In her book “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink”, Katrina Alcorn describes her own journey from being a full-time working mother to breakdown and back again. This got me thinking about the pressure that both women and men are under to create so-called “perfect” lives.
Why Are We So Maxed Out?
There is a growing trend that families now need two incomes to support their lives. We have couples who are working 2-3 jobs or work extreme over time hours in order to make ends meet. We are also seeing dads and moms that are expected to be the bread winners as well as fully engaged partners and parents. We are being pulled in many different directions while trying desperately to keep it all together.
The pressure to have a successful career or to be a perfect home maker, to raise happy children and have financial independence is a heavy load to carry. If that were not enough there is now the idea that we do all this and remain fit, have perfect eating habits and a perfect marriage and sex life.
With all of this it is no wonder that women and men are feeling pushed to the brink and beyond. There are stories told in Katrina’s book of women who can’t make it through the day without anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication and of women who dream of leaving it all behind and moving to a farm to find some peace.
We are also in a culture that tends to view taking time to nourish and care for yourself as selfish or as a luxury, not a necessity. We have a paradox of super high expectations to perform and achieve with no balance set in place to help us relax and recover.
How Do We Stop The Trend Of Overwhelm?
I feel that the turn around in this trend starts with what you believe, and what your mindset is. The first step in putting the brakes on overwhelm is self-awareness. Just by noticing what you are feeling and what’s going on in your mind and life can bring feelings of ease. It’s very common to put blinders on and push through to the next task without ever taking a moment to pause and take stock. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Give yourself permission to experience what is happening.
Once you know how you feel, you can decide what you want to do moving forward. Most likely you’ll choose to start carving out some time for self-care and self-reflection. In the middle of everything it can seem like a monumental task, and that’s okay. You don’t have to give your life a complete overhaul all at once. I have a list of 5 things you can begin doing right now that are quick, simple and effective and will start moving you towards a life where self-care is on the list and overwhelm is less of a possibility.
5 Tools For Beating Burnout
Here are five ways that you can slow down and relax a little right here, right now. I fully understand that taking time to go do a 90 minute yoga class, sit in meditation for 45 minutes, eat dinner in silence or turn off all technology so you can read a book in peace is not always an option. Use these tools daily, and watch as your trend towards self-care takes on a life of its own.
1. Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe: When you are starting to feel the rush of panic or overwhelm, stop what you are doing and breathe. If you are in a meeting, try to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. Then do the following breathing exercise:
- Sit for a moment with your eyes closed, and notice any tension in your body.
- Draw your mind to your breathing. Is it fast, slow, deep or shallow?
- Start to deepen your breath by mindfully drawing it in through your nose down into your belly.
- Inhale for as long as is comfortable, focusing on bringing your breath all the way down into your belly, and then slowly release your breath through your nose.
- Repeat this 5-10 times.
This breathing technique will send a signal to your brain and your body that you are safe, which will help to reduce the feeling of stress and overwhelm.
2. Journal for 5 minutes every night: Taking just five minutes to put your thoughts onto paper can help interrupt the cycle of swirling thoughts filled with to do lists, things to remember and things to stress about. It is common to have mental thought loops when feeling stressed and overwhelmed and taking the time to write them out will send the message to your brain that it does not have to hold onto all of them. This is a little permission slip to allow your worries to rest for the night so that you can get some good quality sleep.
3. Take 5 minutes to walk outside each day: Getting some fresh air can be profoundly relaxing. Being cooped up inside all day every day can start to feel claustrophobic. Put yourself in a different environment for just five minutes and see how it helps you change your focus and perception.
4. Give thanks for your food: Taking pause to give thanks for your food, whether that is thanks to a higher power or to the farmer who grew the food, it will help change your state from one of rushing to one of gratitude. This simple act can help to clear your mind, calm you down and allow you to see solutions to problems because you will be more grounded and centered. This shift in focus will help you to see all the things that are going right in your life instead of focusing on all the things that are causing you stress.
5. Once a week take 1 hour for yourself: Leave the house, leave the phone, leave the computer. For just one hour a week focus on doing something that you know nourishes you. Go for a long walk, take a drive, get a massage, whatever speaks nourishment and self-care to you. This time is not selfish. Just as we are instructed to place our own air masks on before aiding our children, we must care for ourselves before we are able to care fully for others.
The Art Of Saying “No”
Bonus Task: At the end of her book, Karina offers 10 things that her readers can do right now to help lessen the load they are carrying in order to help them avoid breakdown. Her number 1 tip is the practice of saying “no”. This is something I would like to extend to you. It is so easy to be afraid of the word no. You may avoid saying no because you are worried you will disappoint someone, that you will let someone down or that you will miss out on an opportunity and so on. Saying no can be hard if you are used to always saying yes.
Start with just one no a week.
Look at all the things that are on your do to list, and choose just one item to say no to.
Pass the task you are saying no to off to someone else, figure out a way of postponing it, or cancel the task all together. Do whatever can be done to take just one item off your plate for the week.
If you cannot say no to any of the items that are currently on your do to list, then choose something to say no to that shows up for you this week.
This is a powerful exercise not only for helping reduce feelings of overwhelm but also feelings of helplessness. When you feel that you have to do all the things others ask you to do, it can be easy to feel that your life is being run for you instead of feeling like you are the one running your life.
Saying no may seem scary at first, but it will soon become an empowering thing that you do to draw clear and healthy boundaries in your life. It’s not selfish to say no, and it’s not a luxury to care for yourself and your own needs. In order to fully care for all the things that you have on your plate and all the wonderful people in your life, taking time to care for yourself is essential.
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