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15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

As an overwhelmed working mom, you get a lot of intelligent ideas from magazines, friends and the internet about how to manage work, children, and a household.

Unfortunately, you may still feel exhausted and insufficient at work and home despite the advice to organize, cook efficiently and pamper yourself .

How great would it be to wake up tomorrow knowing that you can begin to feel better without all of those overwhelmed feelings?

The sensation of feeling overwhelmed when you wear a lot of hats: mom, professional, household manager, partner, friend, etc. has its roots in reality. You are absolutely doing a lot of important jobs. But here’s the thing:

If feeling overwhelmed has become your knee-jerk or chronic reaction, this emotion is now literally a part of you that needs your attention so that you can move forward more confidently.

If helping yourself sounds too difficult, never fear. These tips come straight from therapy and neuroscience to hack into your nervous system. You will learn deeper ways to calm down and feel more confident about yourself, your life and your choices.

1. Breathe and Notice What Your Body Feels like Inside and Out

By using body-centered therapy techniques, you can better understand your overwhelmed feelings and offer accurate and practical help.

As you’ll learn, when you feel stressed out, your thinking brain is not your best resource. In fact, simply thinking about and bolstering your efforts to “get rid” of overwhelmed feelings might actually make them worse.

The first step to help when you feel overwhelmed is to simply slow down and breathe. This does not mean that you should suddenly take in huge gulps of air or breathe rapidly. That will send you into panic!

Breathe normally and naturally. Make your breath comfortably slow, extending the exhale. Count 5 to 10 breaths.

2. Get a Little Curious

Ask yourself: How do I know I’m overwhelmed? Close your eyes or soften your gaze if you are able. Imagine shifting your awareness from your outside world and sending it into your body along with your breath.

You might notice the signals right away. For example: My chest is tight, my heart is beating rapidly and there’s a sense of frustrated energy in my legs and arms. Or you might just hear some words like: I’m freaking out, failing or cannot do it!

If it’s possible, get a little curious about this sensation. Consider that while it may be a big feeling, you probably have other parts of you that feel differently.

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3. Offer Some Loving Care to Stressed-Out Parts of You

Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems Therapy defines our personalities as made up of sub-parts that interact within us. This explains why a “part” of you can feel one way and yet, you have another part that feels differently.[1]

Gently acknowledging the part of you that feels overwhelmed and offering it some support and compassion (as you would a frightened child) can soothe your body and mind. “I’ve got you,” is a great mantra to breathe in when you’re overwhelmed.

4. Get Smart About Your Wise Nervous System

You may have heard of the “gut” brain or “body” brain. The science of Polyvagal Theory shows that the entire nervous system impacts how you think and feel – not just your thinking mind.

In fact, did you know that your wise nervous system generally picks up information from your environment before your brain can interpret it?[2]

When you feel overwhelmed, just one tiny cue of “danger” felt in your nervous system is often the unconscious trigger that tips you from busy but competent to feeling freaked out and exhausted.

This cue could be as simple as a song on the radio that feels overly-stimulating, a child’s bad mood (even if it has nothing to do with you) or your spouse forgetting an unimportant errand.

5. Remind Yourself That a Feeling Can Just Be a Feeling

When you’re feeling agitated, your physical body is naturally on high alert. Any information or stimulation you receive at these times will feel overwhelming.

This is not your fault, but it is helpful to understand that usually, when you feel like you’re not good enough, it is not objectively true. Your mind may just be creating a reason for the signals of danger coming from your body.

Allow your body to feel without making a negative judgement about yourself or your life. This technique will help you break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed, then creating negative thought about the feeling resulting in overwhelming yourself even more.

6. Learn Your Most Common Unconscious Responses to Stress

Why is this important? When you feel stressed, you probably respond unconsciously in the same ways throughout your life.

For some, too much stress will quickly create a numb, hopeless sensation. For others, the thought that life is just “too much” leads to bouts of panic or anger. Still, others might freeze completely, feeling highly anxious but not able to do much at all.

From a biological perspective, all of these experiences are pretty normal. When you recognize that your body’s reactions are not faulty or foolish, it’s much easier to reassure yourself and move forward confidently.

7. Exercise the Part of Your Nervous System That Provides Wellbeing and Social Connection

Did you know that you can actually tone your ventral vagal nerve, the nerve responsible for feelings of safety and social connection?[3]

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As often as you are able, allow yourself to linger on your favorite memories that invoke feelings of wellbeing, connection to loved ones, times of beauty in nature or your favorite memories of pets or places. Use all of your sense to really feel the experience in your body.

By doing this, you’re activating and toning your ventral vagus nerve as you might tone your muscles. Make a kind of “body bookmark” of these purely content sensations to which you can return when stressed.

This practice may feel silly, like an indulgence or even a fantasy. But it is supported by science and is important for you to create a strong and healthy response to stressors.

8. Give Baby Parts a Break

No part of you is trying to hurt you. But parts of us do feel extreme feelings and carry burdens from our past.

For example, if you are feeling overworked in the present, it may activate parts of your personality that felt similarly earlier in life. Deep anger, fear, resentment or sadness provide a signal to you that something from your past could benefit from your attention.

I know this may sound strange, but the next time you feel very overwhelmed, take a breath and notice if you feel like a child trying to do an adult’s job. If so, spend a moment calmly and compassionately reminding all of your inner child parts that you are indeed grown, capable and doing something appropriate.

9. Address Critical Messages You Give Yourself

What do you hear yourself saying to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? You may notice parts of you that sound critical or even cruel.

Statements like “I’ll never catch up,” “Why do I try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” are very common to hear when you’re under stress. Believe it or not, these inner messages are likely misguided protective parts of your personality.

These parts are normal and try to help you by “whipping you into shape” so you won’t fail, alerting you about scared feelings inside, or avoiding shock or disappointment by anticipating how others might criticize you.

If it’s possible, acknowledge these parts as protective. Maybe express a bit of gratitude. Notice how the critical voices inside you, even though they likely mean well, cause exhaustion and even more stress.

When you acknowledge these messages inside, letting them know they are part of you and you see their positive intention, the critical messages calm.

10. Take Small Moments to Express Gratitude

Everyone is talking about gratitude, I know. But there are good reasons for this trend.

More and more studies about gratitude show valid connections between gratitude and lowered stress and mental health. A 2018 multi-university research study concluded that gratitude not only has direct effects on quality of life, but also has indirect effects through perceived stress and mental health.[4]

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There are many reasons that gratitude impacts our nervous systems in positive ways, but the best way to discover this impact is to simply try it yourself.

Take a minute each day to write down one to three things for which you feel grateful. These can be large or small, important or trivial, but they must be true. Make this a habit and watch your stress-relief grow.

Or you can try some of these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

11. Play with Time

In Gay Hendrick’s 2010 book The Big Leap, he talks about the concept of Einstein time vs. Newtonian time.

Newtonian time is the clock time we all watch all day. Einstein time is more about what you make with your moments, realizing that your perception can slow or speed time up.

For example, if you are spending time with someone you love and doing something you enjoy, time moves very quickly. Conversely, if you are doing a miserable job in uncomfortable weather, each second can feel like an eternity.

The next time you feel stressed for time, take a slow breath and remind yourself that you make time. Time belongs to you. Then, enjoy the pace and do what you need to do. With practice, this little tool will become valuable for overcoming the mental pressure of time.

12. Don’t Be Tricked by Perfection

When you’re in the thick of raising children and working, sometimes nervous energy presents as perfectionism. In an effort to feel in control, you may make arbitrary but unreasonable goals for yourself that feel like they are necessary or true.

Make a quick inventory of every job you are expecting of yourself and your family. Now question it all. What is really important and what is just preferable? What jobs can be left to someone else’s discretion, done well-enough by the children or dropped completely?

Keep any jobs that give you joy and do them joyfully. Let go of jobs that feel like standards or expectations with little or no payoff. Save them for retirement if you like.

13. Give Yourself Credit for Quality Time with Your Kids

Think of the time you spend relaxing with and enjoying your children as a $100,000 per hour job. Very small amounts are still incredibly valuable.

Showing your children that they are important is just as likely to happen in a ten-minute game of catch as in a whole day at the water park. A shared snack time, a book before bed, a half hour away from your phone to allow loving eye contact with your babes adds up to a lifetime of security and wonderful memories.

Imagine your child someday saying, “Mom worked hard, but she always had time to hug me, to hear about my day, and to offer me guidance. I always knew that I mattered to her.”

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14. Meditate for One Minute a Day

Yes, you may do more. But if you can’t afford any more than one minute, go ahead and sit comfortably, breathe and be in your body for this time. It’s such a simple but powerful exercise and the kids can do it too.

While you meditate, notice your loving heart. What does it need from you today — patience, compassion, creativity, caring, play? Remember to show up for yourself and you will show up for your work and your family as well.

15. Guard and Celebrate Sleep

From tinies to teens, there are many unavoidable reasons that kids interrupt your sleep.

Here’s the thing: Unexpected sleeplessness due to childhood growth or illness is normal and not easy to control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, though, sleep is crucial.

There are two things you can do to improve your mindset toward sleep so that you set yourself up for confidence rather than collapse.

One, prioritize and protect your sleep time. If you tend to wait until the kids go to sleep to complete work or finally relax, that’s okay. But don’t let these activities cut into your sleep time.

Given the choice between another load of laundry, Words With Friends, binge watching Game of Thrones or eight hours of sleep, consistently choose sleep.

Two, appreciate and express gratitude for any sleep you get. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get seven or eight hours of sleep. However, allow yourself to enjoy any time when you are laying in a comfy space allowing your body to rest and repair.

When you wake up saying “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” you put your mind on alert that there is something lacking. This thinking alone can trigger feelings of overwhelm.

Set your nervous system up for success by appreciating any amount of rest.

Final Thoughts

Life as a working mom is not an easy one. Overwhelmed feelings are natural and normal but, they can take over and cause chronic stress and dissatisfaction.

Allow yourself just a few moments a day to reorganize your thoughts and feelings using the steps above. You’ll soon discover your calm and capable self.

Take a lesson from your growing children: small changes create big results now and in the future.

More for Working Moms

Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ingrid Helander

Marriage & Family Therapist, Author: Calm Your Worries, Blogger and Consultant

15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

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Published on December 3, 2020

7 Positive Parenting Techniques to Raise Happy Kids

7 Positive Parenting Techniques to Raise Happy Kids

Having a black belt in the martial arts does not make you a black belt in being a parent—far from it. Most parents have a level of skill or expertise in at least one area, whether it’s baking, management, DIY, or something else. We know the rules, are familiar with the problems, and can craft an outcome that we would like. These are all needed for positive parenting.

So, raising kids should be simple, right?

Well, wrong. Simple does not mean easy, and in the current climate of a pandemic, it feels like it just got a little harder as well. But the world needs us at our best right now. If we do not raise our kids to be the best version of themselves, the negativity, the anxiety, the frustration of this generation will come full circle with less creativity and a reduced desire to face challenges.

Trips to Mars will be furloughed. The next Steve Jobs may skip a generation. You get the idea. So, where to start?

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that it’s a good habit to begin with the end in mind. So, let’s start there.

1. Begin With the End in Mind

Imagine it’s your funeral and your kids are around your grave. They’re talking about the good times and the bad. What would you like them to say about you as a parent?

Beyond people saying how much they love you, this part gets hard for a lot of people including me. But think about it, what is it about you that the kids love the most?

For me, I want my kids to say that I was always fully engaged when I was with them. They felt like there was lots of positive energy, and they were the most important thing in the world at that moment. If I value being fully engaged, how do I make this a ritual so it’s there when the kids need it? For me, it’s my energy levels when I’m with the kids.

Our lives are a mixture of complex energy drains, so I have to be responsible for ensuring that when I’m with the kids, I’m joyful. I do this by being aware when I’m feeling low and having a plan ready to help.

This can be as simple as having your favorite songs on a Spotify playlist to help bounce back to being more focused or something more organized like having days off in your diary to recharge the batteries. If you can take 2 minutes to write down what you would like your children to talk about when they visit you at your tombstone, you’ll have a map that points to the type of parent you aspire to be.

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When you’re clear on this, you can design the habits needed to help you become the best version of yourself.

2. Legos

My childhood was very different—not your typical family environment. I grew up in a hotel in a seaside town, with my parents working more hours than they should. They were tired, busy, and angry more often than most parents because every day was a struggle to keep the business running as it was a tough time and a tougher clientele.

But the happiest memories I have of my parents were when they would play with me. This did not happen often enough, but we had a computer game table in the bar. It was an electronic pool game, and I loved to play against my dad in this 8-bit challenge. Remember, this was even before Nintendo consoles! Dad would get me a Pepsi from the bar, and we did not even talk. We were just both fully present in the moment and the game.

There’s a lot of bad press in the media about games and screen time. But you can make it a positive experience if you can immerse yourself when sharing this time.

One day, my dad came home with a big black bin bag full of Legos. I had never seen Legos before as it was not on TV adverts and school was for work, not play. Dad emptied the bag on the floor and we just played. No rules, no small talk, and nobody explained what to do. You just instinctively know.

It was probably the best day ever. Games and Legos are timeless. So, find the time, and just play. This is the step towards proper positive parenting.

3. Try Not to Bring “No” Into Play

This is a small thing, but when you bring no into play with your kids, it can feel like a win-lose situation, even if you are trying to keep them safe or just showing that you care. Instead, seek a win-win situation.

There is this balance between positive parenting and preparing kids for the real world. But probably the hardest of all positive parenting techniques is “avoiding bringing no into play” (ABNITP).

Going a little further, the technique has two parts—ABNITP and the use of positive language.

It does not mean never to use the word ‘no.’ But in the rare cases that it slips out, it’s more powerful and the kids are more wired to accept it.

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Here’s an example. Have you ever been on the phone and the kids wanted to talk to you? When you have a child asking you questions and trying to get your attention, it’s easy to say ‘no’ straight away. But rephrasing this to ‘when I finish the call, we’ll talk’ is a win-win mindset. When we feel most tired is when we’re most open to going into a win-lose mindset.

One small phrase had a big impact on my parenting, especially for those days when I felt drained:

“My coffee mug is drained, can you help me fill it up.”

I could get less resistance if I genuinely needed a little time or the kids would come up with a way to help. As the kids got older, this also turned into a great habit of them making me coffee in return for some time—a nice win-win situation.

4. Empathy

As a black belt in martial arts and growing up with busy parents, emotional intelligence was never that high on my radar, mostly because I never experienced much empathy growing up. There probably were not opportunities for it. Life was practical and you picked yourself up if you fell over, shook it off, and got on with life.

But as a martial arts coach in charge of a large number of kids aged 4 to 6 years, I’m not serving my students if I don’t have empathy. Young kids understand more words than they can communicate. Their view of the world is very different to us as adults, and they can teach us a lot if we are open to listening.

When your coaching a class and a 4-year-old is talking about their pet dinosaur, it’s not necessarily disruptive. It may be their way of communicating with you.

Taking a little time to communicate back pays dividends for your relationships. This can be the same for parenting.

For example, when your child falls over and cuts their knee, they can instantly start crying, sniffing, sobbing—you get the picture. As dads, we like strong cars, strong houses, and tough kids. Telling them to grow up, stop complaining, and be quiet can be our first thoughts. But it’s never constructive—and neither is cooing them.

Remember, young children understand more than they can articulate. Letting them know that “they’re brave as it must hurt, but they’ll be alright when they stand up” shows empathy and understanding of our child’s stage of development. Empathy is an essential aspect of positive parenting.

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5. Gratitude

What have you ever done together for other people? When my kids were young, we raised money for a children’s hospice. At the time, they did not really understand what a hospice was, but they understood that they were helping other children.

As a martial arts club, we had several volunteer children and parents spend an afternoon at a supermarket packing people’s bags. Many people would then donate some money to charity. It was a great experience for the kids as they got to help, which they enjoyed more than I thought they would.

The shoppers were really positive towards them for helping, and we all went to the hospice together to hand over the money. When we were in the hospice, we were allowed a tour of the parts that had no kids.

As a parent, this hit me more than a right cross. We’re going back 19 years, and I can still remember the smell from the sterile environment. It was a fun experience and a nice way to build habits with the kids to think about helping and giving back. Plus, this example helped me reflect on how lucky I was to be a parent. Teaching your children gratitude is key to positive parenting.

6. Adventure

Most kids love being active and having an adventure. We forget that a lot of the things that we may do or take for granted can be an adventure for the kids, such as meeting our friends, shopping for a car, fixing computers, etc. Involving your kids in these activities can be a change in their routine and fun.

Looking for a car had a big impact on my son. He would flick through the used car magazine while potty training. He would visit the showroom and sit in the passenger seat to let me know if it was comfortable. He was quite cute and would usually get a few treats from the sales team as well for asking good questions.

To this day, my son loves to remind me about the time he had to get help as I got stuck in the seat of a Lotus Elise. He also drives a sports car now that he’s grown up, and he was so proud to take me with him when he purchased it. Effective positive parenting should involve adventures.

7. Not All Strangers Are Bad

This comes from a place of opinion, so feel free to disagree, but I wanted my kids to talk to strangers.

Within this technique are many skills that will teach my kids to become strong in life and help keep them safe, too. The problem is that many kids think that they should not talk to strangers—that they are all bad and dangerous people. But I’ve always taught my kids that they can speak to strangers if they want to.

My kids grew up watching me talk to strangers all the time. From watching this activity, they’ve learned how to make friends. They’ve learned about the good questions to ask. They watched me listen, smile, and use my body to help communicate. Teaching kids that there is good in most people is a positive way of building their confidence and teaching them a nicer way to live.

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I’m not suggesting letting kids wander around unsupervised, being trusting, and chatting with everyone. There are real dangers in the world, from cars on the road, sharp objects, hot things, and—especially where my kids have grown up—the sea.

I see a danger in everyone I meet, but my kids did not need to see the world this way when they were young. Most people would awe me with kindness to our kids. There was a time when a lovely German lady held my son while I had my head over the deck of a ship from seasickness.

I believe our kids will grow up happier with less judgment if we start teaching our children not to fear what they don’t understand but to approach it with curiosity.

They also should know how to trust their instincts and—if something is not typical or does not feel right—to go with that intuition immediately.

There have been times that strangers have wanted to do me harm in life. But more times, they’ve helped me when I’ve been lost, in need of kindness, or in need of someone to talk to. This is why I believe that we should face our fears as a parent every day and let our children talk to strangers if we want them to grow up happy.

Final Thoughts

I hope to be a granddad one day and continue the techniques I started with my own kids. The Danes have a great word that expresses how I think—”hygge.”
This is about the power that being fully present brings to being a great parent. It’s a drama-free way to be together.

It’s not easy to be a parent in today’s crazy world, but if you begin with the end in mind, you can try to craft this into your daily routines until it becomes the habit of raising happy kids. And this is what positive parenting is all about.

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Featured photo credit: Kelli McClintock via unsplash.com

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