We have a cultural epidemic on our hands. Past the auto-response “I’m fine,” ask the average person today how he or she feels about daily life, and see how many answer that life is coming at them at just the right speed. I doubt you’ll find one—especially if you are asking a woman. Most of us would probably have the word “overwhelmed” somewhere in our answer.
How did life spiral out of control on us?
I read a book over the summer that I feel compelled to write about. This is not a paid endorsement or formal book review. This is just me wanting to share some thoughts on what I found to be a powerful and timely book. It’s not my typical type of post, but I ask you to indulge me—I think this will resonate with you and be worth your time.
Bridgid Schulte’s Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time was one of those reads that offered me new insights while at the same time found me shouting, “Amen, Sister!” on several occasions.
Schulte is a reporter for the Washington Post, and when she recognized her life was leaving her breathless and constantly stressed, she did what any good reporter does—she researched the heck out of it, and then shared her findings.
And just what are some of those findings? Well, the book is a meaty read, and there is so much more to it than I can summarize, but here are some key points:
- Current society values busyness almost more than wealth. Think about it. If we don’t have ourselves—and our kids—fully booked, then there must be something wrong with us. We wear our badge of busyness on our sleeves, and the idea of having free time for fun or relaxing is almost shameful. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, I don’t have time to watch TV…” as a response to my asking someone if they watched a particular TV show, I could go on a really nice vacation (if only I weren’t so busy…) We need to stop fostering this attitude and recognize the importance of leisure (more on that later).
- Our time—again, particularly for women—is all too often what Schulte defines as “contaminated time.” For many moms, no matter what we are doing, the thought process in our head is swirling around what else needs to be done. It’s a form of mental pollution that muddies our present and keeps our stress level higher than it should be. We also need to acknowledge the reality that multi-tasking does not help our stress level and actually lessens our productivity, much as we might like to think otherwise.
- And on the topic of stress, Schulte offers this upsetting research: when stress is prolonged or constant, it actually shrinks the prefrontal cortex of our brain which can affect the way we think and knock our immune system for a loop. So if you’re like me—frequently asking yourself, “What is going on with me?” or finding it hard to think clearly, then it’s time to assess how much stress is in your world and do something about it. The good news? Reducing the stress can result in better brain health—we can actually undo the damage to the prefrontal cortex by managing and reducing our stress.
- Even with our ability to work from home and have flex time, the notion of the “ideal worker” hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Bosses still see face time as critical and billable hours as the mark of success. The US treats its workers a lot worse than almost all of the rest of the world with sparse vacation time and no paid maternity/paternity leave laws. This poses a big problem for both mothers and fathers. As Schulte’s research shows, women suffer significantly—particularly once they have children. Moms are seen as less committed to work than non-mothers. That’s probably no surprise. But here’s something that might be: men actually benefit from becoming fathers…unless they have the audacity to voice that they want to take leave for family reasons. They then get stigmatized and frequently suffer in the work world because of it.
- The cult of intensive motherhood is a somewhat recent phenomenon that puts amazing and ridiculous pressure on mothers—and it’s pretty much created by moms. We actually give more time to our kids than back in the 50s and 60s (and that includes mothers that work outside of the home), and it’s still not enough. We need to be Pinterest moms and show how super we are. (Seriously, do you remember having themed birthday parties or mani-pedi afternoons with your mom when you were a kid? I bet not.) Intensive motherhood runs on guilt, fear, and ambivalence. A self-sacrificing mother is an ideal mother.
How’s that for a little food for thought? And I’m only touching on a few central points…there is so much more worth delving into. But even with these few facts provided, you can see how it all adds up to overwhelm.
So…is there anything we can do about it?
In next week’s post, I will take a look at some of Schulte’s findings on how we can improve our situation. Yep, it’s my first two-part post…try to contain your excitement…
…and remember to tune in next week for some ideas on how to change this current culture of overwhelm and perhaps stop the madness (or at least put a healthy dent in it.)