Getting Past Overwhelm

Getting Past Overwhelm


How to Stop the Constant Busy-ness and Practice Self-Care


Almost three years ago, I had just had my youngest son and was really struggling with my health. I have an autoimmune disease and take immune system suppressors to manage my condition, however, during my pregnancy, I went off my medication. I was in a major flare and was also extremely busy with running my business.



While I waited for my medication to kick in, I began acupuncture, which was incredibly helpful in managing my symptoms. However, even with medication, acupuncture and regular physical therapy, my healthy was really struggling. I had a four year old, an infant and had never taken maternity leave and was working like an insane person, who was only sleeping 4-6 hours a night. Not good for anyone, particularly someone with an autoimmune condition that is aggravated by stress.


My acupuncturist had heard a story on NPR about a book that he thought was written exactly for someone like me. I am a huge bookworm, so I decided to check it out and I can’t express enough what a positive impact it has had on my health and my family. It isn’t just helpful for a working mother with young children, it is for anyone who is overwhelmed by too many to-dos and not enough time to breathe and practice self-care.


The book, titled Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte, addresses our constant desire to fill our lives with busy. We overschedule ourselves and pride ourselves on how busy we are and how little we sleep or practice any form of self-care. Even though I read the book almost three years ago, whenever I am in a life stage that is overly busy and stressful and lacks freedom and fun, I find myself remembering the book and trying to implement what I read.


I related to her anecdote of doing interviews with sources while sitting in the hallway outside her son’s dentist office. Too many times, I myself have sat in the pediatrician’s office with my sick child while texting my staff and answering customer calls, rather than focusing on my child. I also got frustrated that I couldn’t check email during my 30 minute acupuncture appointment – crazy right?


So how does one step back from the mindset that busy-ness equals value? How do you get back to the point of caring for your needs and not scheduling every minute of every day? Schulte provides some really great advice on how to incorporate “play” into your life when you are being pulled in so many directions.


Nine Powerful Messages for Avoiding Overwhelm and Incorporating Self-Care and Play Into Your Life

“Time is power. Don’t give yours away”: This is definitely easier said than done, particularly when your time is “booked” to care for others. However, there are activities in our life that we can reduce or eliminate to take back some of our time. We may not be able to stop taking our elderly parent to the doctor, but we can say no to the extras like being a board member in your home owner’s association or running the recycling program at your child’s school – unless of course, those things bring you joy. Instead, take that found time to practice self-care!


“Don’t wait until the dust bunnies are gone and the fridge is full to share time with friends”: This is by far, one of my favorite pieces of advice from the book, and one I really strive to do regularly. My house is regularly a mess – I have a 7year old, a 3 year old, a husband who travels and chronic health issues. Before reading the book, I never invited anyone over because our house was such a mess and I was embarrassed. Not anymore. My true friends don’t care that there are puzzle pieces on my floor, food under the table or Pokémon cards stacked up everywhere, despite the binder I meticulously set up for my son. They don’t live in perfect worlds either. Why should we miss out on spending time together because we’re not living like we “should”?


“Remember most of your to-do list will never get done”: As a type A person, this is a tough one for me, but the reality is, that many items on the to-do list are not really mission critical. Perhaps picking the top 3 things you want to accomplish makes more sense, and then anything above that is a bonus. If you are struggling to stay organized or fit in the important tasks, try taking shortcuts.


“Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day”: No matter how full your day is, hopefully you can squeeze in one thing. I am trying to squeeze in stretching since it will benefit my health, and the healthier I am, the more I can do for everyone. My stretches take less than 10 minutes, so I feel like it is something I can accomplish.


“Create family systems and automate routines to cut down on arguing, nagging, and resentment”: As a caregiver, you may feel like you have to do it all, but allocating tasks to others can help you all feel closer, like you’re in it together, and it is better for your well-being. I have some suggestions for balancing caregiving tasks and caregiving shortcuts that can help.


“Remind yourself that play is useful. Humans need it. Give yourself permission to do it”: There are some months when I realize that every weekend day is full of obligations, sometimes fun, but it doesn’t leave room for spontaneity. I usually step back and really take a look at what we have on the calendar and decide, is that something that I consider “play” or is it a “should do.” Once I decide, I get rid of the “should dos” and leave room for just play – whether it is play as a family or me carving out time to “play” with my friends. I never regret it.


“Give your brain a rest. Get out of your head and into your body, your breath, or the moment”: There have been so many studies on mindfulness that demonstrate the importance of meditation. It brings the brainwave pattern into a relaxed state that promotes healing. I struggle to carve out time to practice mindfulness, so this is definitely a work in progress for me.


“What if we really did live like we’re dying? How would that change what you view as important and the choices you make for what to do with your time?”: I recently used this tip in making a major life decision. I had been running my business for seven years and while I loved my customers and their families, I was operating at a loss (and had been since the inception) and was working 50-60 hours per week at a high stress level. I was sacrificing time with my family, not just quantity, but quality, since when I was with them, I was either too tired or in too much pain from pushing my body that I was only marginally involved in family activities. When faced with a large expense that would put our family deeper in the hole, I decided I really needed to think through proceeding and how it would impact my family’s well-being. I thought, if I die next week, will I regret shutting down my business, or will I regret missing these crucial moments with my husband and children. The answer was simple.


“Banish the busyness”: Part of the reason we are so busy is that we have a hard time saying no. I have heard the statement “no is a complete sentence,” but always feel awkward saying just “no.” It becomes less awkward when you think about what you are giving up by saying yes – are you giving up time with your spouse or children or time to dig into a good book? We can’t do it all and no one is a hero for doing everything at the cost of their own well-being.


I highly recommend checking out this book. Even if you don’t have time to read the entire book, the last half of the book shares how you can banish busyness in your life and incorporate more play. I return to it every time I feel like my life is spiraling out of control.


How do you get past overwhelm?


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2 thoughts on “Getting Past Overwhelm”

  • 1
    Brigid schulte on March 10, 2016 Reply

    Hi Kathy! Thank you so much for the shout out in this post! Like you, I’m still very much a work in progress, but the quality of my life has changed so much since taking the journey on this book. I do take time to pause, sometimes that is sitting down to meditate or write in a journal or take a reflective walk. Sometimes it’s just stopping to take five slow breaths. I do make time to play – to think of my time less about what I’ve crossed off the to do list, and more about how time feels, and the connections with my kids husband family and friends and others I’ve made. I have taken a deep breath and chosen to read a book rather than fold a mountain of laundry. My husband and I do share the load more fairly and are having the conversations about our own vision for our lives and partnerships, and being more aware of the external and automatic assumptions and expectations of society. I guess the most important thing is I see more clearly, I truly believe now that things can change, because that’s what I found when I was reporting my book, so when I fall into old habits and mindsets – as I do, as I will, I can forgive myself sooner, brush myself off, and try again. I love thinking about much of this as learning new skills – just in how we think about our work and lives – and, like any skill, we get better with practice. Thanks again for this lovely, resonant post. I wish you health happiness and ease on your journey toward time serenity!

    • 2
      Kathy Macaraeg on March 10, 2016 Reply

      I loved the book and try to remember to have play in my life. Letting go of having a super clean house before inviting anyone over is the hardest one for me to follow, but I am working on it:-)

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