Breaking free from overwhelm: Strategies for working mothers

The default for all working mums is ’busy’. There is certainly a lot to get through in an average week. But when busy becomes unmanageable, it can turn into overwhelm and leave us floundering.

Feeling unable to cope with the demands and responsibilities placed on you causes stress and anxiety. But, above all, it is that sense of things being out of control that makes overwhelm such a horrid emotion – the feeling that everything in your life may unravel if you don’t keep up.

The saddest thing about being an overwhelmed mother is missing out on the magical moments our kids were supposed to provide. It is hard to enjoy our children and the precious moments we have with them when we are constantly feeling overwhelmed. We are too busy worrying about everything else to be truly present in the moment.

Therefore, mothers need to recognise when they feel overwhelmed and take steps to alleviate the stress and anxiety, such as delegating tasks, setting boundaries, and making time for self-care. 

By taking control of our emotions, we can avoid the harmful effects of overwhelm and make the most of our precious time with our children.

Signs of overwhelm

Do any of the following sound familiar to you?

  • Constant exhaustion and sluggishness in everything you do
  • Difficulty sleeping and waking up feeling drained
  • Forgetfulness and inability to focus on the task at hand
  • Difficulty making decisions and a lack of confidence in yourself
  • Tetchiness or feeling highly strung
  • Poor eating habits
  • And feeling like you’re drowning, unable to keep up with the demands placed on you, is a sure sign that you’re moving from being busy to being overwhelmed. 

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, especially when faced with an influx of work or unexpected life events. However, when overwhelm becomes chronic and begins to take a toll on your mental and physical well-being, it’s time to sit up.

The knock-on effects for your family

Bad moods due to overwhelm can also create a negative atmosphere for your family. The mental and emotional strain can cause you to react negatively to small things, and your family may feel on edge around you. 

Being emotionally distracted also means it’s difficult to connect or actively listen to what others are saying. Chronic overwhelm can also cause resentment, leading to a strained relationship.

Don’t forget children tend to mimic the behaviour of their parents. So if they see you constantly overwhelmed, they may view it as a normal way of life. 

READ MORE: How to Prioritise Quality Time With Your Kids

How can mums break free from the overwhelm trap?

The trap is when you find yourself too busy to address the problem of overwhelm. But it’s important to remember that constant overwhelm is not good for your overall well-being. 

So something needs to change because who wants to reach a point where everything is hard, waking up is hard keeping your cool over a trivial thing is hard?

Yes, you will need time and space to evaluate the problem and address the underlying issues. But, I hear you – you worry that taking a break will cause everything to fall apart.

However, it’s important to remember that overwhelm actually hinders our progress and slows us down. Investing time in solving the problem can help us get back on track with a bounce in our step. 

Also, stress can prevent us from making sound decisions, so taking a break is crucial to address the problem.

Be honest with yourself, and acknowledge that you cannot continue in this state. Take the time to reset, slow down, and eliminate anything causing feelings of overwhelm. Then, evaluate the reasons behind your overwhelm and address them accordingly. 

Fear of letting go

Look at all the tasks you do every day and imagine the consequences of dropping each one temporarily. It’s important to remember that not everything is life or death and that delegating tasks to others can benefit you and them too. 

Working mothers sometimes feel compelled to handle all household chores, even when they have a partner or children who can help out. This could stem from a fear that the tasks won’t get done correctly.

I get it; nobody can fold sheets like you. But give others a chance. Would you prefer perfect sheets or feel overwhelmed?

Yes, reducing your workload often means asking others to help. So, ask yourself, what’s really stopping you from asking?

The fear of parental imperfection

As mothers, we face numerous responsibilities and expectations. And on top of that, we often put undue stress on ourselves to be the perfect parent. 

After reflecting on my thoughts and behaviours, I realised that my fear of being imperfect prevented me from fully enjoying my role as a mother. I used to believe that anything less than perfect was unacceptable. Unfortunately, my pursuit of perfectionism led to two episodes of burnout in the past decade. 

To avoid going through that again, I had to acknowledge that perfection is unattainable and let go of the pressure to be perfect. 

This is a crucial step towards avoiding the overwhelming feeling that comes with chasing an impossible goal. So ask yourself, how would you feel if you released the pressure to be perfect?

Fear of what others might think of you

The fear of others’ opinions can lead to excessive people-pleasing and contribute to feelings of overwhelm. Some people have had childhood experiences where they felt the need to earn their parent’s love, and as adults, this manifests in doing too much for their children. 

Unfortunately, some parents may fear their children won’t like them if asked to do chores. This mindset can actually have the opposite effect, causing children to grow up with less respect for their parents. Ask yourself, will your kids love you more if you do everything for them?

Our kids and partners respect us more when we set boundaries and take care of ourselves. 

Work out your non-negotiables

Setting boundaries is crucial for managing feelings of overwhelm, particularly for women, who are statistically shown to be more agreeable than men, which means we tend to take on more. By identifying your non-negotiables, you can give yourself permission to say no to certain commitments. So, be clear on what truly matters to you. Then, start adopting the mindset of ”the rest can wait” and feel the relief.

I have set my own “golden rules” to guide my decision-making. 

One of them is to visit my children’s bedside each night. This simple act of watching them sleep, kissing them, and reminding myself of my love for them has greatly reduced my emotional distress and allowed me to be a better version of myself for them. 

Listen to my meditation: Love is My Anchor

The most important thing to do right now…

When consumed by overwhelm, the most critical action is to step away and take a break. In a state of stress, thinking clearly and effectively tackling a problem like this becomes impossible. However, by taking a pause, the fog will begin to lift, and you’ll gain a new perspective on how to prevent overwhelm from catching you out in the future.

If you don’t take the time to recharge, burnout will inevitably force you to stop. So, schedule a massage, hit the pool, plan a relaxing lunch, or catch a movie – whatever helps you disconnect from your daily routine. Reach out to a friend who brings you joy and positivity.

READ MORE: My 5 Rules for a Successful Day as a Working Mum

Once you’ve taken a break and explored the reasons for your overwhelm, begin implementing strategies. 

While you may achieve quick wins, it’s unlikely that habitual overwhelm will disappear overnight without some persistence and accountability (from a friend or coach, for example). In time you’ll learn how to focus on what truly matters to you and regain control of your life. 

What is your experience of being an overwhelmed mum? I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below.

Alice Chepeau
Verified Coach
Verified for professional standards and commitment to clients. Read more Close

Alice Chepeau is a certified transformational life coach helping parents to flourish without sacrificing themselves. Focus on you first and the rest will follow. Find out how; email or book a free consultation here.

Add comment


Stay in touch
with Alice

For news and offers directly from Alice Chepeau, simply sign up below.