keeping from feeling overwhelmed

In my post a couple of weeks ago about obstacles to happiness as a mom, I listed “being overwhelmed” as one of my top 5. While commenters chimed in with a whole list of other obstacles–things like lack of time for oneself, loss of control, and unrealistic expectations–I reflected about how all of those things can, for me, lead to feeling overwhelmed. So maybe being overwhelmed isn’t so much a single obstacle as it is the end result of many of the things that are part and parcel of a mom’s life: noise, mess, chaos, ever-changing routines, an incredible sense of responsibility, never enough time in the day…etc.

Since being overwhelmed has no one cause, it also has no one solution. Plus, the things that make me feel like I’m drowning in a deluge of overwhelm-ment may not be the same things that smother other mothers (woo, say that fast five times…). But I do think there are some things so universal to a mom’s experience of life that it can only help to deal with them proactively. I’m going to share a few of the things that I need to have to keep me from feeling overwhelmed:

I need order. One of my first posts on The Happiest Mom urged readers to make their beds or, if making the bed isn’t particularly important to them, to find the “triggers” in their home that make them feel disorderly and chaotic and make sure to address them…daily, or more often if necessary. From my post:

“We all have that one thing (or half a dozen things) that drives us crazy. Whether yours is crumbs on the counter or rooms where half the lightbulbs are burned out, taking care of your biggest crazy-makers (BEFORE they get to the point of making you crazy) sets the whole mood for the day.

For me, that one thing happens to be making my bed.

I’m far from being a neat freak, but I began to realize that I require a certain level of cleanliness in order to function. I spend most of my day in my home, and if it feels too messy or cluttered I just want to retreat and watch bad TV instead of being productive.

Similarly,  I am ruthless with clutter in my life. I just don’t have the space for it and it makes me feel unhappy and uneasy to see piles of stuff everywhere, so I straighten up those surfaces where things accumulate (for us it’s the dining-room table and buffet) often to keep on top of things. With five kids, some clutter is inevitable, but if I let it take over, I start feeling really overwhelmed.

I need a budget. I’ve written before about moms and financial security,  in a broad, caring-for-yourself-in-an-emergency or retirement-savings-and-investments sense. But our day to day financial security is just as important, and nothing is as overwhelming as feeling broke all the time. Creating and sticking to a budget is one thing that makes a big difference in how I perceive our financial stability, and when I don’t stick to one, I start to feel uneasy almost immediately. Sometimes it can be fun to feel like I’m splurging without having to ask my spreadsheet’s permission, but if I don’t get it back on track quickly, it can quickly spiral into that out-of-control feeling that is, well, overwhelming.

I need help. Even something as simple as figuring out what to do with my 4-year old and 10-month-old while picking my 6-year-old up from the bus stop can start to feel overwhelming when it’s the middle of a gray, cold January. I think sometimes it’s those little, daily things that can add up and lead to a big feeling of overwhelmed-ness unless we ask for help once in a while. What a vacation it feels like on those days when a friend comes over at noon so I can run out to the bus stop (or the grocery store…or just for a cup of tea) without bundling up the two little ones!

Writing this post, many other needs are popping into my head. I need friends (and I need to see them regularly). I need time alone. I need routine. I need goals. But right now, I need to finish this post so I can, um, bundle up the kids and go pick up my 6-year-old at the bus stop…so the rest of my needs will have to wait for later.

What are your biggest triggers for feeling overwhelmed, and how do you avoid it?

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