Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time {Book Review}

Book Review, Books / Friday, November 7th, 2014

Yesterday, I shared a little review about Lisa Hendey‘s newest book, The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living .

Up next in my book reading update is –

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

No, my child did not scribble all over the book cover – for once!

I first heard of this book from my illuvint boss, Lisa, when I mentioned the 7 Ways to Survive the Busyness Epidemic article I was working on for CatholicMom.com. The title itself caught my attention – because “overwhelmed” is how I had been feeling most days for past, oh…11 or so years.

Shulte excellently lays how we, as American women especially, are dealing with a major crisis of “Overwhelm”. We go from one thing to another to another and start our days burdened under the weight of stress, carry it around with us all day, and end our days in a hot boiling tearful mess of Overwhelm. Sound familiar?

Overall, Shulte impressed me with the extensive research she includes in her book – who would have known there could be so much information about feeling overwhelmed! Apparently there is a whole scientific field now devoted to time study and how people have and do spend their time.

As someone who is easily enthralled with anthropology – who we’ve been and how we’ve become who we are now – I enjoyed reading all the information she included on the history of “busyness”, in particular the history of how women have become increasingly more overwhelmed and less satisfied with their lives. There is a definite liberal feminist perspective but I didn’t feel like it was too obtuse. Shulte focuses the data and information on women but it would be just as valuable for a man to read this as well.

It’s quite fascinating and something I ponder often –

How do I, a “stay-at-home mom” in America’s Heartland, compare to a mother who lives in a hut in some remote village? I wonder, does that mother feel overwhelmed? Does she explode at her children because of the suffocating stress she feels to do everything and be everything to everyone? My guess is no, but I’m sure every mother feels stress and overwhelmed, in her own circumstances, at some point or another.

Shulte reiterated that while Americans generally live “wealthier” (financially speaking), they are also the most stressed and depressed. Why is that? We have freedoms unlike other countries, more opportunities to “live the dream”, and the poorest person in America is still richer than the poor of other countries.

I guess it’s true that money and power really can’t buy you love – or happiness either. Part of the reason for the above is because, while Americans may have better “opportunities” for happiness, we are so busy in the pursuit of happiness that we don’t have time to be happy.

We are an “achievement-centered” country, where every minute, every second counts. Our focus on efficiency and profitability has turned our time into a money-clinking time clock. If we aren’t busy doing something productive or profitable, then we are wasting time and are no longer valuable to society, our families, or ourselves. At least that’s the attitude, even if subconscious, many of us have adopted.

But this way of living isn’t going to bring us happiness, and it certainly isn’t healthy for us either.

Shulte grabs from neuroscience data to warn about the detrimental health effects of stress on our bodies – in particular our brains. This was particularly interesting to me as I’ve been learning a lot about stress and anxiety and how to deal with it before it makes me go insane.

…neuroscientists are finding…when a human feels pressed for time, rushed and caught up in the overwhelm, [the prefontal cortex part of the brain] does something alarming: it shrinks.

Even more alarming is the effects of parents’ stress on their children (in and out of the womb) –

…when children are exposed to stress – often stemming from the overwhelm of their parents – it can alter not only their neurological and hormonal systems but also their very DNA.

Yikes, that all explains so much about myself and my kids and the struggles and battles we deal with in the family.

She goes on to describe more neurological and physical effects of stress and how multitasking is anything but productive or efficient – quite the contrary actually.

Aside from all the fascinating anthropology and science, I also really liked her chapter on The Cult of Intensive Motherhood. (You can read an excerpt of that chapter when you Look Inside the book on Amazon , chapter 9.)

Yes. We live in an insanely intensive motherhood time, no doubt about it. And I firmly believe this is a HUGE factor in our overwhelmed state of chaos most mothers find themselves in today.

This Intensive Motherhood cultures tells mothers they must be perfect in every single way or they’re a terrible mother. From the food we feel we have to give, bake, and cook for our children to the eclectic amount of activities we need to get our kids involved in to whether we work outside the home, in the home, or stay at home and be “just a mom”. There’s this constant debilitating pressure mothers in America face to be the best mother – and it’s killing us.

What this intensive mothering culture tells us is valuable is at discord with what really is valuable: Love your kids. Keep them safe. Accept them as they are. Then get out of their way.

So how do we get away from this, break away from these oppressive chains of intensity and overwhelm?

So it’s important that parents start by taking care of themselves and their marriages or partnerships…become more mindful of how they spend their time and how they talk to one another, to build support networks, create easy routines, meaningful rituals, and savor the small moments of connection.

And remember, as Terry Monaghan told Shulte,

You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize…is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do…You will never clear your plate so you can get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important now may not be two years from now. It’s always changing.

As you can tell, I very much enjoyed Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time and it has been surprisingly helpful to me as I try and get away from the debilitating and life-disrupting stress.

If you are or have ever felt Overwhelmed and want to understand why you got this way and how to get out of it – check out Brigid Schulte‘s Overwhelmed, you’ll be relieved you did.


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