How to Beat the Overwhelm
Updated: Jan 31
If you’re not feeling overwhelmed, the chances are you’re teetering right on the edge of it. Even in the most perfect of circumstances, the mental load is heavy - and in these extraordinary times, “perfect” feels a very long way off. With more on our plates than ever before, the to-do list is getting longer every day, and sometimes its hard to know where to start.
Whether you’re juggling working from home with looking after young children, or you feel paralysed by the global news, it can often feel like total overwhelm is only a few breaths away away.
If you feel like life is demanding a lot of you, that’s because it is. We’ve all had to adjust to a bizarre and unimaginable new reality over the past 10 months, and the assault on our senses and our carefully constructed daily routines is very real. But you don’t have to be frozen in this feeling. When you feel overwhelm threatening to take over, there are some steps you can take to help you cope.
Acknowledge the feeling
However the feeling of overwhelm manifests itself for you - acknowledge it when it comes. Maybe your heart starts pounding and you feel panicky, maybe you’re more easily angered and more likely to yell at your kids, maybe you become tearful or want to check out by retreating with your phone to scroll through Instagram - however it comes, you shouldn’t ignore it. You will be amazed how much it helps if you can say to yourself as you feel it coming on, “Oh, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. I can do something about this.”
Identify your overwhelm trigger
We all feel overwhelmed by different things, but we don’t always know what they are until they’re upon us. Spend some time - during a calm moment - thinking about what it is that triggers your feelings of overwhelm. Is it getting everybody ready in the morning? Is it another item being added to your workload? Is it the number of Covid cases reported this week? Is it the sheer volume of things you need to get organised in a day?
Now here’s the key: separate those things into 2 categories:
Things you can control
Things you cannot control
Once you do this, you can begin to build a plan to help you cope.
If you realise that your stress is triggered by your children running late for school each morning, know that this is something you can control: plan ahead the night before, and get everybody up earlier in the morning, stay calm and you can turn this one around. If you’re triggered by the growing numbers of COVID cases, know that - beyond wearing a mask, staying home where possible and wearing a mask, this is probably one of the things that’s not in your control. Switch off the news and allow yourself to think about something else.
Do, delegate, or ditch
Once you have your two categories above, you can start dividing your mental load in 3 ways:
Things you can build a plan to DO: write lists and cross them off. Start with a few small, easy tasks to get your momentum going, and make sure you do a few every day to stay on top of it.
Things you can DELEGATE: Set yourself up with people you trust to help you keep your life running smoothly (our team at Good People can help you with this).
Things you can DITCH: this usually applies to everything in category 2 above, which you have no control over. Go ahead and “put it all down”. Lighten your load. It doesn’t mean you won’t worry about it, but freeing yourself of the responsibility for it will be a liberating start.
Claim your Sundays to set up your week
Here’s the good news: you’re more in control of your life than you think, and you have more time than you realise. Lindy Claire, a busy mum of three and founder of Good People, has found that so much of our mental load can be alleviated by being organised, which for her means sitting down and planning on Sunday night.
“Instead of starting each day racing through the daily briefing with our nanny while gathering laptops, yelling that the bus is leaving and stuffing odd snacks into backpacks, I now sit down in the quiet of sunday night and:
write out the week’s plan
do the grocery shopping
plan the school pick-ups and drop-offs
schedule the playdates
organise our adult social lunches or dinners
book the babysitting
very broadly plan the next weekend
The whole thing would take me one to two hours each time. Yes, these were hours I could have been watching a movie with hubby, but it meant that the entire week could be auto-piloted - I traded 2 hours on a Sunday for 10 hours of stressless evenings during the week, and this calculation was enough to convince me it was worth it.”
The balls you’re juggling are both glass and plastic - know the difference
Nora Roberts, a prolific author of over 200 books - many of which were written while raising a family - has famously spoken of life as a working parent being like juggling both glass balls and plastic balls. “You’re bound to drop a ball sometime, and if you drop a plastic ball, it bounces, no harm done. If you drop a glass ball, it shatters, so you have to know which balls are glass and which are plastic and prioritise catching the glass ones.” In this case she didn’t mean that all plastic balls are work-related and all glass balls are family-related - even though a parents this can be hard to accept. When juggling a big presentation to the board with Crazy Sock Day at your child’s school, it’s okay not to beat yourself up if you forgot to lay out their stripy pink and green socks in the morning. Let that ball bounce and move on.
Get your balance right
During your weekly planning sessions, look carefully at your calendar: how’s the balance? Are you planning in time for yourself, for something that makes you happy and helps you recharge and reset? We all know - especially as parents and child carers - we cannot pour from an empty cup. On Google Calendar, you can colour code each entry, which allows you to see at a glance how you’re balancing your week. Choose separate colours for meetings, children’s activities, appointments and admin, and for things that are just for you (coffee with a friend, or a walk listening to a good audiobook) - and make sure you schedule them into your week.
Look after yourself, get enough sleep, move your body, and give yourself grace. When the overwhelm comes, take a breath and know you're not alone.
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