Feeling overwhelmed?

There’s a giant cardboard box over the toilet in the half-bath. That toilet continually runs after it’s flushed. We asked the children to stop using it until it could be fixed, but they kept forgetting and using it anyway. I don’t particularly want a thousand-dollar water bill, so my husband came up with the giant cardboard box out-of-order reminder.

The kitchen floor has a light dusting of cinnamon and sugar. No matter how many times I sweep in the dining room, I continually find stray Cheerios. A pile of flip flops litter the floor beside the front door. And my shower hasn’t been scrubbed all summer.

Weeks of neglected bedtimes and lack of routine have culminated in grouchy children who bicker about the silliest things — Did he buy this LEGO set with his own money four years ago or receive it as a gift? Was this Webkinz a Pet of the Month last year or not? Is this camouflage bedspread his or is the other exact same camouflage bedspread his? 

And while the kids are chasing each other through the house fussing over which teeny LEGO gem belongs to which boy, my to-do list is running through my brain on a continual loop. Pay this bill; make this appointment; buy these items; take this child here; sign up for this sport; pay another bill; plan a menu; shop for groceries; pay another bill; see if this child’s clothes still fit; organize this closet; clean out the fridge; and do the laundry for heaven’s sake or nobody will have clean underwear!

Whew! Seriously, sometimes it’s barely-maintained chaos around here!

Do you ever feel that way? Completely overwhelmed? Like you’re treading water and the teensiest little splash or wave will push you under?

When I start to feel this way, I know I’m slacking off on the 3 R’s — rest, refuel, rank.

Rest – Sleep is not a luxury. If I stay up until after midnight watching the Olympics, then wake up in the middle of the night with a frightened 6-year-old, then wake up again with a snoring husband, then wake up again to go to the bathroom, then wake up again because it’s morning, I am not getting the rest I need to function. Let me say it again – sleep is not a luxury. Rest has to be a priority for me.

Refuel – We know our cars won’t work without gas in the tank, yet we somehow expect ourselves to. When I don’t refuel spiritually, emotionally and physically, I can’t handle normal daily life – the laundry, the mothering, the dishes, the meals. So if I’m not filling up my tank, I certainly can’t face any extra stress thrown in – a broken-down car, a sick family member, a frozen computer.

I need regular time to read the Bible, pray and listen to encouraging music. That refuels me spiritually. I also need time with other adults, to talk and laugh and connect. I am an extrovert; being around other people charges me up emotionally. Finally, I need to refuel physically – to exercise in some way, whether it’s a walk or Just Dance with the kids, and to eat healthy foods.

Sometimes 20 minutes of quiet time or a night out with girlfriends or a walk around the neighborhood feels like an indulgence, but I have learned these are necessities for me. And when I go for too long without any of these things, I sputter and stall from an empty tank.

Rank – When the to-do list seems oppressive, I just want to have some chocolate and take a nap. I have a difficult time doing anything!  Seriously, I just get overwhelmed and eat a brownie and some Chex Mix and watch chick-flicks or read a book and pretend I don’t have an extensive list of things to do. But I am learning that feeling this way is a red flag that it’s time to prioritize.

When I feel the sudden urge for a marathon of Meg Ryan movies and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s time to make a list of everything I need to do and decide what is most important. It’s time to think creatively about how to accomplish the things that rank on the list, and it’s time to give myself permission to let some things slide.

I can look at my list and see that making those three appointments will only take 15 minutes. Then I can cross them off my list and feel great. I can also see that organizing the little boys’ closet can easily wait until after they’re back in school, so I can consciously choose to let it slide and stop feeling guilty about it. And I can see that a few items on my list require creative-thinking and maybe even some help from someone else. So I delegate what I can and brainstorm outside-the-box solutions for the others.

Even if I don’t cross everything off my list, prioritizing and having a plan makes me feel like I’m really swimming somewhere, not just treading water.

There’s still a giant cardboard box over the toilet. The floor now has some spilled popcorn added to the stray Cheerios. There is a stack of video games in the middle of the living room floor. A little while ago the boys were arguing over whose blue bandana was in the dress-up box (and there are probably three identical bandanas buried deeper in that box). But I’m making my plan to get more rest. I’ve spent some time reading and praying this morning. I know I’ll spend time with adults at small group next week. I hope to take a walk after the rain stops. And I may even take a long bath tonight to refuel. And I’m making my list, ranking items and marking things off or letting things slide.

I can’t control life’s circumstance, but there are things I can do to help control how I respond.

What about you? How do you respond when you feel overwhelmed? Am I the only one with the natural tendency to self-medicate with chocolate before choosing a healthier response? 

4 thoughts on “Feeling overwhelmed?

    1. These boys spill cereal on the floor every time they eat! If food-spilling were an Olympic sport, we’d have shelves full of gold medals!

      And I spoke on this topic (much expanded) at the BCF MOPS in the spring, so it could easily be a workshop if it fits with the theme.


  1. As a working mom, I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. It is difficult to have enough time in the day to accomplish all that could/should be done before I am able to rest. Reading your ideas for how to accomplish everything in a day is much relief. I will remember these today.


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