Six Answers to My Overwhelmed Prayer

From the perspective of a physician, entrepreneur, and single mother of five

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Who thought life was supposed to be less overwhelming after the holidays? Maybe it was just me.

I eliminated chronic overwhelm years ago. But single-parenting five kids, I still hit periods of acute overwhelm–about four times per year. You know those weeks, I’m sure. The ones where the insanely high number of balls you’re juggling at baseline has doubled.

I had one the week before Christmas. Here we are again. This week, I celebrated my one-year anniversary with my boyfriend, Matthew, my forever partner. My youngest son turns 11 this week. My high-schoolers have finals and end-of-semester projects. My youngest daughter, a lead in a musical, has five shows this week.  Plus, there are rehearsals, costumes, and call times to manage. Oh, and she made it to a state engineering competition, which fortunately is next week. My ex-husband is out of town, so last Friday I literally spent 11 hours in the car and at school for kid activities. That, plus I have clients to serve and a business to run.

Thank goodness, these periods of acute overwhelm are predictable well in advance. I knew that my week in October would be crazy. After all, there were parent-teacher conferences at three schools, choir and orchestra concerts, Scout meetings, and recovery from my Harvard talk and travel. I planned ahead for that week, as I did for this week.

People always asked my secret. Working as a physician and running my own business while single-parenting five kids, they noticed I was rarely overwhelmed.

These six tips saved the day for me. I hope they will for you, too.

1. Plan ahead. Look at your calendar, even three months in advance. Notice which weeks are going to be challenging.

2. Know yourself. I’m pretty flowy and flexible, except under times of stress and overwhelm. Then I’m fairly type A. I become fixated on my calendar and to-do list when acute overwhelm hits.

3. Increase self-care. This is a big one. And, if you’re anything like me, it needs to be scheduled in advance. I quadruple, literally quadruple, my self-care during periods I know will be overwhelming. It’s well worth every minute.

4. Schedule your priorities. Schedule self-care, time to move, and time to relax with loved ones. Those are the only things that matter anyway. Avoid scheduling lessons, haircuts, and social activities that week. Block it out on your calendar ahead of time.

5. Ask for help. This is the benefit of planning ahead. Ask for help with carpools. Ask your mom to make dinner for your family. Ask for a day off work. With advanced planning, most people are happy to help.

6. Enlist an accountability partner. I become obsessed with knocking things off my to-do list when I’m overwhelmed and am tempted to sacrifice self-care time. This past weekend was a great example. Then Matthew said to me, “Remember a month ago when you asked me not to let you work on a weekend again? And to remind you what happened last time?” Yep. That stopped me cold. Two solid days of self-care.

These tips work great for those predictable periods of overwhelm when external circumstances are simply out of control. But what if you have chronic overwhelm? What if you feel like you’re drowning and are terrified it will never get better? I remember that feeling all too well.

While acute overwhelm has many triggers or causes, chronic overwhelm has only one. That’s great news, because that means it has only one solution.

If you have chronic overwhelm, reach out and connect. I know how life changes when overwhelm melts away and I want that for you and your loved ones.

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