Everyone feels a level of overwhelm at times. How could we not? Especially as single mothers.
Have you ever found yourself standing in your kitchen around 5pm on a school day and simply not knowing which way to turn or what to do next as there is so much you HAVE. TO. DO?
Overwhelm can be caused by an overload of practical tasks but you can also be psychologically overwhelmed, which is the feeling of being besieged by intense emotions which you struggle to manage.
Some other ways to describe this feeling include being swamped, drowning, overburdened, snowed under, bogged down.
Basically, it’s horrible.
Whilst feeling overwhelmed is part and parcel of daily life, feeling persistently overwhelmed can have horrible negative effects, which will make you feel … you guessed it … even more overwhelmed.
According to this article in the Harvard Business Review:
“The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve.”
And this is the last thing we need.
In this article, I’ll take you through some simple way to manage overwhelm alongside your life as a busy single mum.
MANAGING OVERWHELM AS A SINGLE PARENT
DITCH THE MULTITASKING MYTH
I’m not a fan of multi-tasking.
Trying to do lots of things at once will fast track you into a state of overwhelm. And worse of all, you are unlikely to finish anything properly.
Instead, try compartmentalising. Also known as time-chunking, this is where you focus on just ONE task at a time. You then complete it, so you are free to move on and complete another task.
Try these tricks which I use instead of multitasking:
- Plan out your days so every task has a set time (there is a planner for exactly this in my eCourse) … it may sound ridiculous but it is really effective.
- Get into set routines which you know work, so you are confident focussing on the task you are currently doing and not worrying about everything else
- Where possible, block out distractions to greaten your focus on what you are doing
- Use a calendar or app to remind you what you need to do and when, it will give you peace-of-mind that you won’t forget important tasks, reducing overwhelm
TIDY YOUR MIND
Compartmentalising can also work as a defence mechanism for psychological and emotional overwhelm.
Overthinking and self-doubting are the main culprits which become overpowering if you don’t learn to manage them.
When my mind becomes a hot mess, here are some of the things I do:
- Practice mindfulness (which sounds like a cliché but it’s incredibly useful) by centring your mind on the moment i.e. how do you feel, what can you hear, how are you breathing?
- Dwell only on the thoughts you can control, accept the others are a waste of time. Find out more about how to do this here: How to stop doubting yourself as a single mother
- Write down what you’re thinking, whether it’s a “to do” list or how you are feeling – this will clear your mind and give you the clarity to refocus
Further reading: How to balance single mum life so you don’t go completely crazy.
THE PRIORITISATION PIXIE
When everything seems just as important as everything else, it’s hard to prioritise your life. The stressful feeling that everything is vying for the No.1 spot is understandably going to cause overwhelm.
At times, I feel like I’ve got everything clear and in order and then a mystical creature inside my head comes along and messes it all up again.
May I introduce you to: The Prioritisation Pixie.
Now, you need to stay ahead of this little guy. Once you’ve prioritised, stick with your judgements and work through everything you must do … in order. Don’t allow the Prioritisation Pixie (i.e. part of your brain) to mess it up again. You can’t move forward if you keep changing the goal posts on yourself.
A quick way of doing this is to brain dump everything into a list and number the items in order of importance. Then work through the list in order. Easy yet very effective.
GET OUTTA YOUR HEAD
One of the biggest challenges for single mothers is being super busy yet super lonely. It’s a toxic recipe for thoughts to go round and round and round and round in your head until you are almost immobilised by them.
The only way to prevent this is to remove yourself from your own headspace.
Chatting to a friend or family member is up there with the best thing you can do but I understand it isn’t always possible. Even talking to other parents at school pick-up or sharing a giggle with a work colleague can help.
Not an option?
Then, listen to some music or a podcast, read a book, watch some Netflix. ANYTHING to avert your mind and break the cycle of overwhelm.
Further reading: How can I be so busy but still feel so lonely?
COPING WITH OVERWHELM (CONT.)
MEDITATE (STAY WITH ME HERE!)
Yes another cliché. BUT. IT. WORKS.
In fact, I would say that meditation is my best weapon against the onset of overwhelm.
And I get it. We’re talking “overwhelm” here which comes hand-in-hand with lack of time. So, where-oh-where are you meant to find the time to mediate? And surely, it will make life harder still as it uses up precious time which there is so little of anyway?
All I’ll say here is to try it. Meditation is not just about the time spent meditating. It substantially benefits your life even when you are not in a meditative state and simply makes everything easier.
Note: I practice transcendental meditation, but there are different kinds so choose what you feel will suit you and your lifestyle best.
Further reading: Meditation for mums (no it’s not a joke).
ONE, TWO, THREE, AND BREATHE
If you are in a state of overwhelm you will feel stressed and/or anxious.
Deep breathing is an easy way to help you relax because those lovely big, deep breaths you take send a message to your brain telling it to chillax, your brain then obligingly passes the message onto your body. Ahhhh.
And the best bit is, you can practice deep breathing pretty much anywhere.
Here is a suggestion from Yoga School Asia specifically to help with overwhelm:
- Count your breath as you inhale slowly through your nose, and gently push your belly out. Start with three counts in.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth as you gently pull your belly back in. Make your exhale slightly longer with six counts.
- Continue for three to five minutes, or until the feeling of overwhelm passes.
ASK FOR HELP
Asking for help is something us independent single mums find hard. But practicing the art of “asking for help” is just as important as everything else on this list.
You are not superhuman and no one expects you to be.
Reach out to friends or family. Share the load with other single parents who feel the same as you, and know that you are not alone on this journey. My group, the Single Mum Vine, is a great place to chat to other single mums in a positive and safe space. Come and join if you haven’t already.
If your overwhelm is getting worse and impacting your life in a negative way, please go and see your GP to get help managing it. Alternatively, call Lifeline (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) and get guidance to work through it.
Living with overwhelm is yuk (excuse the lack of depth in that sentence). I hope this article helps you find ways to overcome it and live a happier life.
If you’ve found it helpful and would like more support from me, see my eCourse where I help you embrace your independence, redefine your path and be the best you can, all whilst being a brilliant single mum.