“I’m SO overwhelmed.”
These three words dominated my vocabulary for at least the first 40 years of my life.
They were about as overused as the holey, ball-y Lulu-Lemon yoga pants that I (along with every stressed out, strung out, and emotionally stripped-down woman on the planet) religiously lived in, much to our romantic partner’s delight.
4 p.m. on the dot. Stretchy pants. Poured glass. Couch. Instagram scroll.
In that order. Unless your kid ruins the order by saying, “I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?”
Can I have a Snack?
I don’t need to explain the blood-curling impact this question has on mothers.
Ask anyone who’s known me for more than two hot minutes. If you chirpily asked me, “Teresa, how’s it going?” my reply — without a moment of hesitation—goes something like this: (Insert loud and dramatic out-breath). “I’m so overwhelmed.”
Which, let’s face it, in the era of pandemic parenting, feels justified.
Here’s a few other popular replies I became legendary for repeating.
“I’m so tired.” (Emphasis on “so”.)
“I’m so exhausted.” (Emphasis on “so”.)
“I’m so busy.” (emphasis on… ok, I won’t continue to insult your intelligence)
Beautiful women, let’s link arms together, shall we?
I’m commiserating with you. And if there’s one thing, we women stand united on, it’s the delicious, almost salacious, act of trading war stories. Am I right?
The past two years have felt heavy. I’m not talking the kind of heavy where you accidentally pick up a 10 lb weight when a 5 lb weight is what you were looking for. I’m talking heavy like “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” heavy.
The elephant on your chest type of heavy.
The crushing weight of responsibility kind of heavy.
The kind of heavy mothers and wives and daughters and grandmothers and nurses and doctors and caregivers go to bed with.
The weary in your bones kind of heavy.
I don’t think I’ve ever fantasized more about moving to a reclusive hut on a remote island in Costa Rica more than I have in the last two years. Okay, maybe the past five years, and always with Matthew McConaughey.
Now, even the sultry Texan holds zero appeal. He’s just another person I feel obligated to dazzle and impress with my heroic efforts at “balancing it all”. No now I fantasize about endless upon endless days of alone-ness.
Me and me.
Then, just as quickly as that fantasy takes hold much like the first sip of Chardonnay, guilt makes its stealthy entrance and kills the buzz.
“Teresa, you should be grateful.”
One more thing to add to my overflowing Should-Shed.
In response to my guilt, I start “looking on the bright side” and high-fiving myself in the mirror, which only works when you remember to high five yourself in the mirror.
Sorry, Mel Robbins. I adore you and I trust your science is gold, but not right now, okay?
I’m too tired. (Emphasis on “too”.)
I’m too overwhelmed. (Emphasis on “too”.)
I’m too busy. (Emphasis on…)
I’m not going to bother repeating what every well-educated, decently well-read and ambitious career woman, mom, and superhero already knows too well.
The reasons women are overwhelmed matter and the reasons for our collective misery remain the same — “the burnout epidemic”, the rise of mental health concerns, and “the great resignation” or great re-evaluation or the great pause or the great rise of alcoholism among women.
Let’s just call it The Great Clusterfuck and call it a day.
We know, okay?
We know that women don’t feel “good enough.”
We know that we should learn to “love ourselves” more.
We know that the key to a happy life is joining the 5 a.m. club with The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.
We know that we need to “dress to impress or dress for success.”
We know that we need to write down our gratitudes, journal more, meditate often, Brene Brown ourselves to sleep and Glennon Doyle ourselves awake.
But knowing and doing are two completely different things. I would also add that we are missing a step in between the infamous Knowing and Doing Gap.
We need to add the middle step of Noticing.
As an Executive Coach, and a former C-Level high achiever anxiety ridden perfectionist in semi-recovery, I’m more interested in what Tara Brach has to say about our interconnected overwhelm. Rather than “do more” to combat the draining energy of overwhelm (which sounds incredibly tiring), how about “attending and befriending” the more primitive parts of our psyche?
Adding more “judgement “and “should’s” to our already well-conditioned reflexive responses only serves to perpetuate the challenging energies we collectively face as women, especially over the last two years.
Here’s the thing. One only needs to Google search “Overwhelm” and instantly women are inundated with well-meaning solutions, hacks, and pro-tips from influencers and celebrities. Here’s a few that come to mind:
· Schedule more time for self-care — wake up earlier, journal, meditate, listen to podcasts
· Learn how to say no — create boundaries, know your limits, own your time, you do you
· Be present and practise mindfulness every damn minute of the day. Act as if your last day on earth was today, which for a woman on the edge…
Do you know what reading this incites to the high achieving woman who is already unrelentingly self-critical? To the woman whose mental health is like a tree branch that has become brittle with wear and tear?
Even though we intellectually understand that judging or shaming ourselves doesn’t heal, it’s too late.
The limbic hijack has taken over.
We have become hooked.
We have succumbed to identifying ourselves as the challenging energy we wish to avoid.
I’m so overwhelmed.
I’m so exhausted.
I’m so busy.
I’m so tired.
I’m so angry.
Oh wait, I just need to write down how grateful I am. That will do it.
Let me preface my pointed cheekiness by saying that gratitude is wonderful. I journal, meditate, am a proud member of the mostly 5 a.m. club, and have a kick-ass Mindset Coach who helps steer me on the straight and narrow success path. However, these measures came after I noticed and then decided to go all in on myself.
On their own, tips and tricks are simply that…
A method of the masses that sells.
A temporary band-aid.
An easily digestible two-minute read.
Nothing transformational will be required of you. You won’t be asked to notice. You will be armed with knowledge and then instructed to go out there and do. Sorry. The transformation comes after a personal reckoning within yourself.
Rather than working with these challenging disturbances, we suffer because we just cover them up with a spa-day or hot bath. They take over. Once they dominate our psyches, our lives become organized and identified with them and they become, like the infamous Dexter Morgan, our dark passengers.
Here’s what I suggest as a starting point with my clients. I have coined it the N.I.C.E. Method.
Seriously, just take out a notepad. This will take 3–5 minutes and it’s simply an exercise in noticing, awareness and attention.
1. Notice your feelings. Name the depleting emotion and how often you feel it. Write it down.
2. Inquire within. What do you want to be feeling? At the end of the day, what are the feelings you really desire? Just RIFF it and let the list of feeling words grow.
3. Choose five core desired feeling words that most closely resonate with you. Be creative. Rather than say, “I want to feel confident,” juice it up. Try on “I want to feel electric.” The whole point is about evoking an emotional response inside you.
4. Emulate others. Think of the most positive person you know. Someone you admire. Not the Yummy Mummy who is well-cared for by her Investment Banker husband. I mean, someone you deeply respect who befriends her challenging energies in an admirable way. Notice what she pays attention to. How she talks about her challenges. What does she do differently?
So, be NICE to yourself, warriors. Cheesy acronym aside, once I made the decision to break up with my high-pressure self, I literally found ecstasy on the other side. No, not with Matthew. He was “so busy,” for some reason.
No, I found the ecstasy of finally feeling pure alignment with my truest self, the self that radiates an attitude of well-being and joy, a woman who knows where she is going, what impact she wants to make on the world, on her daughter, and for women everywhere.
Allow me a moment of neuro-behavioural nerd talk. Our conscious mind will either accept or reject what we tell ourselves.If what we tell ourselves, ie. “I am so overwhelmed” becomes a habitual way of relating to ourselves and others, it will influence our mental and emotional state, and therefore the results of our lives’.
So, let’s agree to start small, shall we? Start by noticing instead and lock the door of the “Should-Shed.” Practice “catching” the harsh self-criticism, the “I’m so overwhelmed” and the “I’m so busy” tape that runs in the background of your life.
Instead, substitute it with quiet, self-compassionate, and gentle inquiry. Replace it with a response that points to a more loving and accepting state of your being.
As trite as it sounds, we need to start playing NICE with ourselves.