On New Year’s Eve in 2015, I wasn’t out celebrating with friends. In all likelihood, I was in bed well before the clock struck midnight. The specifics of that day have faded from memory, but what remains crystal clear is my New Year’s resolution: to start the journey to be less overwhelmed.
I can vividly recall sitting on the couch, engaged in a text conversation with a group of girlfriends from business school. They were all unmarried and childless, leading entirely different lives from mine. Amid our discussions about our plans for the upcoming year, a profound sense of isolation crept over me.
Parenthood, particularly the challenges faced by first-time moms, is rarely conveyed as vividly as the joys of having a baby. While we enthusiastically discuss the prospect of becoming parents, the intricacies of motherhood often go unspoken. It’s a rite of passage that defies easy description until you’re knee-deep in it. Everyone seems like the perfect parent until they have children of their own. Grand plans and ideas for parenting can evaporate when confronted with the reality of raising kids.
The journey of parenting is fraught with moments of being overwhelmed. Countless firsts, many uncontrollable factors, a barrage of expectations, and an array of parenting philosophies and opinions converge into an often bewildering experience.
For me, the feeling of being overwhelmed began when my son was a mere two weeks old. It was the realization that I needed a strategy for his naps during the day, something I felt utterly unprepared for. Soon after, colic hit, and I discovered the depth of a baby’s cries. It rattled my nerves and left me feeling helpless.
As I returned to work, the source of my overwhelm shifted to the new normal of managing daycare, commuting, and juggling the demands of work and home. Insecurities about my abilities as a mother and professional crept in.
By the start of 2015, my son was 16 months old, and I had hoped to have mastered this parenting thing. Instead, I crafted a New Year’s resolution that read more like a wish list than a S.M.A.R.T. goal with an action plan to get started.
I took small steps forward that year and in the subsequent years, but the breakthrough I needed to escape the constant feeling of being overwhelmed only arrived late in 2019.
Do you find yourself constantly overwhelmed in your life? If so, you’re not alone. Even prestigious publications like Harvard Business Review have started to address the issue, with articles on how working parents can alleviate overwhelm.
What Can You Do?
A coach once characterized overwhelm as an “indulgent emotion.” It’s a feeling we often allow to persist, shielding us from delving deeper into what’s truly bothering us. Over time, it becomes a habit. I discovered this during the early days of my parenting journey when I was grappling with a whirlwind of emotions and hormones. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to miss how it gradually takes hold. It’s like a faint, ever-present hum in the background – much like the low hum of a refrigerator that you hardly notice.
And steadily, it grows louder. You become more aware of it. By then, you’re not even sure of its origin or the root cause of the noise.
This feeling becomes a constant, a way of life. The idea of how to become less overwhelmed feels overwhelming in itself, almost paralyzing.
Attempting to solve it all at once, seeking a silver bullet solution, only perpetuates the feeling of powerlessness in changing the course of your life.
The initial step is to acknowledge that you want something different. As Tony Robbins wisely puts it, the pain of remaining where you are must outweigh the pain of making a change. Is the time and effort required to overcome overwhelm less painful than staying put?
Once you’ve decided it’s time for a change, get specific. Avoid making a broad declaration like “I will be less overwhelmed.” Instead, detail your daily activities, the people you interact with, and your emotional state. These day-to-day routines become unconscious actions, and bringing awareness to them is vital.
Look For Patterns
Are your entries predominantly work-related? Do they pertain to certain times of the day?
Go deeper. Remember that overwhelm is often a cover for more profound, distressing feelings. In my case, it was a sense of insecurity that drove the belief I had to excel at everything. Addressing my underlying insecurity significantly reduced my overwhelm as I shed unrealistic expectations.
Unpacking these emotions may take time, and it’s helpful to collaborate with a coach or therapist. They can help you uncover habitual thoughts and feelings that might be challenging to identify on your own. Such partnerships can accelerate progress.
As a parent, especially as a working mom, moments of overwhelm are inevitable. However, if you live in a perpetual state of overwhelm, understand that a better life is within reach. You just need to decide to start the journey.
Check out more from Jessica here.