9 Things To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Motherhood

9 Things To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Motherhood

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9 Things To Do When You're Overwhelmed By Motherhood“Honey, did you get more cookies at the grocery store?” I called to my husband as I rifled anxiously through the pantry. 

“No, I thought we just bought some,” he called back. 

Turns out, we had just bought some—but I had already polished them off in what was becoming a dangerous nightly ritual:

Step 1: Get the kids to bed. Rush them through their nightly routine to be done as quickly as possible.

Step 2: Fly down the stairs to the kitchen. 

Step 3: Eat all the cookies. (And scroll through my phone mindlessly while inhaling them.)

Fortunately—due to my history with emotional eating—it didn’t take me long to realize something was going on. That uncontrollable urge for more and more sweet stuff is always my first indicator that something is askew. 

I was overwhelmed by motherhood, and every night I crammed cookies into my mouth to try to deal with it.

Motherhood is stressful, no doubt about it. And when that stress gets out of hand, it can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze stress response in our bodies.

How do you know you’re overwhelmed? Well, you might find yourself yelling at your kids or your partner, your eyes welling with angry tears by small things that you can usually brush off. That’s your body’s fight response.

You might retreat into an extra glass (or two) of wine, or—if you’re like me—zone out with dessert and your iPhone. That’s your body’s flight response; you may not be able to flee the situation physically, but you sure can do it mentally and emotionally.

Or you might simply feel overcome by an inability to do anything at all. You can’t fight. You can’t flee. You can’t even move. You’re stuck. Frozen.

Fight, flight, or freeze.

Your body is doing what it has learned to do for physical survival in the face of a perceived threat. But since motherhood isn’t exactly threatening your life like the saber-toothed tigers our ancestors faced, the “fight, flight, or freeze” response isn’t all that helpful.

So when you feel like the only way you can cope right now is by screaming at your kids or zoning out with a big bowl of chips and salsa—or if you feel like you can’t even do that—try doing one or more of these things instead…and get back to feeling the joy of motherhood.

9 Things To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Motherhood

Brain dump.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a never-ending swirl of thoughts in your head, the first step is just to dump them out of your brain and onto paper.

It doesn’t matter if the thoughts are logistical (like all the things you need to do before your daughter’s upcoming birthday party) or more emotional (like worries about how your sensitive son is going to cope with the challenges of middle school), you can’t effectively deal with them when your mind is so cluttered it can’t think straight.

So grab a pen and paper and just start writing. Don’t worry about the order or number of things that come spilling out—just let them splatter onto the page and give your brain a little bit of SPACE.

Sift.

Once you’ve finished your brain dump, it’s time to sift through it all to find the essentials. Ask yourself: What do I truly need to do right now for myself and my family?

Sifting is different than just prioritizing; sifting is about survival mode. Again, if the stressors of motherhood have triggered survival mode in your body, then you need to show your body you are going to do what you must to survive—physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Single task.

If you’re like me, you’ve read all the research about how multi-tasking isn’t really a thing (in other words, our brains can’t actually do it) and yet you continue to go through life attempting to accomplish more by focusing less.

While this is bad for your well-being any time, it’s even worse when you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

So repeat to yourself: One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Clean up.

Not metaphorically. Literally!

A few days ago I stumbled upon my 4-year-old cleaning up all the toys in the living room, with zero asking or prompting. Then he told me his motivation: “I know a mess makes you stressed, Mommy.”

Bingo, kiddo.

(Also: Awwwww, I love my sweet boy!)

I am far from alone: Study after study is proving that clutter = stress.

And truthfully, sometimes I think when we feel overwhelmed by motherhood, what we’re actually overwhelmed by is the stuff of motherhood: the toys, the outgrown clothes, the gadgets, the piles of laundry.

For some immediate relief, take 15 minutes to de-clutter the space immediately around you—the room you’re in, or even just the few feet surrounding you. Later, look into simplifying and minimizing your lifestyle so that there’s less stuff to junk up your space in the first place.

Do a digital detox.

When you’re overwhelmed, all of your digital devices are more likely to further harm than help. Take a deep breath and step away for as long as you can—the rest of the day, the rest of the hour, or just a few minutes. Remember what it’s like to live without constant access to a camera, email, and social media.

If you find that it relieves a bit of the stress, consider implementing a “Technology Sabbath” once a week to give yourself a regular re-charge.

Cancel upcoming plans.

When we feel overwhelmed by motherhood, it’s often connected to our busy lifestyles. The go-go-go mentality prioritizes productivity over rest, and accomplishment over connection. And it’s killing us.

So when you’re about to break, pull out your calendar and choose something to REMOVE. Then—and this is key!—don’t schedule anything else in its place. Leave it wide open so you can enjoy a Do Nothing Day (or a Do Nothing Hour, as the case may be). 

Don’t overanalyze it.

Sometimes when we’re overwhelmed by motherhood, we launch into an existential crisis. 

What’s wrong with me? 

Why can’t I handle this?

I do love being a mom, don’t I? Then why do I feel like this???

Sure, there’s a time and a place for analyzing the course of our lives, but it isn’t from the deep pit of distress.

Stop the spiral by remembering that every parent gets overwhelmed sometimes. You’re not alone; indeed, you’re in a very, very good company! What you’re experiencing is normal, perfectly acceptable, and will pass.

Go outside.

I make it a point to regularly review Erica Layne’s handy list of 52 obtainable ways to simplify your life. The one I keep coming back to over and over again? Number 17: Double the time you spend outside.

There’s something about being outdoors that brings perspective. Big emotions feel more manageable. Big problems seem more solvable—or at least smaller.

Indeed, research shows that going for a hike can actually counter feelings of hopelessness and depression.

If a hike is doable for you right now, awesome! But even if it isn’t, you can still step outside your front door and get a few minutes of fresh air therapy.

Ask for help.

Perhaps part of the reason we may feel alone when we’re overwhelmed by motherhood—even though we’re not—is that we still don’t talk about it enough.

We still try to maintain this perfect facade of having it all together even when we feel like we’re crumbling inside. 

It’s time to knock that the heck off!

It’s only when we get real with each other—opening ourselves up to vulnerability and authenticity—that we can truly help one another.

So forget the guilt trip, ditch the shame, and be honest with someone you trust about how you’re feeling. And then ask them to bring your family a meal, or handle a few loads of laundry, or just be a shoulder to cry on.

You’ve got this, mama. 


16 Comments

  1. amyathealthhomeandheart
    Apr 24, 2017 @ 22:53:03

    Great post! I agree with so many of these. I am big about writing things down. It really helps me work through and process everything. I also definitely need a clean space to keep my stress down, and I love the fact that when the weather is nice, my daughter practically wants to live outside. I need to work on the overanalyzing though, as well as asking for help. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply

    • Katie M. McLaughlin
      Apr 28, 2017 @ 06:39:46

      I’m so glad you found these suggestions useful! The asking for help one is such a struggle for so many moms…myself included!

      Reply

  2. ldcreationsblog
    Apr 25, 2017 @ 14:42:02

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This article was exactly what I needed to read right now. Sitting here, eating half a jar of homemade strawberry jam (the shame!)

    I am feeling so overwhelmed, we moved to a new place 3 weeks ago, I am still living in the midst of a million boxes, running my business from home, and my toddler has the flu I just recovered from. It really does all feel like too much!

    I will definitely be implementing your tips straight away. Thanks again for a great article!

    Reply

    • Katie M. McLaughlin
      Apr 28, 2017 @ 06:39:04

      Thank you for your comment! I hope you know that you are NOT alone! You obviously have a ton on your plate right now—that is a LOT to handle! Take care of yourself, mama, and know that you are doing an awesome job. <3

      Reply

  3. Anna
    May 09, 2017 @ 02:36:01

    Nice post.

    Reply

  4. Genea
    Jun 29, 2017 @ 09:59:28

    Thank you for this. People act like Mother’s can’t have bad days and if we’re stressed by our kids and life then we’re weak. We’re just human! And having kids doesn’t change that.

    Reply

  5. Frances
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 05:37:13

    This is a really useful list of points, thank you. I have a tendency to catastrophise and decide that I’m not cut out for motherhood when what I probably need is to get outside more/ put a bit less pressure on myself. Oh and a tidy house would definitely help!

    Reply

  6. Christa Thomas
    Mar 23, 2018 @ 19:25:41

    This truly helped me just now as I am reading it. Im feeling so drained of all of me. I have homeschooled my daughter for three years, my oldest son is in pre-k and Im homeschooling him too and all with a one year old. What did I get myself into. All of this with my marriage trying to fall apart but I wont let it. Now I decided to get them into school and start working again. I feel like it will be good but I started to feel shame. I realize that I HAVE to take care of ME. Because my three sweet kids need a mom that loves herself so they can receive that love from me. As well as my husband. Im thankful for this post.

    Reply

  7. ‘Lion’ Netflix Movie Review – nailahheard
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 16:21:48

    […] I have seen his wonderful growth from an infant to a now 2-year-old. I must say that children are a handful, but that shouldn’t stop us from loving them and caring for them. My mom is a perfect example […]

    Reply

  8. Jamie
    Nov 29, 2018 @ 20:52:44

    It’s good to read something like this. I’ve got 5 kids and a husband who travels a lot for work. My oldest three are on a competitive dance team and my 6 month old decided to stop sleeping (period). It’s the holidays and we are either traveling or the kids are dancing every weekend for some reason or another. I work part time from home and volunteer at school once a week (with my younger two kids in tow). Losing my mind. It’ll get better but I’m glad I’m not the only one eating all the Milanos every night. We are moving to a bigger house we are renovating (another stressor) and every kid will finally have her own room (yes 5 girls). I am hoping more space will alleviate some of the fighting and bedtime issues.

    Reply

  9. ST
    Dec 28, 2018 @ 00:35:30

    Just what I needed! Sometimes we all need to be reminded that “we are not alone… being a mother is a blessing but also the hardest job of all”. A friend of mine once said to me, “ You will be a mother forever but childhood is only once”. It’s so true..we tend to over analyze when are overwhelmed and stressed. Will certainly work on your tips and thank you for writing this post!

    Reply

  10. Bsomc
    May 21, 2019 @ 16:16:28

    I seriously feel overwhelmed right now. My mom moved in because of age and she “promised” she would help out around the house, with the kids etc…. I have a 13 year old and a 3 1/2 year old. They are seriously constantly fighting, I can’t even take a proper shower because I’m refereeing all the time. My teenager does independent studies so that’s a constant battle to get him to focus and do his work. I’m always cleaning with nothing to show for. My mom doesn’t help at all! In fact she stays in her pjs all day with her shades closed during the day while she watches cartoons! I have to remind her of her day to clean the restroom and she gets bothered. She has psoriasis so her skin flakes everywhere and she doesn’t clean it. Her room smells like food and dirty clothes. I have buyers remorse about letting her move in because the tension has grown tremendously throughout the house. She doesn’t have a hobby and she only works once a week and complains about that. She relies on me for dinner even though I told her I’m the beginning not to rely on me to feed her. I’m so overwhelmed with life right now. I started taking cbd oil to calm my anxiety and it helps but sometimes I just want to runaway. I feel guilty about that but living in a small house with 4 people that expect everything out of you is exhausting. My husband is the fifth person in the house and the only one that helps me physically and emotionally but I feel bad for putting my burdens on him. He is such a great man. Ugh I’m just feeling done.

    Reply

  11. Elena Rodriguez
    Jul 29, 2019 @ 23:13:21

    I know this is an older post but I really needed to read it today. Thank you

    Reply

  12. AMD
    Oct 20, 2019 @ 23:29:11

    Glad I found this post tonight. And that I’m not alone. My job of 6 years just got more stressful and it literally flipped our family of four upside down. I stared work much earlier and get off later (school bus split shift). My husband now takes to the kids to and from the day home, which was something I have done the last few years. I can’t quit my job because we can’t live on a single family income. Well I’m sure we can, but we will be tighting our belts and there goes necessities/ Christmas and birthday stuff. I can go back to my old job as a cake decorator, but then I would have to work weekends and get no summer/Christmas holidays off. I’m to the point where some days I want to runaway but would feel guilty doing so. Anyways, sorry for the vent and I will be trying these suggestions. Cheers!

    Reply

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