overwhelmedI hadn’t planned on reading Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time because I felt like I didn’t need an excuse to dwell on the aspects of my life that feel fragmented and times when I feel overwhelmed.  However, I’m glad that I did finally read it because the overall tone was not “golly, we are all screwed” but rather the encouragement that I’m not alone or uniquely unable to get my life together, and the inspiration of plenty of ideas for changing my perspective and reducing the feeling of frenzy.

What was most helpful for me was how the book challenged my usual narrative about the causes for what the author calls “time confetti.”  I have four kids, I homeschool, I am self-employed, and I am pregnant.  I avoid listing everything I have going on because that in itself is overwhelming.  Sometimes I think if I had a regular job, or if my kids were in a traditional school, or if we lived in a walkable city rather than a suburb I would be less overwhelmed.  This book helped me to see that overwhelm is a cultural condition shared by working moms, stay-at-home moms, homeschool moms who don’t work, and women without kids.  Men can be overwhelmed too, but in our culture we have a set of assumptions that does overwhelm women more than men.

I also realized that actually, given my circumstances, I am not as overwhelmed as I could be.  We have made a lot of deliberate choices that minimize stress and avoid being too busy, and I tweak my life a lot to experiment with ways to make time for what is truly meaningful.  So at times my life feels crazy and often my leisure time comes in very short snippets, but overall I think I’m on a good track.  That said, I did get some great ideas for further reducing stress and overwhelm that I plan to try out, especially as I’m looking for even more ways to streamline with a new baby on the way.

Aside from personal take-aways, I loved how Overwhelmed contained a lot of research and data to spur thought on our culture and challenge our mindsets.  So many deeply entrenched roles and ideas are tied up in what makes us overwhelmed, and it helps just to expose our biases.  Schulte looks at the Western idea of the “Ideal Worker” and how many people believe in it like a religion, in spite of vast amounts of data that show how dumb it is in practice.  She also examines the roots of the “Distant Provider Father” and “Self-Sacrificing Mother” roles, and looks at alternatives and ways people are trying to be more involved dads, moms who put their families first but don’t burn out, etc.  Along the way the reader is challenged to think about his or her individual priorities, what he or she really values in life, and how to actually implement those in a daily routine.  Schulte points out that choosing not to live an overwhelmed life is a deliberate and often counter-cultural act, and yet encourages readers to take workable steps toward a different perspective.

As the subtitle suggests, Overwhelmed is loosely organized into how to combat fragmented, frenzied lifestyles in our families, our work, and our leisure.  The writing is excellent and highly readable, thought-provoking and insightful.  I think students of society and culture, men and women who are interested in navigating a meaningful life, and people interested in how policies impact the lives of real people would find this book fascinating and useful.

How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed?  


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3 thoughts on “Overwhelmed

  1. Hmmm…I am not dealing with overwhelm very well and I tend to think it’s my circumstances. I’d love to hear some specific things you do to manage work/home/family/homeschooling. I would love to write more (at least the blog for now, but eventually more), and I would really love to do some freelance work at home eventually, but right now I haven’t figured out how to even build my skill set to set me up for that…because, well, five young kids!
    Johanna recently posted..March-April 2015 read-alouds

    1. Johanna, I do think some overwhelm is due to our circumstances–in your case living with a family of seven in a small house in a foreign country without a vehicle and no family nearby definitely must contribute to overwhelm! For me what has been helpful is keeping a time diary for a week or so and then being ruthless about priorities and focus. I try to define WHY I’m doing what takes up my time. Sometimes it’s things that really do need to happen, but often in the past I’ve devoted vast swaths of time to things that really aren’t important to me or to my family. The big rocks look different for everyone, but the key is knowing that the priorities you have are YOUR priorities, not what other people or the internet say they should be. In some seasons, there is not a lot of extra time to do more than keep everyone alive. But even in those survival periods I’ve found that there are small pockets of time here and there, and if I’ve defined my priorities in advance, I’m better able to use those pockets in restorative and productive ways. Maybe I will write more about this–I’m never sure how much to write about balance since it’s such a personal thing and I don’t want to seem like I’m being prescriptive or like I think my schedule should be normative for anyone else. Hm.

      1. ” if I’ve defined my priorities in advance, I’m better able to use those pockets in restorative and productive ways.” I love how you put that and I agree. The times that I have had clear plans of something I want to do “if” I find pockets of time I’ve been able to squeeze things in, and often even find more pockets of time as a result. This is largely how I’ve been able to keep reading up even though life is crazy. I think that for me, the hardest part is general fatigue and therefore just feeling like I’m in a haze (and falling asleep shortly after the kids in the evenings.) But two pregnancies very close together contributed to that as well as anemia and I’m already seeing a difference as my iron levels start to come up. So…there’s hope! I’d love for you to write more about it, but I know how you feel. I think, though, like Gretchen Rubin says, we often learn best from just hearing someone’s experience even if we wouldn’t/couldn’t do the same thing. I think specific examples often weigh more than lofty ideals anyway, and then people take what they want and leave the rest.
        Johanna recently posted..March-April 2015 read-alouds

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