lots of “availability, flexibility, and relationship”.
I don’t think you have to be a working parent to experience overwhelm (though I think most of us do). Overwhelm is a modern-day malaise; where “busy” is often worn as a badge of honour, “overwhelm” becomes the Jekyll to busy’s Hyde. As I have become aware of the overwhelm-creep in my life I have become equally fervent about not succumbing to it.
So far, incorporating mindfulness and gratitude practices have helped me to think through why I feel this sense of overwhelm as well as helping me to address it. This is what I have learned so far…
1. We need to cut the noise and limit distractions
We have access to so much information, and so much distraction. Our phones in our pockets, by our beds, constantly connected. The only way to really manage that is to be aware of it and aware of our own weaknesses relating to it. And then to set limits. This might mean leaving your phone in the car or at home when you go to the park, or putting it in the boot while you’re driving. After the birth of my third child, I removed email and Facebook from my phone to enforce my “maternity leave”, something I had to be extremely conscious of as a small business owner. It was great!
Absolutely nothing happens on social media that you can’t catch up on later (ok, apart from flash sales – sometimes they happen but….perspective!)
In fact, I just stopped writing this to uninstall Facebook from my phone. Will you do it too?
Anything we can do to decrease the noise in our lives is going to equate to a calmer sense of being in the world and that’s a big win!
2. Stop doing MORE
I’ve said this before, but one of the hallmarks of overwhelm is a tendency to say “yes” and do more, not less. This is especially true of busy people. Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “Want something done? Ask a busy person.”
We simply have to accept that there are only so many hours in the day and that not everything can carry equal importance in our lives. We cannot do everything and certainly not at once.
Get a cleaner (Airtasker is a good place to find someone to help you with this and other outsourcing tasks)
Don’t tidy up.
Order the groceries online.
Skip the kids bath
Drop some of the after school activities.
Not everything can be the most important thing and your kids won’t suffer from doing less (in fact, they may thrive). Decide what you can let go, and do it.
3. Ditch the guilt
Another hallmark of overwhelm, for me, is guilt. This is a particular problem as my natural state is to have such an incredible guilt-meter that sometimes I wonder if I am actually Catholic! Look up “guilt” in the dictionary and there you will find my smiling face – maybe yours is in there too? Add in a sense of overwhelm, and I’m in trouble!
Honestly, I feel guilty about EVERYTHING. Or rather, I used to. I have worked really hard on this and still have to be mentally alert to it because I can feel guilt about things that have literally nothing to do with me. You and a friend could have a conversation in front of me to work out something, maybe a logistical issue, and I would be inclined to feel guilty that I wasn’t able to assist in resolving it. As I said, ridiculous!
The idea of doing less can be a particular trigger – feeling that my children, my family, my colleagues will somehow be disadvantaged if I stop, slow down or even just downright say no. How narcissistic?! As if the world will stop if I say no. As if everything has to be done by me. Ha!
While guilt serves an important purpose in life, it can also be extremely destructive. When we are carefully attuned, guilt can be a kind of barometer – it can bring a greater awareness to us and keep our decisions in check. It isn’t necessarily a voice of truth, but it can be a helpful guide. When we give in to guilt and accept it as absolute truth – that we are guilty – we can collapse under its weight and develop a distorted view of reality. Overwhelm often leads to the latter type of guilt, and the only way I have found to deal with this is to practice mindfulness and check my guilt barometer with reality.
4. Take care of yourself.
It may feel like there is no time, but find it – get up an hour earlier, stop watching TV (I know, some of you are laughing maniacally at the idea that you have time to watch TV), get your partner/friend/parent to take the kids out for an hour or two on the weekend. Find a way, and work out what will restore you.
This stuff is not “optional-extra” material, it is essential mental health, self-care, life sustaining stuff!
Coffee with friends
Coffee with yourself!
Read a book
See a movie
Have your nails done
Hopefully just reading that list has got you salivating for some quality time with yourself – what can you do right now, to make it happen?
5. Accept that life won’t always be in balance.
There will be days when work takes over and your time with the kids is compromised. It won’t always be like this, be kind to yourself. These are some of the things we do to deal with the ebb and flow…
Limit screen time. If I limit screentime on a daily basis then not only are my kids more creative, it means in times when work is mounting, the rain is pouring and they watch three movies in one day I don’t feel guilty.
Have a “yes” vibe generally with the kids. If they want me to stay for assembly and I can, then I stay (even if I don’t always want to *ahem*). If they ask if we can go for icecream after school and we can, then I say yes. There will be days when we can’t, so saying yes where possible brings an overall sense of balance even if on a day to day basis it feels a bit chaotic. Or at least, that’s my hope!
Don’t pack the weekends full. We don’t do any regular weekend activities apart from going to church. Our kids are still young so we see the weekend as time for the kids to be kids, to play and hang, for us to have lazy lunches together, scoot, head to the park or have people over for a meal. I am conscious that as the kids get older our weekends will change, so keeping them open and low key while they are young is something we prioritise.
6. Know yourself
This has been a big one for me. Working out that I am completely useless in the evenings but actually really good at getting up early and getting it DONE! Realising this, and then actually doing something about it, has made an absolute world of difference to my mental and emotional state. It’s lessened frustration, helped me feel more productive and enabled me to be more present during the rest of the day. I love starting my days in the quiet and calm of the house, kicking goals while everyone else snoozes….
Work according to your best rhythms as much as possible.
If you’re not doing this now then what one change could you make to move you closer to that goal?
7. Refuse to worry about being judged.
It seems to me that being overwhelmed is as much about feeling that our reality doesn’t match our expectations as it is about anything else. We have this idea of what our life should be like and how we should cope with that, or what other people’s lives are like and how they cope and these ideas and expectations undermine us, and knock our confidence.
No one has it all together.
Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
I absolutely, resolutely refuse to let this mindset of comparison and “shoulds” in.
I’m 5 years into small business ownership and only 8 years into parenting so I’ve got a lot to learn. If I reflect back on the past few years I realise that what I’ve learnt over and above it all is that we can retrain ourselves to think differently, we can make consistent small changes each day to and over time, (and yes perhaps years) we can shake off the shackles of comparison, and judgement and all those other niggling constructs that are the cause of much overwhelm. And while this can be hard work, it’s worth doing the work and living without that weight on my shoulders.
Don’t you think?