For many new parents, particularly working moms, feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy are constant companions. No matter how hard you work or how much time you have, you can’t seem to defuse the feeling that you’re not doing enough. While each person’s overwhelm is its own special blend, each shares a strong family resemblance of exhaustion, frustration, and scarcity. And quite often, when you find yourself treading furiously in the waters of overwhelm, the piranhas of resentment will begin to teem to the surface.
This is good news for no one. Especially your partner, your kids, your co-workers… And certainly not for you. When you’re overwhelmed, what you likely need is help, and it’s hard to get help while the resentment piranhas are feeding, the household “to-do” list is growing, and work order requests are rolling in.
So, what is “overwhelm” really?
Fundamentally, overwhelm happens when your time and energy stores do not match your workload and responsibilities. It’s putting out more energy than we can replenish. It’s a fear-based sensation that disempowers someone from getting their bearings; it’s low-grade fight or flight in a productivity disguise. Overwhelm doesn’t ask how you’re doing, it asks how much you’ve done, and when you’re going to do more.
Above all, it’s a losing proposition, and the more you furiously try to catch up, the further you’ll drive yourself toward the “B word”: Burnout.
Now, there is such a thing as the other “B word”–busy–and if you’re a human living in our modernized tech-tuned world, you’re used to being busy. It’s in our air and water. It comes pre-installed in your smartphone claw computer.
Unlike overwhelm and burnout, busyness can be healthy, if it comes in spurts and one is able to carve out swaths of time to take a break, have lunch, a cup of tea, chat with a friend, hug a tree. Busy is okay as long as you’re occasionally recalibrating your nervous system.
But in the throes of overwhelm, the idea of taking a break seems indulgent, abhorrent, or impossible. “Who am I to take a break when I have so much to do and so many people and things to take care of,” you might ask yourself. And then you keep on chugging, even though your energetic gas tank is flashing empty.
At LUMO, we coach a ton of very busy, very high-functioning, perfection-oriented parents and one thing that is consistent across ALL of our clients’ experiences of overwhelm is this:
They have a tell.
A “tell” – a term often used in poker – is an unconscious action or behavior that “shows your hand” or betrays something you’re attempting to hide. A full house, or… the fact that you’re losing your shit. We like to call it roller skating downhill with your hair on fire. If you try to stop, you’re gonna fall and get road rash, so you might as well smile and keep rolling! Right? (Umm. Please. No.)
Before you can break up your overwhelm cycle, it’s important to get savvy to your tells. How do you know you’ve merged off the busyness express onto the highway to overwhelm?
Do you skip meals? Is your sleep disrupted? Are you pissy with the people you love most? Does your nervous system give you a shock when your phone rings or you get a text?
Take a few minutes to jot down what you think your tells are. If nothing comes to mind, ask your nearest and dearest and I bet they can share some unconscious signals you emit that signal them to give you space.
Next question to ask yourself: When you’re rolling hot through your overwhelm cycle, what are your coping strategies? Do you immediately cancel self-care? Skip the gym? Skip meals? Blame yourself for not being enough or blame others for not noticing you need help? One of our clients obsessively cleans the kitchen and then is furious at her family when they leave a dish in the sink. (This is often where resentment shows up.)
And here’s the most important question: How can you interrupt your state of overwhelm?
Take care of your own well-being. This means putting yourself first. (Confronting? Yes. Necessary? Also, yes.) Well-being is the access point for everything you want in life: love, abundance, joy, energy, patience, generosity, connection, and success at home and at work. Making your well-being a priority increases your productivity and helps you accomplish more. It also broadens your capacity to experience joy and satisfaction. TRUST US. This will pay dividends and keep you healthy and balanced. True story.
Say “no” or “let me get back to you.” Send “yes” on sabbatical. This is how you can start setting healthy boundaries. Boundaries are often (inaccurately!) perceived as something negative, but in reality they are a GIFT: one that you give to yourself and to others. Think of them as a how-to guide of how we want people to treat us.
Ask for support. As we often say to our clients, “dare to bother to ask for what you need.” From a friend, a family member, your partner if you have one, or splurge for a babysitter or someone to help you around the house. Asking for help only means one thing about you: you need a hand and you are smart enough to ask for it. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrid human or a subpar mom.
Sweet, sweet parent, doing your best and trying to get it all done, if there’s one thing we want you to take with you from this time we’ve spent together discussing overwhelm, it is this:
Ignoring your overwhelm cycle will keep you in it, and the time you spend considering the questions we posed above is time you’re not spending in overwhelm later. Start small, have a glass of water, and take a long deep breath. All is well, and you are crushing it.
LUMO is a collective of certified executive and leadership coaches and trainers. We use the tools, principles, and philosophies of leadership coaching to empower parents to become leaders in their careers, their relationships, and any other areas of their lives where they are feeling unmoored, disempowered, or not living up to their full potential. We provide companies the training to support their parent employees in a radical new way.
To learn more about us, visit our website at www.lumoleadership.com or follow us on instagram @lumoleadership.