How are you? Are you feeling overwhelmed? A lot or a little...?
Whenever I feel overwhelmed - by the long list of things I ‘should’ be doing, by my worries, or the sheer number of desperate urgent causes to support in the world - my body sends up early distress signals.
In the past, I was blind to those signals, even as they lit up the sky within me.
I was too busy racing round my boat, believing that doing more more more would soothe my discomfort.
In those days, my body needed a tanker-sized fog horn to get my attention, and I’d just ignore my overwhelm until I got ill.
But motherhood has given me many marvellous opportunities to practice overwhelm (!), and as I’ve practiced, and failed, and tried again - I’ve got better at looking up, and working out how to respond to that distress in me when it comes…
Now I can recognise a tension in my shoulders and around my jaw; or an ache in my cheeks where tears are waiting to spring. I can feel when my body has spent too long sitting, my back aches, and I’ve been ignoring my need for a pee… I notice that my eyes are getting tired, and I’m craving another coffee with something sugary on the side.
On a good day, I can recognise that this means I need to change something, immediately. And I do.
On a bad day, I can still miss those signals. Or notice them and still decide “oh I’m alright, I’m pretty much superhuman, I’ll just carry on getting on…”
And if I do that, then pretty soon, I’m forced to recognise the distress signals not just in my body, but in my behaviour too.
I notice (and to be honest, not always straight away) that I am flitting from facebook, to twitter, to instagram, to messages and emails in a nervous loop, searching for answers to a question I haven’t asked.
I notice that I’m unable to concentrate on the task in front of me.
I’ll find myself frowning in front of a pile of household chaos without a plan, feeling an urge to chuck it all in the air.
Or sat at my computer, rewriting a sentence over and over. (Like a few days ago, when I started trying to write this email to you, and the words were like porridge stuck to a pan…)
Sometimes, with a heavy heart, I recognise my overwhelm in a moment of snapping at home, in the crumpled faces of my children, and that look from my husband.
This week, there was no dramatic breakdown, no crisis point to wake me up to the shift that was happening within me. Simply a growing awareness that my body was talking to me, and that I needed to notice and act, taking steps before it became overwhelm.
And so it didn’t mean the end of productivity. I didn't have to let go of everything. I could choose carefully where my energy would go. Increase the number of activities that fill my cup, and drop some of those that don’t.
I didn't convince myself to just keep going. I didn't confirm that yes, I wasn’t enough. I didn't say that I would only be enough if I did more.
And I didn't tell myself that everyone else was the problem, and I could be cross about it. As long as I kept doing more while I was cross.
Instead, I knew what would help me feel less overwhelmed. And how to stop. And I did.
Because I know I have to be there for myself first.
And so do you.
Thank goodness we keep on learning through motherhood! What have you learnt from your journeys into overwhelm so far? How do you recognise it? And how do you support yourself when you do? Do you really look after yourself? Or do you just give yourselves five minutes?
Five minutes counts. And yet, five minutes often isn't enough. This week, responding to overwhelm has taken me more than five minutes.
It has meant sitting by the sea for an hour on Monday morning, taking time to do nothing and think. And doing that again on Wednesday.
It has meant going to bed early and reading most nights. Continually refreshing a heat pack to sooth my aches, and remembering to drink herbal tea after coffee.
It's meant letting myself cry when I need to, and laugh when I need to do that.
It has meant gentle daily reprioritising (like letting go of having a newsletter ready to send to you at the start of the month). Making time for dance and zumba and yoga and walks in nature, hugs and hand-holding, catch-ups with friends.
It has meant doing less, even though doing less is still uncomfortable for me. Accepting help from friends. And asking for it in the first place.
What do you need to ask for today?
This month’s activity
If getting creative and decluttering helps to soothe your stress, this month’s creative activity might be just what you need to make time for...
The Parenting Clutter Log is all about noticing the details. It’s a playful way to reframe some of the things that can overwhelm us - in this instance, house chaos (one of my favourite triggers for feeling overwhelmed...!)
Let’s remind each other that clutter is human, we all have it. And remind ourselves that each piece of irritating clutter has a human story behind it - it’s more than just mess. Just like we are ;)
Because often in motherhood, it's when we pause and concentrate on the detail that we can find the joy in it again.
Join us in adding some pages to the Parenting Clutter Log?
Grab a piece of clutter (it really could be anything from a discarded toy to a pile of spilt cereal on the floor, whatever you notice first...) and take a moment to really look at it.
What do you know about it?
What part has it played in your family's life?
What positive memories does it hold?
Take a minute to log some of this information on a white piece of paper - imagine you’re taking notes on an expedition or making a description for an exhibit.
It can be serious, funny, happy, sad - just log it.
Then take a photo of the object on the paper with the notes, and share its story with us here.
You might even decide that now you've preserved that piece of clutter forever right here, it's time to finally declutter it out of the house... That’s up to you. We won’t judge ;)
Mamas’ Everyday Retreat
I’m thinking of sharing an entry from my own Parenting Clutter Log every day this month in our private facebook group, and you’re very welcome to join us there and share yours too!
We’ll also be holding another #somum Mamas’ Retreat in the private facebook group this month, later than usual, (also due to my gentle reprioritising...!)
Come and join us on Wednesday 23rd November from 8.30pm to 10pm for honest inspiring conversation.... And maybe even a bit of clutter comparison!
If you haven’t joined us there already, Mamas' Everyday Retreat is a private facebook group for our community of open-hearted mamas. Expect me-time encouragement, compassionate conversation, gentle motivation, kindness and laughter.
Just click on the link, and request to join.
One to one support
If you’d like individual support to face the overwhelm, one piece of mental or physical clutter at a time - reply to this email and let us know.
We’ll arrange a 15 minute chat about how you are and what you need.
Find out more about what we do, and hear from other mums about their experience of working with Pippa.
What can you do right now?
Remember, this newsletter is a gentle monthly reminder to pause.
To pause and breathe in the detail. Of how you feel. Of what you need. Of what's happening in each minute of your ever-changing story.
When we dwell in the details of our lives, and take time to appreciate and stay curious about these, it can help us to remember what’s really important.
So, what's your level of overwhelm right now? And what could you do to pause and take care of yourself, as soon as you finish reading this email?
Because sometimes (if not always), the most important thing is you.
Much love, and a deep appreciation of all your details,
Pippa and Penny
PS We're supporting Bags of Love in November, can you join us?
Bags of Love is a simple and direct charitable project from UK Action for Refugees - a chance to involve your children in preparing a bag of hope and love to send to Syrian children in Aleppo's hospitals.
Sign up now and don't miss out on our regular monthly newsletters.