Is overwhelm a choice?

I am no different than anyone else. I get overwhelmed, particularly at the end or beginning of the school year. For one thing, nobody mentions that having babies near memorial or labor day means that you spend 12 years organizing birthday parties at the same time as you are trying to tie up summer plans, back to school shopping and various other end or beginning of school year tasks. And the regular stuff, like household organization, cleaning, work and self care feel like they are too much.

In the midst of all this stuff going on I realize that I have a choice. I can choose to feel overwhelmed or I can choose to take care of things to the best of my ability and stay present to myself and my energy level.

I can choose!

The alternative is to tell ourselves we can’t manage it all. To feel like it will never end, to look at all the things that people are not doing to help me. We can try to do it all and stay up late taking care of details and losing sleep because we go to bed too late and still have to get up early. And rather than asking for help or real support we can talk about how overwhelmed we feel. And when we do that, often times our friends will have similar stories of overwhelm and we feel justified in feeling like the world is spinning out of control while it is quietly stealing our joy.

So what can we do instead?

First, adjust how you are looking at this situation. Sure, it’s a challenge, but how would you approach it differently if you saw this as a challenge and not as a threat to your sanity? Are you approaching this week from a place of power and competence or from a victim mentality? And spend a moment listening to what you are telling yourself about this situation. Is your inner critic talking to you? What is it saying? Because the negative self talk is fuel for the fire of overwhelm. Listen to the stories that that you are telling yourself. My personal favorite story is the “you have to do it all” story which goes really well with the “you’re letting your kids down” story. The icing on the cake is the “you can’t do anything right” story.

Second of all, reprioritize. What are the things that you are not willing to let go of, and put them in order of importance. For instance, buying birthday presents and having cake were nonnegotiable. Attending the talent show my daughter was playing in was also on the list. Picking up my other daughter, who could easily walk although she doesn’t like to, at school… That is a half hour I can spend taking relaxed care of small tasks that need to be taken care of. And it is perfectly okay to let the text messages and emails wait. Flag the important emails and delete the rest, then take care of the important emails when you have time. When the kids ask you to help them with something or tell you they need something, ask them to write it down for you (or do it for them if they are young) so you don’t forget and deal with it later. Tell them when you will be able to get to it and know that this will teach them to be patient and to be self reliant.

And finally, Breathe. Just breathe and take care of the task at hand. Nothing more, nothing less. The next task will take care of itself when it is time for that, but spending time worrying about all the things that need to be done or trying to multitask makes it harder to focus on the task at hand.



I pulled this Angel card a few weeks ago and tried journaling about it. I looked up various definitions for the word and nothing really struck me as meaningful. I couldn’t think of anything to write about in this context, but I wanted to write a blog post. It was important to me to get this written but inspiration was not forthcoming.

Then I had a really busy week. I performed with my dance team and helped organize the social at which we performed. I got my daughter and myself ready for a week in Yosemite with her class at which I was a chaperone. There were extra rehearsals for me, and extra violin lessons for her since her recital is coming up soon. Arrangements for her birthday were being made, laundry and purchasing supplies and trying to get as much work and studying done in advance. I completely forgot about my angel word.

  1. combination or composition, in particular.
    • the combination of ideas to form a theory or system.
      noun: synthesis; plural noun: syntheses
      “the synthesis of intellect and emotion in his work”

Monday morning I boarded the bus with the sixth graders for a five day trip to Yosemite with the NatureBridge organization. I love being outdoors and have enjoyed bringing Nature related activities and programs into the schools to pass on my love of the natural world to children. I was looking forward to this week, although I find this age group to be less exuberant and engaged with the enchantment of the Natural world. They have to stay cool. I was prepared to meet them where they were though, and to see if I could open their eyes and hearts to the magic and exuberance of the natural world. I had no idea that I would be the one doing most of the learning that week.

As the NatureBridge guide and 10 sixth graders and I walked through meadows, through creeks, up steep trails and marveled at the waterfalls in this beautiful valley with granite walls I reflected on things I had learned over the past few months about myself. I also connected with what was unique and wonderful in each of these children as they are leaving childhood behind and are not yet adults. In coaching we often examine how our current view of our reality is formed as a child. This view is still real in our minds and comes up as our inner child. I watched as they were forming their view of what it means to be a part of the adult world and what their place is in it. There is real hope here.

As a group we really bonded on the challenge hike. It took grit from everyone to make it up this steep trail and particularly up the mist trail. The stairs are steep and slippery and it is crowded. I read the doubt in the eyes of some of the kids, thinking they couldn’t do it. I had to remind them -“You’ve got this!” as they faced a step higher than their knees. I reached out my hand for support and while they could easily have used it to pull themselves up, they used to simply for balance. It didn’t take more physical strength on my part to reach out and help them, it took stamina of a different kind. Yet they received what I offered them genuinely and with appreciation and kept going. They learned that the mental game is the real battle.

It struck me that this week brought together two of my passions -my passion of connecting to the natural world and my passion for connecting with people ad helping them connect with themselves. Nature has a way of quieting my mind chatter so I can see what I am grateful for, so I appreciate my place in the ecosystem of the world as well as appreciating my place with other people.

I guess the lesson is not to give up on an idea too soon. It may still be relevant at some time. My other lesson is that if the significance of it is not readily apparent, don’t waste too much time pondering it. It will resurface when you need it so, as will all things, it is best to hold the idea lightly and without attachment. My question for you is -when do you feel most grounded and in touch with the world around you. When do you feel most connected to the important people in your life? What do you need to do to cultivate more of this in your life?