Overwhelmed. We use that word a lot, don’t we? We can be overwhelmed with emotion, or by an experience or even a smell (we’ve all changed that diaper). Often we use the word to describe the feeling of being handed more than we feel we can manage. The boss gives us another project with an impossible deadline, even though we’re already meeting two other impossible deadlines. Or we come home one day to find a flood in the kitchen, and the next several weeks are spent in the company of an assortment of plumbers, contractors, painters and insurance adjusters.
What happens when the stressful days bleed over into stressful weeks which turn into stressful months? Being chronically overwhelmed isn’t caused by any one event or experience. Rather, it is the compounding interest collecting on our mounting debt of sleep deprivation, bills to be paid, deadlines at work, piled-up dishes, laundry to be washed and folded, and a mental to-do list that only seem to grow and never seems to end.
Chronic stress can lead to a number of unhealthy and unpleasant side effects, including sleeplessness, health problems, depression and anxiety. I know, because that is what happened to me. On the outside, I looked like I had it all together. Great job, great family, volunteering at church every week. On the inside, though, I was on the verge of falling apart. I was sleeping less than 6 hours a night. I was not eating well and my gym membership was a distant memory. I was irritable with my family and rarely ever saw my friends. My chest felt constantly constricted, and my negative thoughts far outnumbered the positive.
Can anyone relate? Maybe you don’t feel depressed or anxious, but you can’t stop yourself from running up the family credit cards at the mall. Maybe you find yourself emptying a bottle of wine on your own almost every night. Maybe you realized one day, elbow deep in that bag of Cheetos you swore was just for the kids, that this is not the way you pictured your life turning out. Not that I’m judging. I’ve put away my fair share of Cheetos. And wine. We all have our coping mechanisms.
You know that mental to-do list? Well, here are three things we can add to it that can actually help us get our life back on track and take us from falling apart to everything falling back into place:
#1 – We can admit to ourselves that we are NOT okay.
This seems simple but it’s SO hard. Everywhere you look, everyone around you appears to be doing it all, and doing it better than you. Truth is, though, motherhood is hard. Life is hard. None of us has this all figured out, no matter what our Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest accounts say. Everyone is struggling on some level. Admitting that you are not okay is not the same as admitting that you have failed.
#2 – We can admit to ourselves that we just can’t do it all.
We are, each one of us, amazing. We nurture, protect and provide. We entertain, educate and coordinate. We are the healers, the peace-makers and the problem-solvers. We are also the maids, the chefs and the chauffers. Not one of us is Super Woman, though. We all have limits, and the sooner we recognize them the sooner we can begin to set boundaries to preserve our own sanity. This may mean giving up a volunteer position, or taking a pay cut to work fewer hours. It may mean something simple, like serving sandwiches on paper plates a few nights a week so that you can have some down time in the evening.
#3 – We can admit to ourselves that we need help.
We’re talking professional help here. Some people may feel talking about mental health and therapy is taboo, but seriously, what is the big deal? When we have a cavity, we don’t hide in shame and let it fester. We go to the dentist! Our mental health should be no different. If we wake up one day and realize it’s been months since we have felt like life was manageable and our outlook was positive, it’s time to admit we need help. When we are anxious or depressed, it helps to have the right person to a) validate our feelings and b) teach us the skills that we need in order to find our way back to the light. Simply scheduling that first session means we are taking control of the situation and making a first step toward getting our joy back, and that in and of itself is incredibly empowering.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Leah Hartman Photography