Here’s a Pep Talk (And Some Tips) for When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

You’re in the thick of it. Cranky toddlers. Dirty diapers. Dirty dishes. Drop-offs and pick-ups. Tween and teen tantrums. Homework. And laundry and running late. Long work to-do lists, and 1000000 unread emails. 

 And you’re officially overwhelmed. 

 This is understandable. Because as Carla Naumburg said, unless you’ve got a staff working for you, you have two full-time jobs. OK, scratch that—likely three or four jobs, “because parenting is more than a full-time job,” said Naumburg, Ph.D, LICSW, a parent coach, writer and speaker. “We’re wearing a lot of hats: mom, employee, spouse, friend, family member, and more,” said Sara Robinson, MA,the creator of the site GetMomBalanced.com.

 So it makes sense that from time to time, you feel frustrated, exhausted or demoralized. Maybe you also set sky-high expectations for yourself. Maybe your insecurity swims beneath the surface, and occasionally comes up for air—so you feel like you’re doing everything wrong. 

Maybe it’s just one of those days because you haven’t slept as much as you’d like, because you’re having a hectic week at work, because you have two toddlers running around, because you’re tackling Monday’s to-do list (and it’s Friday), because you’re human and you don’t feel joyful and motivated all the time.  

Either way, you could use a pep talk. So here it is, along with some suggestions, too, from moms who absolutely know what it’s like.   

We’re all struggling. If you’re overwhelmed or burnt out, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong; it means you’re human.
— Naumburg

Remember that you’re not alone. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to think it’s just you. You’re the only one who takes forever to finish a project. You’re the only one who can’t calm down herkid. You’re the only one who’s having a hard time with _______. 

“Don't fall for the perfect images all of those InstaMoms post on social media,” said Naumburg, also author of several books on parenting,including the forthcoming How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Workman, 2019).  “[W]e're all struggling. If you're overwhelmed or burnt out, it doesn't mean you're doing it wrong; it means you're human.”

 Know and honor your limits.We tend to compare ourselves to others, and wonder: If she’s doing it, should I? And if I can’t, what does that say about me? (Clearly, I’m inferior and an idiot!) Should my kids be in swim class and tennis lessons, too?

Denaye Barahona, founder of SimpleFamilies.com, stressed the importance of women knowing that it’s OK to do less. “Less is more, especially during the busy seasons of life.” She emphasized not pushing ourselves past our limits, and “not striving to be perfect, [but] striving to be happy.” Each of us has different thresholds and preferences and natural tendencies. For some people, a packed schedule with activities is energizing. For others, it’s depleting. One way doesn’t make someone superior. It’s just one way (of very many). 

 Pay attention to yourself-talk. Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself when you start feeling overwhelmed and upset. Because often we have a way of making things worse. 

I can’t do this! This is such a mess. I’m such a mess. Nothing ever goes as planned. I always ruin everything. Why do I even bother? 

 Robinson, author of Choose You: A Guided Self-Care Journal Made Just for You!,encourages us to take several slow, deep breaths. Then focus on telling yourself supportive, helpful messages, such as: “I can handle this…I’ve gotten through busy times before…One thing at a time.” Robinson, who’s also a mental skills coach, teaches this tool to athletes to help them navigate overwhelm in their sport and life.  What also can help is to tell yourself: “I’m having the thought that …” (a technique that comes from psychotherapist Russ Harris in this piece.) This helps you gain some distance (and thereby perspective), and reminds you that you are not your thoughts, and they’re not gospel.  

 Remember that people aren’t mind readers. When you need help, ask for it, Robinson said. Sometimes, people hesitate to help because they don’t want to intrude. Orthey don’t realize you need it because they see you handling things just fine. Orthey think you don’t want help in the first place. So be proactive and clear about what you need, about what will lighten yourload. 

Practice sincerely nourishing self-care.“The most important thing working moms can do for themselves is make time to practice self-care,” said Jessica N. Turner, a marketing executive at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and founder of the blog TheMomCeative.com

 This isn’t meant to be another task for your already bursting to-do list. And it’s certainly not a should, as in you should be ________ (e.g., exercising and eating such and such food).  Self-care is different things to different people. Some find meditation to be incredibly restorative; others can’t stand it. Some love taking group classes at the gym; others see it as a chore, and find a 20-minute walk to be amazing. 

 In her book Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and ThriveTurnershares a powerful definition of self-care from Kendra Adachi: Self-care is anything that makes us feel more like ourselves. “When someone invests in their own self-care, they are doing what their minds, bodies, and souls need to feel refreshed, alive and whole,” Turner writes. 

Take small, frequent breaks. Similarly, don’t underestimate the power of pausing. Even a tiny respite can relieve stress. So maybe you don’t have an entire hour, but you do have 10 minutes to walk around the block, stretch your body on the living room rug, or slowly savor a cup of coffee or tea, Naumburg said. 

Reconnect to your values. “If I'm feeling overwhelmed, it's important for me to remember that my kids aren't a distraction; they are my most important job,” said Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of the private practice Nourishing Confidence.“That certainly helps shift my attitude and behaviors to be more in line with my values, which always makes me feel better.” 

So if Fonnesbeck is going to drop a ball, she “prefers it to be a work ball, and not a mom ball.” (Your values might be different, and that’s great, too.) What are your core values? Can you remove any tasks and obligations that don’t serve those values?  

Sink into the moment—because it’s fleeting. “It's not going to be this hard forever. The children will get older, your job will change, something will shift, and it will get easier,” Naumburg said. (“It might get harder after that, but it will also get easier in other ways.”) And that also means we just might look back, and miss those messy moments. That newborn smell. Our first launch. The makeshift website we created while caring for three kids under 5. The crazy, chaotic, hilarious family trip we took that one holiday. 

“If you're lucky, one day you'll look up and see your baby girl or boy looking down at you. They'll be older then. Taller. Wiser. And heading off on their own,” said Amber Anderson, co-founder of MORE and Tote + Pears, a full-service agency that creates and markets products, services and experiences for women.

“Working and raising a family is hard work, but there's purpose behind it. We only have a little bit of time with our kids. Find joy in the day-to-day moments and remember this is only temporary. You're in a season right now. Hang in there. Pretty soon the leaves will change and a new season will be here.”

And if you’re still feeling awful, know that’s OK, too. Lean into those feelings. Acknowledge them. Respect them. Sometimes, it’s just hard. Always, the best thing we can do is to be gentle, patient and understanding with ourselves. And yes, you do deserve that.  


Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., is a Writer for Mother Honestly. She also explores self-image issues on her own blog Weightless and creativity on her personal website.