After a year and a half of pandemic parenting, are you way beyond your stress limit?
Do you feel like you need the world to stop so that you can catch up?
No doubt you’ve heard a lot about the power of slowing down.
Did you know that overwhelm is a mindset?
It is SOOO important. However much of the advice on slowing down misses the powerful point that overwhelm is a mindset. If you learn how to shift your overwhelm mindset, you’ll be free to have a rich full life, or a slowed down simple life. The point is you won’t have to wait for things to slow down to be happy and have your stress under control.
I’m going to share 3 points with you that have the power to help you to shift from overwhelm, to busy but happy mama, knowing you are rocking your rich, full family life.
- More on how overwhelm is a mindset,
- What you need to slow down in order to shift out of overwhelm,
- One tangible tip that will shift you to a “can do” place.
1. Why I say Overwhelm is a Mindset
When I say that overwhelm is a mindset, do you think right away of your huge to do list and how true it is that you have too much to do?
Let’s be clear, I 100% agree with you! As a modern mom, you are stretched more thinly than ever in history, and that was pre-pandemic. The pandemic added greatly to the weight of your load in sooo many ways.
Why are you screaming at your kids?
In part because it’s way too flipping much! Your mental health is almost certainly fragile, and your children no doubt have at least potential for mental health issues, if they don’t already have them. Kids’ behavior is worse than ever before too, and you know that in the big picture, your kids DO need to be able to do a simple chore without having a melt down. And your village? You gave up hoping for a village to help raise your children, and you are sick of feeling like your co-parent is a burden.
I’m not saying for a minute that your workload is doable and you should just be happy.
So much of our work here at GPS is helping moms to learn how to enlist their co-parent’s help, and/or to build their village in other ways so that they have the support they need and deserve.
Here’s the problem: what part of your brain are you in when you are feeling overwhelmed?
Are you in your powerful, problem solving brain: your pre-frontal cortex? The one that can make connections and figure out innovative ways to make the impossible possible? Or are you in your reptilian brain, aka your lizard brain?
Which part of your brain you are using to try to solve the problem from will make all of the difference.
I see it a lot; people getting stuck in their reactive lower brain when they are overwhelmed. That part of our brain excels at spinning out lists of what we have to do (and loves to share the list with others), while racing with thoughts of the scarcity of time with which to get things done, and the serious consequences of missing the deadlines. (In the big picture it can matter a lot if kids miss regular check ups, don’t show up to school, aren’t wearing clean clothes – even though in the short-term, it may be fine.)
Our first job when we are feeling overwhelm should be to get out of that part of our brain, aka the overwhelm brain!
When we have too much to do, we need to get into our responsive, problem-solving brain in order to find a solution! Spinning in overwhelm makes it dramatically MORE likely that we’ll prolong the period of time where our to do list is out of control.
So many wonderful moms are trying to solve their parenting problems from a brain that is stressed out and shut down. No wonder it feels impossible! It is a trap when we get stuck in our lower, primitive brain.
2. What needs to slow down in order to get out of overwhelm?
It’s your mind that needs to slow down. You actually will speed up dramatically when you fully embrace this concept. Another way to look at it is you are shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. (To learn more about the growth mindset, check out our blog post When your Child Feels Pressure to be Perfect.)
When my kids were younger, things were so bad I wanted to leave the planet. A lot of the time I was a super sweet, kind and doting mom, making organic food from scratch, breastfeeding, having a home birth and 100% focused on giving my wonderful kids the perfect childhood they so richly deserved.
Every once in a while though, I’d completely lose it and say and do things that I was 100% clear were not ok. I wouldn’t have allowed any one else to look after my kids if they intermittently screamed at them. I’d vow not to go there again, and yet time and time again, after too long with too little support, and after being trapped in my overwhelm brain, the stress would build up again and I’d be screaming bloody murder at my kids.
It was NOT a pretty sight. I remember my brave son at about 3 years of age, standing in the hall with his body seeming to reverberate or shake from the force of my screaming.
Like so many moms, my marriage was a huge source of stress too. Years later, I learned that my ex husband justified his raging at me because he was so upset about how I was losing it with the kids. The difference between us is that one of us was clear that losing it and scaring those we loved wasn’t ok. He was also nice a lot of the time too, he just wasn’t apologetic about the times where he lost it.
I had to figure out how, in the middle of the chaos that was my life, to start slowing down my thinking so I would be in my problem solving brain. There are lots of ways to do that, including a asking yourself a deceptively simple question, “Can I do this, and if so how?” Interrogative self-talk, developed by Mike Pantalon and others, will get you in your pre-frontal cortex where you may make decisions such as to decommit to things you said you’d do, or think of creative ways to get help.
Many moms like me need help to learn how to delegate, decommit and otherwise turn an overwhelming to do list into a doable one. We have a program that focuses on helping mamas to slow down their thinking in order to speed up in a small group setting which many moms find very powerful. You can find out more about it here.
Other ways include finding a counselor who you can talk to about your problems, and start finding space to get a higher level view of your life, and what you could be doing differently. Another way to slow down your mind that I did was to learn cognitive behavioral therapy. I’d take stressful thoughts like I had when my kids started to fight, such as “I can’t stand it”, and question them. After ahas such as realizing that I WAS standing it, even though I didn’t like it, I was more able to stay calm the next time a similar situation happened. Or when I thought I had too much to do, I’d question it. “I can’t get it all done” was often replaced with realizing that I could get what was most important to me done. From that calmer place, I felt much more motivated, much less likely to procrastinate and spin like I did when overwhelmed.
From a calmer part of our brain, it’s easier to learn how to get your co-parent more involved, or to find help in other small ways that can add up big over time. This segues nicely into my last point. When we are in our frantic, stressed out brain, we feel like we need big changes to happen. Big changes are usually not possible, and often counterproductive. I’ve worked with moms who left their partners because they were tired of the conflict and lack of support, only to find themselves even less supported, and even more stressed as a single moms. (I write more about this in Calm the Inner Storm for Safer Smoother Sailing for your Family.)
3. One tangible tip that will shift you to a “can do” place
Is it better to focus on the big changes you need done, or on small ones?
Ironically, despite wanting and even needing large, wholesale change in our lives, the way to change for most people is through small changes.
Yes, sometimes we can hire an organization expert to come in and help us to declutter, or we can otherwise focus masses of energy on making a change. But even then, if we keep the mindset that created the clutter in the first place, we’ll find ourselves in a similar place down the road.
A powerful way to reduce overwhelm is to learn to FINISH more jobs! Show me an overwhelmed person, and I guarantee they have unfinished jobs all over their house. Part of the overwhelm mindset is believing we have so much to do that we’d better at least start the next job. As we are doing one job, our overwhelm brain is focused on that to do list, and spinning through all that must be done NOW. So we drop what we are doing before it’s done, and move to the next thing.
Learning to take the extra time to finish the job you have started, is a game changer. This leads to more work being done, with more of a feeling of accomplishment! When we finish more jobs, we get the sense of accomplishment and the energy hit that results in us being able to do more!
Is your overwhelm brain saying right now, “I have too much to do to take the time to finish jobs”. If you are happy with the results you’ve had to date, stick with the approach you’ve used so far. If not, trust me and scores of organizational experts. Look for areas of your life, possibly even small ones, where you can start to practice finishing the job and getting to the WIN!
I’ll share a great example by someone I’ve interviewed, Marla Cilley, aka the Fly Lady. She teaches overwhelmed, stressed out mamas to start with simple tools like keeping your kitchen sink clean! Try it for a bit; Keep it shiny and empty, and see how good it feels to walk by it! You’ll find yourself energized to give your dishes the quick rinse and get them in the dishwasher, rather than letting them pile up (and leading by bad example with your kids… I was bad for this and my ex husband pointed out that the kids followed my lead!).
Another example of a small thing that you can finish each day and get a good energy hit from, is to make your bed every morning. It’ll change your relationship with your room! Who knows, your kids may model from you now or else almost certainly in the future.
- How overwhelm is a self-perpetuating mindset; we spin in our lower, emotional brain when we are overwhelmed, instead of being in our creative problem-solving brain,
- Why you need to slow down your mind in order to shift out of overwhelm,
- Finish what you start: One tangible tip that will shift you to a “can do” place.
I’d love to hear what you found most helpful! What is 1 thing that you are going to start to finish more often? What’s one way that you will slow your mind down so that you can solve your problems instead of you and your family continuing to suffer from them? Life can be great even with small kids, or with teenagers, as a single mom, etc. But you aren’t likely to get there from a stressed out, overwhelmed brain.
Jacqueline Green, founder of Great Parenting Simplified Nonprofit Cooperative.
By the way, our very popular FREE pause button challenge is coming later in July! It’s where we teach you how to slow down in those moments where you are about to lose it! If you aren’t on our list already, I suggest that you sign up (you can also get our 3 surprising tips to making parenting easier when you join our community!).