“Overwhelmed” Is Not The New Normal

Lately I’ve been wandering through various food, family, and homeschooling Facebook and blog sites, and the word “overwhelmed,” is showing up entirely too much. Like this:

There are few activities more gratifying and enjoyable that reading to a child. The Least of These Is Great Indeed poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

“I am homeschooling a five-year-old and I have a toddler and a new baby. The curriculum takes 4 hours a day, and I feel overwhelmed.”

“I’m trying to feed my family more healthfully, after years of eating take-out, and I feel overwhelmed  by how much time it takes and how much it costs.”

“I just went back to work full time, and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the laundry, food preparation, and shopping.”

Maybe it’s just distance or age (which I hope is as much associated with wisdom as it is crow’s feet), but I look at the first woman and think,

“The child is 5. Are you trying to do too much?”

And the second, “Eating healthfully is a lifestyle, and you don’t adopt it overnight.”

And the third, “Nobody else in the house knows how to cook?”

To all three readers I want to say, “Slow down. Breathe. You’re pushing yourself too hard — and probably trying to live by somebody else’s standards.”

The word “overwhelmed,” is a symptom of a problem, a statement of powerful obviousness with which I’m sure all of these women would agree. What they may not realize is that they are not the problem. The goals that they are setting for themselves are.

We all need time for silence,thought, reflection, peace. Garden Gatherings, print and original, by Steve Henderson

Too often, when we try new things — like homeschooling or healthy eating — we rely upon the expertise of others, but some of these others have been doing for years what we’re just starting, and they’ve got their own way of doing it.

And no matter how long we wind up doing what we’re just starting, we may never do it another person’s way. For instance, when my oldest was five (and the second was 2, and I was pregnant with the third), we homeschooled by sitting on the couch and reading books. It was fun; the two-year-old wasn’t ostracized; my lower back got a rest; we all learned various facts about the white rhinoceros and the Indian elephant; and most importantly, I wasn’t overwhelmed to the point that I wanted to give the whole thing up.

Eating more healthfully is a continuous process for our family that began 20 years ago, and every day we do something a little different, to the point that the bean soup with Gjetost cheese we had for lunch today would have been an unimaginable aberration 20 years ago. At the same point, two weeks ago I bought and enjoyed a cream-filled doughnut. I have forgiven myself; I hope that others can.

Eating healthfully is a lifestyle that, actually, involves more than just food. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson

Wherever you are in your goals and life changes, be there, and not in the middle of somebody else’s experience. Recognize that you learn a little bit more each day, and you add one day’s experience to the next, so that when enough time goes by, you will have made, and internalized, some significant changes. If you meet someone new to the whole thing, be kind, and share your experiences gently, not as if they are paradigms for the rest of the world to follow.

The only hard and fast rule about doing new things in your life and doing them well is this:

When you feel overwhelmed, something’s wrong, and it’s time to step back and figure out just what it is. Overwhelmed is not the new normal.

This post is linked to HolisticSquid, Cultured Palate, Gnowfglins, Small Footprint Family, Food Renegade, Our Heritage of Health, Butter Believer, Nourishing Joy, The Prairie Homestead, Little House in the Suburbs, Real Food Forager, Healthy Roots Happy Soul, Granny’s Vital Vittles, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Tilly’s Nest, Deep Roots at Home, A Wise Woman Builds Her House, Our Simple Farm, Thank Your Body

All of the artwork in my articles is by Steve Henderson and is available as originalssigned limited edition prints, and/or posters through Steve Henderson Fine Art. It is important to Steve that people make art a part of their lives, and to this end, he provides it in all price ranges, and works with clients individually on interest-free payment plans. Write us directly at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com, and we will work with you.

28 Responses

    1. Katy — By all means, post your thoughts on being overwhelmed, and let me know the link so that I can read the article. It’s a big enough problem that we can’t talk about it too much!

  1. I really love this post. I think so many of us are trying to do too much, feeling a false pressure to be productive or perfect. There will ALWAYS be work to do; you could stay up 24-7-365 your whole life, and still not do it all. Why choose to b overwhelmed?

    1. Dawn — I like that — “Why choose to be overwhelmed?” So often it’s easy to forget that the attitudes under which we live our choices. They are difficult choices to control, but, in the end, we do control how we think about, and address, the issues in our life.

      Thank you for your kind, gracious comments.

  2. This is a very important article. I learned, the hard way, what you wrote of so well here. Now I know that if I begin to feel overwhelmed, I step back and re-evaluate and sometimes just get on the phone and clear my calendar! I tend to be very ambitious. I want to learn to do everything (so to speak). Now I have learned to tell MYSELF “no.”

  3. I agreee. I think it is a spiritual problem, too, when we attempt to do thing on our own strength and believe that what we do defines us. Every day is an act of faith, and we have to pray: here’s what I think I need to do. Show me what really needs to be done and what can wait til tomorrow. And if something difficult must be done, help me to do it.

    1. Jessica — YES! There is very much that aspect of riding on our own strength, while simultaneously thinking that we are riding on God’s — straddling two, very divergent paths. It doesn’t help that we have sayings in the back of our minds like, “God helps those who help themselves,” which some people think is actually in the Bible. (I told the Son and Heir today, “Most sayings come either from the Bible or Shakespeare.” Well, we can’t even blame Shakespeare for the God helps them travesty. But it would be nice if we could forget it.)

      Like you, I start each day with the thought, “What do you want me to do today?” because if I’m not doing what He wants, I’m wasting my time. How many times did Christ say that He was here to do not His will, but the Father’s? And we, following Him, are here to do His will, not ours. Tough, touch teaching, because it’s so contrary to everything our society advises.

      Thank you for finding me and joining me — I encourage you to sign up for E-mail alerts to new articles. — Carolyn

  4. We love this so much! We are going to share it with our FB page.

    Our constant mantra on our blog is BABY STEPS! BABY STEPS!

    This trying to do it all and do it all overnight is not normal. Slow and steady wins the race. In the end, if we are not being enriched, if we are not glorifying God, if we are missing opportunities to see beauty because of the go-go-go, then we are doing the wrong things!

    Thanks so much for this post!

    1. Hello, The Provision Room — I’m so glad that you liked the post, and thank you very much for sharing it on your FB page. As an independent writer married to an independent artist, I am grateful for the kind people who pass the two of us on. I invite you to join me through e-mail notification and keep up with future writings.

      I have been reading Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ, and his message is constantly, “Slow down. Wait on God. Do not get in His way by doing, doing, doing, but allow Him to do the work in you.” Such a different way of looking at things from the way we are conventionally taught. And how right you are — we can go, go, go! and get really far, doing the wrong things! — Carolyn

  5. Darlene

    What a great post! It is very well said! I find I overwhelm myself when I try to live like I think I should,instead of just living my life as it comes. I impose rules that don’t exist and drive myself crazy trying to keep up. I finally realized what I am doing and stop myself when I start getting that overwhelmed and anxious feeling.
    You worded it perfectly and I love the artwork! This is my first time visiting your blog. I saw this on the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

    1. Hello, Darlene: I’m so glad that you found me, and I encourage you to sign up for e-mail notifications so that we can keep up with one another.

      How right you are — we impose wild rules upon ourselves, that we draw up and finesse out of a series of resources — a magazine article here, our impression of a friend’s life there, a misinterpretation of wise words there and there — and drive ourselves nuts! Yes, it is best to meet life as it comes, taking a deep breath and standing tall (then collapsing in the chair afterwards, if need be).

      Thank you for letting me know how you found me — I have just started participating in the blog hops, and I am finding them most fun and informative! — Carolyn

  6. Brooke

    Loved this post and the comments. We do need to talk about this more. I’m a Christian Momma of six. I’ve been thinking lately how I wouldn’t want to try and do half of what some Mommas seem to get themselves into…basically because I’ve finally gotten tired of being overwhelmed. Slowing down takes a lot of mental braking. I would love the younger gals out there to start their homemaking lives slower and to share the physical burdens more with hubby or hired help and not expect to do it all!

    1. Brooke: these are wise words of yours, and you are sensible to stand back, evaluate, and choose the route that is best for you and your family. It’s amazing how many people do not give themselves a break even in raising children — it’s a lot of work (six! What a chaotic, noisy, household of love and fun!) — and there’s still this impetus to add to it and add to it and add to it because, as I remember, there’s this impression that so many amazing women with even more children are doing it all!

      And then, there’s the aspect of our lives with Christ, for those of us who follow Him. How many times does God advocate being still, relying upon Him, meditating, abiding — all words that imply a strong degree of waiting and quiet action. How can one do that when there’s not enough time left to breathe?

      You are walking a good path. Thank you for your lovely comment, for visiting, and I encourage you to sign up through my e-mail sign up (and please, let me know if it’s not working), so that we can continue to visit. — Carolyn

  7. Carolyn,
    I am so glad you addressed this! It took us all the years we’ve been married to get to where we are, and it was one bite of the elephant at a time! We do place way too much pressure on ourselves and our expectations are hard for anyone to meet! Thank you for this excellent post and for sharing it, new friend!

    1. Jacqueline — new friend! thank you for your kind commments — I like the part about biting off one part of the elephant at a time. I think that’s the thing about creative people — we drive ourselves, and that’s why we get places, but we can drive ourselves into the ground. Your thoughts are wise and on target.

  8. Brenda

    Thank you for this! As an “old” woman who has been there – I couldn’t agree with you more! I was always feeling overwhelmed when the kids were young, I was the Pastor’s wife and trying to work. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a big help but he wasn’t always! Women need to remember they can only do so much and can only be who they are – not be just like someone else. You can only be where you are and sometimes that is not exactly where you would love to be. Enjoy the times while your children are young, or you are “young” in your marriage.
    These are lyrics to live by!
    The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
    for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
    So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
    I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

    1. Chrissy

      I was blessed enough to see this poem (?) when my second was a small baby and it informed my lifestyle from then on. It was easy to snuggle and relax with just one child…much harder as I had two more. My house isn’t spotless..well..ever…but my husband and I prioritize time with each other and our boys. We won’t regret being too busy to watch the grow up and for that I am so thankful.
      As for being overwhelmed…it happens. Many of my friends have crammed their lives with activities and obligations. That just never sounded fun to me. My middle son is passionate about sports and can do one sport every other season and only the ones with reasonable schedules. No traveling soccer for him, I don’t care how good he is at it! My oldest has dyslexia and some mild speech problems so he has sessions for those two things every week, which he luckily finds enjoyable. Once a year he takes an art class. The four year old is FOUR. His big activity is being alive, that is still super exciting for him. Haha.
      Each of us needs to be kind to ourselves…everyone is happier that way.

      1. Chrissy — what a lovely happy family you have! Our middle daughter, College Girl, was the only one in the family who wanted to do sports, and our deal with her was, one a season, and you’ve got to get yourself there and back somehow. That meant bicycling. She later grew up to do weight lifting and cross fit, two sports that require individual attention and discipline.

        I still remember a day nearly 18 years ago. My son, then a baby, had fallen asleep in my lap, and I sat there rocking, initially thinking, “I really should get up and use this time well.” But I kept rocking, and rocking, and holding that sweet baby boy, and then I found myself thinking, “One of these days I will remember this day — when I sat in a chair and just rocked my sweet baby boy.” How many many times I have remembered and relived that day — because the kid never fell asleep in my lap like that again, although I was sure ready and willing for him to do so. But oh, the sweet sweet memory of that day!

        I love what you say about your four year old — “His big activity is being alive, and that is still super exciting for him.” There’s a definite reason why God gives us children. — Carolyn

  9. This is so true! Unfortunately, being overwhelmed seems to be the norm nowadays for just about everyone even though it is so damaging to our health, well-being, relationships and just about every part of our lives!

    Thanks for sharing with Old-Fashioned Friday! 🙂

    1. Hi, Lori — thank you for allowing me to share.

      You are precisely right — being overwhelmed IS the norm, which is why we need to proudly stand up and say, “By golly, I’m going to be abnormal in this odd little society of ours and live my life in such a way that I’m not a neurotic mass of nerves.”

  10. This is a wonderful idea to be aware of and I’m so glad you wrote a post about this! I catch myself feeling overwhelmed sometimes. The other day I decided it was up to me to clean our bedroom, do the dishes, cook dinner, and work on my crochet afghan… all before going to bed. I sat in a blue mood and my husband Carlos asked me if he could help. DUH! I just need to ask someone for help and realize what is important and what doesn’t necessarily need to be done right now – prioritize and do what makes me HAPPY! It helps to have help sometimes.

    1. So true, Desiree. When our children were at home, I stayed home with them while the Norwegian Artist worked in an office cubicle; I always felt that all the domestic chores were my duty, and it was overwhelming indeed. I remember when I told myself, “You know, you could either yell at the kids all the time to keep the house clean and pick up after themselves, or you could accept that four kids and an adult, in the house all day doing creative stuff, results in a less than messy house. Your husband keeps encouraging you to choose the latter, so what’s your problem?”

      I’m so glad that Carlos picked up on your vibes, and that the two of you were able to work together to get things done without either one of you feeling that everything was on your shoulders. Laundry, dishes, cooking — they never end, and can swallow up every minute. But there are more important things to do with some of those minutes. — Carolyn

  11. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with changing your diet to a more clean, natural diet. I remember when I first started I was obsessing over the fact that I knew the ingredients weren’t perfect so I wouldn’t eat it. It got old very quick and I realized it was starting to take a toll on my mental health.

    I’m learning to forgive myself when I indulge and not be so crazy when it comes to the quality of food. I eat how I feel is best 80% of the time and I allow myself 20% of the time to eat the “not so good” stuff.

    Thank you for sharing this on Tuned-in Tuesday Blog Hop! Looking forward to seeing what you have to share tomorrow! http://www.healthyrootshappysoul.com/2013/03/tuned-in-tuesday-blog-hop-3.html

    1. Thank you, Loriel, for inviting me to participate in your Tuned-in Tuesday blog hop — I am looking forward to sharing about Kitchen Failures tomorrow.

      Your way of entering into, and staying in, healthy eating is a sound one — as you observe, it’s so easy to want to give up when we can’t do everything perfectly. So much better to be kind to ourselves and make the changes as we can; and every day, we’ve changed a little bit more.

  12. Pingback : Link Love 4.5.13 Blissdom/Lands’ End Edition

  13. Because I have such a large family, whenever someone hears what all that I have going in any one given day, their eyes get huge and they’ll say, “gosh, you must be so overwhelmed!!” But, seriously, I’m not. Maybe it’s just that I have a laid-back personality, or maybe I just don’t take myself all that seriously. I make a list of “things to do today” and if I get through half of them, I feel GREAT! The rest of the stuff goes on my list the next day.

    Loved this post 🙂

    1. We lived in Colombia years ago, and our hostess always said, “It doesn’t matter if I get done with everything today or not. I know it will always be waiting for me tomorrow.” And then she laughed.

      Your family and your life sound full and wonderful, and I wish you much joy, laughter, and happienss, surrounded by the people you love.

Comments are closed.