Over the years, I’ve worked with many mums who tell me they’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed. It’s especially true when they’re balancing being a mum with either part-time or full-time work. So, I’ve put together this article ‘How busy mums can reduce their anxiety & overwhelm’ to help others in need. It’s packed with well researched and practical ways to help you reduce that feeling of being swamped and get you back in control.
Many mums describe their day to me like they’re trying to keep all the plates spinning in the air.
They feel like they spend their time madly rushing from stick to stick, giving it a little twirl to keep the plates spinning, just waiting for the inevitable crash to happen.
The pressure and expectations imposed on mums, both by society, family members and often by themselves, can leave them feeling drained, both physically and mentally. It can feel like modern life is an endless to-do list, just when you think you’re making progress and checking things off, more and more tasks keep being added to the list. For many there just doesn’t seem enough hours in the day to switch off and relax which often leads to feelings of overwhelm or burn out.
These days, we’re bombarded with information that never used to be considered necessary. The number of emails from school alone can be overwhelming, but when you factor in the communication from all the different groups and clubs our kids are involved in, it can feel like we desperately need a virtual assistant to swoop in and relieve some of the pressure.
In addition, if you’re working there are other demands placed on top of it all. It’s no surprise that many mums feel like they’re barely keeping their heads above water.
Thankfully by following the tips below it’s possible to quite quickly reduce your feelings of anxiety and overwhelm so that you feel back in control of your life.
Using SPACE can help you to reduce overwhelm
S- Sleep (prioritise it)
Getting regular good quality sleep is key to helping you to reduce feelings of overwhelm. The amount of sleep you need is individual to you. There is certainly no need for you to try and strive to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night if your body can function perfectly well with just 6 to 7. Some people naturally need less sleep than others. The problem comes when you function well on 8 hours, for example, but you’re only able to achieve 6 to 7.
REM sleep reduces anxiety & overwhelm
Deep sleep has many important functions that promote both your physical and mental health, from keeping your heart and immune system working well to helping to improve your memory. It’s during a lighter stage of sleep known as REM that you rerun events of your day. Your REM sleep is when you dream. During this process, you turn emotional memories into narrative memories. In other words, you take the emotion out of the memory. It’s like rubbing a soothing balm on your brain.
You might remember a time when you had an argument or disagreement with somebody and got quite upset about it. You may have been so upset that you were thinking about it in bed before going to sleep.
It’s likely though that when you woke up in the morning you weren’t feeling as emotional. You probably won’t have forgotten the incident but you’re likely to not be as upset by it. Your REM sleep has taken the raw emotion out of the memory. Eventually, the memory will completely fade as it no longer provokes an emotional response and other more important thoughts take its place.
REM only accounts for about 20% of our sleep, so we have a limited time to take the emotion out of our memories. It’s therefore important that you get the right amount of sleep for you in order for you to feel calmer and more in control when you wake. If you wake up feeling agitated and tense this is only likely to get worse during your day.
If you have the ability to sleep well each night but are choosing to stay up late to either get tasks done or just to have some downtime you will find it beneficial to get some extra sleep. In a very short space of time, you will wake feeling much more energised and in a better position to cope with the demands of your day.
If, however, you are struggling to get to sleep then there are a number of things that you can do to help including;
Caffeine can increase anxiety – Try to lower your intake of it
Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. This can make it hard to enter the relaxed state necessary to sleep if it’s consumed close to your bedtime. Common advice is to try and only consume caffeinated products in the morning. If you feel this would be taking away enjoyment from your life, try not to consume any caffeinated products for 3-4 hours before going to bed.
Create a ‘Worry Window’ to reduce feelings of overwhelm
When we feel overwhelmed it can feel like negative thoughts just go round and round in our head. When one thought eventually leaves there’s always another one ready to take its place.
Try to put 15 to 30 minutes aside each day to write down the things that are troubling you. This way you send a clear message to your brain – ‘I’m dealing with this’. It’s therefore less likely to keep those thoughts going round and round in your mind like a spinning top. You can find out the science behind why this is effective by listening to this BBC podcast by Michael Mosley.
It is quite likely that a significant portion of the worries that you write are merely products of your imagination, with minimal chances of actually happening. When we are anxious we tend to think negatively, leading us to dwell on irrational concerns. Throughout the day, we frequently engage in catastrophic thinking, making up perceived threats that are highly improbable in reality.
If you’ve got some real worries, like a work project that’s hanging over your head, take a moment to plan out the steps that you need to take. That way, when those worries creep up as you’re trying to sleep, you can tell yourself, “Hey, I’ve got it under control. I’m taking care of it.” This gives you a much better chance of getting rid of those troublesome thoughts and enjoying peaceful sleep.
Limit your exposure to light in the evening
All living things have an internal circadian rhythm; in plants, it allows them to flower at the right time and in humans, it helps to regulate our sleep and wake times. When it’s dark our brain produces melatonin which is why it is known as our ‘sleep hormone’.
Melatonin works alongside our circadian rhythm. A build-up of melatonin is a signal to our brain that it’s time to sleep. If, however, you are exposed to bright light in the late evening it can interrupt your brain’s ability to produce melatonin. Your circadian rhythm will become unbalanced and so your brain finds it more difficult to understand if you want to be awake or asleep.
If you are able, turn down the bright lights in the room where you are. If this isn’t possible then you could try and just use a table lamp or even candles as a light source.
It’s also a very good idea not to use any screens or devices in your bedroom as the exposure to light from them can also affect the ability of your circadian rhythm to work effectively.
If you have had trouble sleeping for a number of months or years then you might be interested in joining forces and working together to conquer those sleepless nights, I’d love to help.
You can find out more information on my Sleep Well and Shine program by using the highlighted link.
P – Planning and being Proactive
Sometimes we get so used to doing things at the last minute that it becomes our go-to way of operating. We don’t consider that they may be alternative approaches that can help to reduce overwhelm.
Many mums are especially busy in the mornings, there is always a multitude of tasks to do which can create overwhelm. This can easily be amplified if you’re having to deal with children that aren’t keen on going to school.
I’ve been working with a client recently who has managed to reduce her stress by planning ahead. Instead of running around in the morning, she’s taken a more organised approach. Now, she preps the packed lunches the night before instead of rushing around the following day. She also gets her children’s school bags ready the day prior, instead of doing it in the chaotic morning rush. She’s also ditched the morning ironing routine and now tackles it all on Sunday afternoons.
These simple changes have made a world of difference in easing her morning tasks and reducing her levels of anxiety. As a result, she experiences reduced morning stress because she’s not frantically rushing around attempting to squeeze in an excessive number of tasks within a limited timeframe.
She’s now also introduced planning into other aspects of her life. At the time of writing, she is on holiday. Previously she would have left the task of packing until the day before the holiday. This time she went shopping a week before and had a majority of the suitcases packed days before she was due to fly.
Anxiety is created by your thoughts
It’s not the events in your life that create anxiety but the thoughts surrounding them. Each time you worry or think negatively about a situation you create more anxiety. If you can find a way to get tasks done sooner then you reduce your anxiety levels as you no longer have to think about them.
This mum informed me she would have previously spent days worrying about the things that she needed to do but, would still leave it all to the last minute. By being proactive she has reduced the overwhelm and anxiety that she used to feel for days before going on holiday.
Introducing planning time can help to reduce overwhelm
Try to schedule some time into your week to write a to-do list of all the things that you need to get done. Once you’ve written your list you can then prioritise your tasks and allocate a certain amount to them each day.
By completing and then ticking off the jobs you will find that you will stop thinking about them. It’s these negative thoughts that create anxiety. By being more organised you can help to reduce your anxious thoughts and in turn, lower your feelings of overwhelm.
A – Alcohol reduction
It’s very easy to get into the habit of using alcohol as a way to relax at the end of the day. Now I’m not going to be a killjoy and ask you to stop drinking alcohol completely, but if you can reduce the amount your drinking, you can dramatically lower your anxiety levels.
Alcohol increases anxiety levels
You might find it surprising to find out that alcohol is an anaesthetic and depressant. You probably associate it with stress relief and feelings of relaxation. In fact, the opposite is true.
When you drink alcohol initially you will feel relaxed, however your brain will try to counteract the depressant effects of the alcohol by releasing stress hormones. The relaxing effects of the alcohol wear off quite quickly and then you are left with the feeling of being slightly anxious due to the presence of the remaining stress hormones. This all happens on a subconscious level. In order words your brain does it automatically, you don’t think about it.
Your subconscious brain registers that you are feeling anxious and remembers that alcohol can make you feel relaxed, so it will encourage you to drink more. This is why it’s so hard just to have one alcoholic drink.
Your subconscious mind however only associates alcohol with a calming relaxing effect. It doesn’t register that because of the increased production of stress hormones, alcohol actually causes anxiety.
The more alcohol you consume the more your anxiety levels will increase over time. If you would like to find out more about this, you can use this link ‘Alcohol Explained’
The effect of alcohol on sleep
Alcohol is often wrongly thought of as a sleep aid. Although it can make us fall asleep quickly it causes us to have unrestful, fragmented sleep. If you haven’t drunk alcohol you will normally go through a variety of stages of sleep. During this time, you will go through several cycles of short-wave and long-wave sleep.
If you have drunk alcohol you are not able to fully go through these stages of sleep. You won’t get the benefits of deep restorative sleep and you’ll greatly lessen your ability to be able to process your anxiety as your REM sleep will be severely limited. In fact, instead of getting 5 REM sleep stages, you’ll only get 1.
As a result of drinking alcohol instead of waking up feeling energetic, refreshed and calm, it’s more than likely that you’ll wake up feeling groggy and tense.
Practical ways to lower your alcohol intake
Life is there to be enjoyed and if drinking alcohol is an integral part of your life then by all means continue to do so. However, you will gain an enormous benefit from cutting down
If you are drinking every day, then if possible try to introduce a couple of non-alcohol days into your week. There are now a wide variety of non-alcoholic wines, spirits and beers available that really taste very similar to their alcoholic counterparts.
Having days where you consume no alcohol will be more beneficial to you than continuing to drink every day but reducing the amount you drink as you will be able to get a better quality of sleep on those nights.
If you would like help to moderate your alcohol intake then please get in touch. Solution focused hypnotherapy is extremely effective in helping people to take control of their anxiety and enabling them to remove unwanted habits.
C- Calm breathing
The next time you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed you could try the following calm breathing exercise.
Anxiety occurs as a result of our fight/ flight response being activated. When this happens our body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate all increase. Your body is preparing to fight or flee from a perceived threat. Once your brain believes that the danger has passed it will enter its much more calming ‘rest and digest’ system.
To speed up the process of calming down and reaching that relaxed state, you can try a technique called rectangular breathing. Just breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. But here’s the trick: make sure you spend twice as long exhaling as you do inhaling.
In other words, if you breathe in through your nose for the count of 4, make sure you breathe out through your mouth for the count of 8. Keep repeating this for a couple of minutes or until you feel more calm.
If you wish to really take time out and relax and further reduce your anxiety levels, you might be interested in listening to a self-hypnosis audio track. You can purchase them by using the highlighted link.
There is no denying that generally, we are less active now than we have ever been. Most of us spend large periods of our day sitting down and being inactive.
To get the benefits from exercise you don’t have to go and join a triathlon club or sign up for the London Marathon. But if you can find ways to incorporate more aerobic exercise into your week, it can work wonders in reducing your anxiety and overwhelm.
When you exercise you produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is a natural mood stabiliser, it regulates anxiety, makes us feel happy and increases our levels of confidence and self-esteem. Not only does exercise increase the amount of serotonin we produce it also keeps it in our system for longer. Meaning that you will feel good for an extended period.
When we exercise we also produce a chemical called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is like fertiliser for the brain. It helps to preserve your existing brain cells and encourages new ones to grow. Alongside serotonin, it helps to enhance your mood and reduce stress.
How much aerobic exercise do I need?
The more aerobic exercise you do then the greater benefit you will get. Thankfully though you can get the benefits of increased serotonin and BDNF production after only 10 minutes of exercise.
Hopefully, by reading this article you have a greater understanding of what you can do to help reduce your levels of anxiety and overwhelm.
If you would feel you would gain more benefit from working on a one-to-one basis, you can book your initial consultation using the button below. I’d love to help.
If you’d like to have a chat before booking your consultation please feel free to call me on 07855 759533.
Think Better – Feel Better – Sleep Better
Perhaps you would prefer not to attend therapy sessions. In this instance, you may be interested in my self-hypnosis course
You can find out more information about my Freedom from Anxiety course by using the highlighted link.
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