The common answer to questions like “how are you doing?” or “how was your weekend?” is “Busy.” “Busy” is a word that I frequently use as a descriptor for my life, but it was often code for overwhelmed. This is why Brigid Schulte’s book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One has the Time” peaked my interest. This book can be applicable to anyone who feels that they are overwhelmed by commitments they are juggling, but this book’s primary focus is on the overwhelm faced by working mothers. With movies like “Bad Moms” and the rise of the Simplicity Parenting movement, it is clear that parents are struggling to find a less chaotic normal for themselves, and this book is a great addition to the conversation. Schulte fills the pages with informative data on how we spend our time and the effects of stress on the brain, interviews with workplaces and individuals who are trying to change the overwhelm story for working parents, and personal anecdotes of the author’s own struggle as a working mother.
I really enjoyed how Schulte divided the book to deal with issues around work, love (children, marriage), and play (hobbies, downtime, fun). She shows how each has an important role in a person’s health and wellbeing. She explores how North American women got to this harried existence of work and family with little time for themselves. She also gives a great summary at the end of the book about how to achieve a better balance and decrease the sense of overwhelm. One woman she interviewed even challenged the notion that we should seek balance and instead asked herself questions like: “Am I trying my best? Am I doing things for the right reason? Do I make those I love feel loved? Am I happy?” (p.259) These sound like questions that are easier to answer than “have I achieved a balanced life” and perhaps easier to find the solutions to get to the “yes” for each of these life questions. Changing the questions we ask ourselves might change some of the pressures people feel about all the different roles they need to play and goals they need to achieve.
I think the biggest “ah-ha” moment I had when reading this book was this statement from Terry Monaghan, the productivity expert: “What busy and overwhelmed people need to realize, she said, is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do…..You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now?” (p.256) My to-do list will always be there. The house will always need more cleaning. There will always be more exercise I should do. There will always be food to make. There will always be the feeling that I should spend more time with my kid. There will always be emails coming in at work. There will always be deadlines to meet.
So I have started looking more careful at what I am choosing to do. The other day, I decided to turn off the stove in the middle of making a casserole, and join my husband and daughter who had gone on an impromptu trip to the park on a sunny afternoon. I finished the casserole a couple of hours later than I intended, but if I had stayed to cross it off my list for the afternoon, I would have missed seeing my daughter’s smile on the slide. Another night, I made the decision that what was important was stretching out my shoulder knots at a yoga class. The timing meant I missed eating dinner with my family, but I was in less pain and relaxed when I came home, so I was more present for bedtime stories and end-of-day conversations. I’m trying to put away some of my unrealistic expectations around home, parenting, womanhood, and work and be more purposeful in what I choose (plan, do, review) so I can let go of some of my overwhelm.
Well-written, well-researched, and wellness-focussed; there are great lessons in “Overwhelmed” that can help you find a better enjoyment in work, love and play.
5/5 bacon strips