There are days when I feel overwhelmed. There are days when a dozen things swirling in my head just crash down on me like a ton of bricks, leaving me in panic mode. One negative thought would come rushing in stringing along a series of would-be catastrophes. Sometimes, I would just freeze and zone out in the middle of my chores. Other times, I’d feel like I’m super busy but actually, I wasn’t not getting anything done. Have you felt this way too?
A few weeks ago, I had a lot on my mind: family issues, health concerns, mommy duties and other worries. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and felt really jumpy. I was scatterbrained and clumsy. I knew I had to help myself pronto.
Being overwhelmed is a state that is often unavoidable given our huge responsibilities but over the years I’ve learned that there are steps to counter distressing thoughts. I am by no means an expert but let’s just say being overwhelmed is fairly familiar territory. Moreover, my post graduate thesis was actually focused on stress and coping strategies. I’ve applied them and they have helped me ride things out.Let me share with you some of the best strategies to take when you’re feeling swamped and don’t know what to do.
Sometimes, all we need to calm ourselves is to breathe, literally.
Take Deep Abdominal Breaths
Often we don’t pay attention to the way we breathe. When we are stressed, our breathing may become rapid and shallow.When we get overwhelmed, we might even hyperventilate which could make matters worse.
I am just a novice yoga practitioner but I learned that when we are stressed and overwhelmed, we tend to do chest breathing. On the other hand, to feel more relaxed we need to do fuller and deeper abdominal breathing. To do this, just place one hand on your belly and notice it rise with inhalation and fall with exhalation. Even in just five minutes, you can notice a big change in both your physical and emotional state.
Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
This is particularly helpful for those who have trouble going to sleep. It’s scientifically proven to relax your mind. I’ve tried and shared about it in a previous post about getting more rest.
CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK
Let go of “should haves”, “would haves” and “could haves”
I don’t know about you but I can be my worst critic. I burden myself with “should haves” thinking doing them all would mean I’m a good mom. But in really, I could only do so much. I should have made the house spotless before guests arrived. I should have followed the recipe to the tee. Well, done is better than should have. I cleaned and cooked. I did my best at that time and if it wasn’t enough, I’ll do better next time. While the song says, “shoulda woulda coulda are the last words of a fool”, what’s important is that we learn from our mistakes. Believe me, that overwhelming mommy guilt is going to ruin what could have been a wonderfully pleasant day.
Counter Hot Thoughts
Hot thoughts are negative thoughts that trigger a strong emotion. Often when we are overwhelmed, we have thoughts like, ” I can’t do this anymore” or ” This is too much” that would lead us to worry or panic. Countering hot thoughts involves challenging them through evidence and balancing thoughts. For example, ” this is too much” . Things that support this thought maybe:” I have hectic job, a rambunctious toddler, house chores, a migraine, a deadline, dirty dishes in the sink etc”. You could balance this out by thinking ” I have someone to help me. The chores can wait. I have medicine for my migraine. My toddler smiled at me. I love her very much.” A good idea would be to keep a thought record to help you process your thoughts.
FOCUS ON THE MOMENT
A very popular quote from Alice Morse Earle goes, “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
Truly, most of us recognize how precious the present is. However, many of us, are often caught in the past or rushing towards the future. I certainly have been. I would either find myself wishing I made better choices in the past or worrying about my life in ten or twenty years. How would my life be then? Would I have lived a fulfilled life? Would I have left my mark in this world? What’s growing old gonna be like? Would my daughter think of me as a good mom?
The truth is, we have only now. We can focus on what’s happening. My daughter is taking a nap while I am hoping I make sense and somehow you keep reading this long post.
Seriously though, there have been times when in the midst of a chore or playtime, I’d find myself drifting towards either the past or the future. I’d suddenly think of opening a mutual fund for my daughter or feel disappointed that I don’t get to write as often as I’d like. And that can’t be good because I’m missing the present: being with my little one, that someone wonderful who made me a mom.
The question is, how do we focus on the moment? I heard from a podcast a couple of years ago that in order to focus on the moment, we need to indulge our senses. For example, when I’m in a hurry eating a meal, I tend to make eating more of a chore to be done with. If we were to focus on eating we need to appreciate how the food looks, what does it taste like in our mouths and how it feels with our tongue. It doesn’t take very long to focus on the moment but it does take a decision to be more aware.
DETERMINE WHAT IS IMPORTANT
I tend to get overwhelmed when I try to do everything at once. I multitask thinking I’m saving time. However many studies have shown that on the average, people who try to do two things at the same time become slower and less accurate. When we keep switching tasks, we end up distracted by the previous one that our performance suffers.
I think it is really important to prioritize. While I think it’s great to have a pristine home, it’s much more important that I have time to interact with my daughter. Let’s remember, some important things may not be as urgent as deadlines.
To determine what we need to give time to, you can checkout Stephen Covey’s Urgent vs. Important grid. This would help you decide when to say no to certain demands.
DETACH FOR A BIT
Sometimes, stepping away, whether physically or mentally from the demands that are draining you, is a great way to get a grip. Some people go out for a walk while others entertain themselves with feel good videos.
Our brain needs some downtime like our bodies do. In fact, a recent study shows that those who had two mini breaks in within an hour of work performed better than those who didn’t take any. This is because prolonged attention to one task become mind-numbing.
Do a quick yoga
Mornings are usually the most hectic part of the day. I find that doing this five-minute morning yoga routine helps me prepare for the busy day ahead. I enjoy it because I can do it even when I’m still in bed.
Another yoga technique you could use involves applying pressure to points on your fingers to loosen up. You could read more about this Naam Yoga hand trick here.
TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT YOUR SITUATION
While it’s certainly a confidence booster to do all things alone and be a supermom, I think it’s much better to keep your sanity and health. Therefore, when things get too much for me, you’d find me talking to my mom about things that are bothering me. There are instances when even if it’s TMI, I feel like I have to vent or else I’ll explode.
Is there a right way to vent?
However, while it’s great to find release in venting out, studies recommend co-reflection rather than co-rumination with your significant others.What’s the difference? Co-reflection involves individuals attempting to gain understanding of the situations in order to find solutions or prevent the recurrence. On the other hand, co-rumination is just focusing on how bad you feel without any attempts to modify your situation. Therefore, it’s better to bounce off ideas with your mommy friend on how you could work on how to make your relationship with your in laws better than complaining about them a lot.
Yes, life can be really stressful at times. While treating ourselves to a relaxing massage always sounds like a great idea, a lot of times, it’s a matter of perspective and focus. I found an interesting quote to sum up what we should do when we are overwhelmed
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” ~ Sydney J. Harris