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.


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