It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you are a mom. Of course, it doesn’t just happen to mothers. It can happen to anyone. It can look and feel different for each person, so it’s a good idea to really check in with yourself when you are feeling a lot of stress. Is it simply stress from a situation that’s appropriate to be stressed about? Or are you in a state of complete and total overwhelm, and you don’t even know how to start to fix this feeling? Either way, what’s truly important is recognizing you ARE stressed and overwhelmed, then identifying WHY you feel overwhelmed, and then finally going to work on solutions for overcoming overwhelm. This is “Overcoming Overwhelm: A Mommy’s Guide.”
Let me say before we go any further, I am NOT a mental health professional. I have no training whatsoever, and any advice I give is purely from my own experience. If you need professional help, do not hesitate to seek out professional help, ASAP.
My Overcoming Overwhelm Story:
I’m going to be totally honest. I’ve spent the last few months being overwhelmed. Not a little overwhelmed. I mean totally and completely overwhelmed. Not just by any one thing or situation, but rather by every single thing. Simple tasks seemed like a mountain to climb. Bigger tasks seemed nearly impossible for me
When I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, my go-to solution is to shut down and not do anything. So what if I don’t know where to start? No problem! I just don’t start at all. And I can drag that out for weeks, even a month or two. We can all agree… that’s no good!
And then what happens:
As a result, my house was a total wreck. I was behind on my blogging work (which I adore). I felt awful physically, having gained weight, stopping exercising AND I had this funky hip pain that was killing me! It seemed like I was aggravated all the time. I was totally unfocused on anything and everything. Moreover, I just knew… I was certainly not as patient and good a mommy and wife as I could have been.
Is it more than overwhelm?
In hindsight, this was probably a mild bout of depression. After doing some research for this article and looking up the actual symptoms of depression, a feeling of overwhelm is very common for mild depression. Other symptoms of overwhelm and depression can be found here.
Public Service Announcement and Warning
If you are struggling with any kind of depression, get help as soon as you can to help yourself feel better. Start here and get yourself some help. There is NO shame in getting help. If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. If you have a sinus infection you go to the doctor. This is no different. Get yourself help if you need it.
Do You Need Professional Help?
However, I also knew
I’ve seen a counselor before, and I considered the idea of going back to see her. I went several years ago when our oldest child was diagnosed with Autism and quite simply, I needed help processing that diagnosis, what it truly meant for my family and subsequently getting my thoughts and feelings in order.
Moreover, I really enjoyed going to therapy. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t be better off after a few months (even years) of sessions with a licensed counselor. Every time I went to a session, I felt like I had a thousand-pound weight lifted off my chest. And truly, there’s something to be said from telling your issues and woes to a neutral third party. You get true and unbiased advice and perspective from someone that really doesn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak.
Looking Back At My Notes
My therapist gave me some really great tips on how to manage stress and overwhelm when I saw her a few years ago. So, I decided to look back on all of my notes and information that I’d gathered when I was in counseling before, because I was feeling so very similar now to how I was then, when I sought out counseling in the first place.
Once I looked through all my notes, I knew what to do and how to go about getting myself back on track. And I knew if I had trouble getting started, I could always make some appointments to go see my therapist too.
So, how do you get going? Where do you get the kick in the butt that you need? How to you take all your thoughts and get them back in some kind of order? I needed my ducks back in a row!
Getting started is different with every person. Some people will have a rock bottom/final straw moment. And some will just get to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and they will begin to crawl out of the hole themselves. For me, there was no one big event that got my attention. It was simply that I knew I didn’t want to feel like I had been, and I knew that I was the only one that truly had the power to change that. I was in the “sick and tired of being sick and tired” category.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
In order to get started, you need to be able to name and label the issues that are bothering you and put a name to all your thoughts. I like to use a mind map to get a firm grasp on where to start.
Mind maps are wonderful. Really, it’s just a list, but in a map-ish visual format. If you’ve never done a mind map, check this link out for a more detailed explanation.
My first step was to sit down one night after everyone was in bed and the house was nice and quiet. I took a huge piece of paper and wrote down everything that was bothering me. Anything and everything. No matter how small or trivial it seemed, I got it all down. Take 30 minutes and write down ALL the things.
Seriously, if the sock drawer stresses you out, it goes on the list. Messy fridge wigging you out? Put it on the list. You might be surprised that sometimes all of the little stuff that seems insignificant will help you piece together one of the big things that’s bothering you.
And of course, you have to put all the big stuff on the list too. The big stuff gets the big bubbles on the list. And you’ll probably have several! That’s totally normal! Don’t freak out if you think you have too many big things bothering you. That’s what overwhelm IS.
So, after an hour or so, I had it all down and already felt some better. This exercise really helps you see what issues are truly bothering you. And you can quickly group things together and start to clearly see how to fix a lot of things!
Once it was on the paper, out in the open for me to look at it, I could start to formulate a plan. And begin to absorb all the things I was worried and stressing about; all the things that were overwhelming to me. Every single worry I had now had a name and a place to live.
And that’s where the real work can begin!
Once you have your beautiful mind map all drawn out, it’s time to analyze it. You can even grab some colored highlighters or markers if you want to get totally nerdy about it. (Like… ahem… me…)
Start with the “Un-Fixables.”
And what do I mean by that? Quite simply, there are just going to be some things on the list and in life that are simply out of your control. You can’t fix everything. All you can control is yourself.
My counselor I saw gave me some really, REALLY great advice one session that has stuck with me. She said:
“If you stand in the middle of this room, you can’t touch any of the walls in this room. BUT… if you walk yourself over to the side of the room, and choose your location carefully, you can touch one or two of the walls. And only you can decide which walls you want to touch. You have to choose your location wisely.”
What Does That Mean?
What she meant was this… Sometimes (most of the time) you just can’t fix everything, and you can’t be everywhere at once. You must make choices and decide where you want to place yourself within your own life. Which walls do you need to touch? And which can you walk away from?
You should put yourself where the important stuff is. All the while learning to understand that some things are just out of your reach AND are going to remain out of your reach. What’s imperative is to recognize what you CAN fix and walk towards those walls. It took a few days for that little lesson to sink in. I tell you; the woman was a sneaky genius.
Moreover, in very simple terms, it’s realizing what my now-favorite saying means… “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” If it’s not your circus, or your monkeys… don’t sweat it.
But I Want To Fix Everything
If you are a type A person like I am, your brain is screaming “But I want to fix everything! I’m superwoman, I can do it!”
No… you can’t. You simply can’t. Wrap your head around that. The sooner the better.
Some stresses you just can’t take away. Some situations you just don’t have the ability to make better.
“There are some walls you just can’t touch…“
Want an example?
Here’s an example of what I mean from my own personal life. My beloved grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not fair. It’s not right. She doesn’t deserve it for a second. Alzheimer’s is ugly. And through the inevitability of time, it will get even more ugly. She will likely lose most (if not all) of her memories and the disease will ultimately take her from us and her earthly body. And there is not one thing I can do to fix that.
But what I CAN DO is make sure I visit as often as is feasible while I have two small children and call her frequently, especially while things are still going relatively well for her and her memory.
This is an easy example. I think most everyone knows they don’t have the ability to fix Alzheimer’s Disease. All you can control is your reaction.
Your Un-Fixable Box:
Now, you need to create a box in your mind. Decorate it however you like… it’s imaginary. (Mine may only exist in my imagination, but it’s sparkly and has pink feathers all over it. It’s fabulous…)
Look back at your mind map, take a good look and take stock of anything that you truly have no ability to change. There are going to be items on your list that you genuinely have no chance at changing. All you can do is control your reaction to these stresses.
You put the “Untouchable” and “Unfixable” things in this box you’ve created in your mind. Close the lid, stick the box in the attic of your mind… and move on to the things you can fix. The box is still there. The thoughts are still there. You won’t lose them. But you can manage them better if you simply put them where they belong… in that box… and let them rest there.
You’ve given those subjects the proper thought and you have put them in their appropriate place in your mind. Doing this clears a lot of space for the things that ARE fixable!
Now, the FUN part!! Let’s analyze all the things you can fix!
I’m going to use a few of my own issues to help demonstrate how to go through your mind map, subject by subject, and troubleshoot ways to get some fixes in place for yourself. I’m choosing “Physical Health” and “My Environment” and “Mommy-ing.”
Issue 1: Physical Health:
First things first. If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of anything or anyone else? This is a big struggle for me on a daily basis.
I was feeling overweight and achy and sluggish. And mentally cloudy to boot. I’ve always struggled with my weight, so I wanted to be extra kind to myself and not try to do some crazy diet. This is absolutely a work in progress, and I’m taking my time to figure out some real and definite solutions to the way I eat and how food makes me feel. Food has been a lifetime struggle and I’m really working to figure that out so it doesn’t continue to be an issue for the rest of my life.
In my opinion, there are 4 simple ways to look after your physical health when you are in a state of overwhelm:
1: Watch What You Eat
Eat well. Drink enough water. Make some changes if you need to level up your game and get healthier. This isn’t the time to dive into an insane diet. Just start paying attention to what you eat, when you feel full, and which foods make you feel good and which make you feel bad.
And a side note on the water… I stand in awe of how much better I feel if I get between 64-80 ounces of water each day. It’s really astounding. My joints hurt less. My appetite is lower. I’m mentally way more on my game. All from… water. Try it. Trust me.
2: Move Your Body
Get your exercise in. I truly think exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body AND your mind. It’s proven, exercise makes you happy. Your brain legitimately releases happy hormones when you exercise.
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands… they just don’t…”Elle Woods, “Legally Blonde”
SIDE NOTE – I have to say – I cracked myself up with that movie quote. If you need a quick pick me up – go watch “Legally Blonde” immediately. What a good movie. If you were already saying that quote in your head before I put it in the next paragraph, then you are my spirit animal and we need to be best friends immediately.
Back to Moving Your Body…
I love walking for exercise. And as mentioned before in this article, I had a freaky hip injury/inflammation come up in June and it sidelined me from exercising. It’s almost all the way better and within a few
But really, if I’m being honest, I used the hip injury as an excuse too. There are lots of other things I could have done in the meantime to make myself feel better. I could have done strength training, swimming, Pilates or yoga and just taken care to avoid the hip. My point being, even if you are injured in some way, chances are there is something you can do to help yourself become more physically active and start feeling better.
I’m always glad after I work out, and my mental clarity is so much better on those days. And you just feel good! And accomplished on those days!
3: Mental Health
This entire post is about how to look after your mental health. It’s just as important as your physical health. Make sure to pay attention to it and get any help you need.
I love this post by The Pragmatic Parent on Mommy Burnout and ways to address it.
If you feel you need professional help, seek it. And if you think you don’t have time to go and visit someone in an office setting, there are tons of online counseling services now too. My counselor was a big advocate of the app “Headspace” for guided meditations. I really like it a lot and found it very helpful and soothing.
4: Physical Appearance:
Shower and Get Dressed Every Day.
This can seem like a huge hurdle when you are overwhelmed. But shower and get dressed every day. When I do those two things I just feel like I’m showing up for myself mentally.
And EVERY day can’t be spent wearing sports bras and yoga pants all day. It just can’t. Make sure you have a few outfits that make you feel nice while being casual and functional mommy-life outfits too.
Everyone feels differently about makeup. It’s certainly not necessary but I always, always feel better when I know that I look good. And for me to be confident about my face and appearance, I need some makeup.
Show Up for Yourself
Showering and getting dressed might seem like a trivial thing to put on your list of things to help you overcome overwhelm. But trust me, a lot of times, it’s the little things that can turn out to help you with the big things. Get dressed and show up for yourself. You’ll be surprised how much it helps you and your outlook.
Issue 2: My Surrounding Environment:
We have conquered the physical health part of my mind map. Now, on to the environment (or surroundings) part! A messy house makes me twitchy and stressed.
BUT I also have 2 very young sons that are human tornadoes of mess and destruction.
Find The Correct Balance of Mess
So, for me, this part of my mind map is about finding a balance I can be comfortable with to keep my house manageable WHILE recognizing it doesn’t need to be spotless and totally organized at all times. That’s just not realistic for this season of life with our young boys.
Finding the balance can be tricky. I totally realize that having a clean house isn’t more important than having happy and thriving children. BUT I also know we should be able to walk through the house without cheerios crunching under our feet all the time too.
Where to start? What’s the goal? What you need is a set of operating guidelines. . What’s ok messy and what needs my attention regularly?
Case in Point
For example, I NEED a clean bathroom and an organized closet and a lovely bedroom. I DON’T have to have an immaculate laundry room. Dishes in the kitchen sink are ok for a day or two if I need to let them sit. Letting our Roomba vacuum at the end of the day is totally fine. The house doesn’t need a deep vacuum every day. I don’t care if the windows aren’t clean. I do care if there
Figure out what matters and doesn’t to you, and work from there.
Hire it Out
If it’s in your budget, hire it out. Have a cleaning service come in and do a deep clean to help you get things back on track and then you can manage it from there. Get a lawn service to take care of your yard each week, or at the least do a one time clean up.
However, if that’s not in your budget, no worries at all. Don’t stress. Just take it one step at a time!
Take your Time
If you need to get the house back in order on your own, I have ideas and thoughts to help you. If it’s absolute mayhem, read my post on how to get the house back in order by lunchtime today. That will give you some quick wins and get you started.
Beyond general messiness, if you need to get your house organized and back under control on a larger scale, I’d suggest taking a few weeks and simply conquering a few rooms at a time. Make two rooms your project for the week and keep going until you are done with all the rooms. Start with the area that stresses you out the most.
Where I’m starting:
For me, it’s our garage. Which sounds silly. It’s the garage, it’s supposed to be messy. BUT, I’m loading and unloading kids in and out of our car multiple times a day in the… guess where… ding ding ding…. IN THE GARAGE. I don’t want to scale a mountain of boxes and the lawnmower to get to the freezer. I need to not have a poopy diaper bag minefield to step over on the way in the door. It’s already hotter than the face of the sun outside and in the garage right now. I don’t need to add an obstacle course to my daily struggle just to get to our car.
Make a List
If it helps you, make a checklist of tasks you need to keep up with each week or month. For some people a list will stress you out. If it stresses you, don’t make one! For me, it’s necessary. My mind doesn’t remember all the little things that could be done each few weeks to maintain the clean house. Instead, I forget all of it until it’s a much bigger mess. If I have a list, I can see at quick glance if I’m letting anything slip that could be easily maintained in just a few minutes.
Like, Dust Bunnies
For example, it’s not that I want the ceiling fans to have an inch-thick layer of dust bunnies on them. I don’t want that. That’s no one’s goal or dream! But I don’t walk around pondering dust levels on my ceiling fans either. Somehow, I manage to carry on living my life without ceiling fan maintenance coming up in my mind all day. But then, one day, I notice it looks awful and I feel like a total failure for not paying attention to the ceiling fans in the first place. If I had the list, I’d have seen I should look at those every few weeks.
So, for me, a simple list helps me remember and gives me a few things I can do every couple of weeks, quickly, to keep the house in order. It is a tool to help me knock back the overwhelm and keep it under control. If you think that would help you, make yourself one too! If it overwhelms you and stresses you, forget I mentioned it!
The list helps me. It’s there as a gentle reminder of things to take care of. And if my little guys wants to stack blocks instead, then we stack blocks. And the list is still there later to look at another time in the day when my wooden block engineering skills are not required. The list helps me keep those thoughts balanced out and I can concentrate on what’s really important.
Issue 3: “Mommy-ing”
I think we can all agree, Mommy-ing can be overwhelming at every step and turn some days. I put this category last in the post for a reason. Not because it should be last in your thoughts, that’s not it at all. Almost certainly, it’s at the front of every mother’s brain most of the day, every day.
However, I’m really learning, you must first take care of yourself well before you are going to be able to do your best job at taking care of your tiny humans. And to be honest, I totally stink at this. It’s where I need the most work. Asking for help and accepting help when offered is something I’m working on very actively.
Taking Breaks for Yourself
It sounds counter-intuitive but taking breaks from being a mommy will help you BE a better mommy.
I have a new season of life coming up in a few weeks. My youngest will be going to preschool a few days a week and my oldest will be in school every day now. There will be built in breaks that I’ve never had before in my parenting experience. And I’m very excited for it! I’m so sentimental that my baby boy is ready to go to Pre-K and that the time has passed so quickly. But I also recognize that this is the opportunity for me to really have a MAJOR break during a few days a week that I’ve never had before and could really use.
But what if your kids aren’t getting ready to go to school and a break isn’t on your horizon?
Create that break for yourself. Call in Reinforcements!
Calling ALL Grandparents!
See if the grandparents can
Hire a Sitter
If that’s not a possibility, look around for a sitter that you can trust to help you out. Maybe it’s another mom and you trade off kids long enough for each of you to go to the grocery store in peace for an hour. Or for a date night with your spouse. Or a simple nap! Whatever you want to do!
If you aren’t comfy trying to find a babysitter that you don’t know, try them out and let them watch the kids while you are at home, accomplishing a few tasks nearby. After you do that a few times and see how your children do with the sitter, you can work up to going out for a few hours, and so forth.
Ask around for recommendations for trusted sitters among your friends as well!
Activity and Home Learning Overwhelm
I feel a huge responsibility to make sure I’m working with my kids at home on all their preschool skills. I’m sure every parent does. But having kids with some special needs and different learning abilities tends to make me hyper-vigilant about getting in every single learning opportunity possible. I tend to forget we need simple play time too.
You don’t have to have a strict lesson planned for every minute of every day. Free play is also good for your kids. I try to do lots of learning and therapy at home with my two little guys. Some days go better than others. Sometimes I try to plan out more structure and I have to be honest, it rarely works out. So, don’t schedule out every single thing. Just try going with the flow and build in learning opportunities and meet your children where they are that day.
For example, I could have a whole small lesson planned about the color red. We could use red crayons, red paper, red toys, have a red snack and read a book about red stuff. And my kids will probably run and hide.
I can play with them
Also, don’t feel like you must have an activity planned for each day, all day. Sure, try to plan fun stuff sometimes. But you don’t have to have a zoo day, waterpark day, museum day, pottery day and gymnastics day all in the same week. Do fun activities when it works into your schedule and mood for your children.
Mommy-ing is tough stuff. And the days are long. But try taking a little bit of pressure off yourself to help out with your overall overwhelm.
I hope that you have found some helpful ideas in this post on overcoming overwhelm for mommies. I wanted to share my experience so that other mommies might read this and feel like someone also understands what they are going through. And so that those mommies might feel like they are not alone.
I hope this article helps you start to dig out of a place of overwhelm that doesn’t feel so great and that it helps you get your mind and yourself back on track. Remember, if you need help doing that, be kind to yourself and seek the help you need.
Learning to shuffle priorities is such a big part of life, especially after you become a Mommy. Sometimes you need a little help getting your Supermom Cape back in place. And that’s the main reason I write this blog, to help myself and other mommies out there learn to just keep shuffling.