What is overwhelm and how to handle it

Rob Taylor of Dads in Business explains how more and more working fathers are recognising overwhelm and addressing it

Overwhelmed man sits on sofa with head in hands surrounded by boxes

 

Rob Taylor runs his own business, has three children and set up Dads In Business for men like him facing a juggling act many recognise. Here he writes about the concept of overwhelm – something many working parents are increasingly recognising in their own lives. 

Overwhelm as a working dad

This article is going to talk about the rising presence and impact of overwhelm on working dads. I’m going to share my own lived experiences of overwhelm and what our research and feedback is identifying from our Dads In Business sessions that work with employers to create the space for dads to talk openly about the work life balance based on the four key life areas of Dad: family, work, money and personal. I will also share some tips and ideas that help me manage time, allocate my time better and be held accountable. 

In the summer of 2020 our Dads In Business project carried out some research into the impact of Covid on Dads in the workplace. Distraction, guilt, anxiety were all on the rise – as was overwhelm – a 16% increase. Anecdotally, Dads are finding it harder to switch off and find it harder to switch between roles and responsibilities

We carry out straw polls when working for employers to start conversations and create the space for dads. The 16% statistic may be out of date. 83% of our respondents in the sessions point to feeling a sense of overwhelm daily or once or twice a week. This is startling and we must help create solutions here that support all the workforce. To help dads is to support and help every aspect of the workforce too. 

It’s no wonder dads feel overwhelmed if we consider that dads feel a sense of ‘never off work’ mentality and that having kids may actually be deemed a weakness by the employer. This is hard to simply sweep under the carpet and to not expect something to eventually break.  

What are the symptoms of overwhelm?

For me, overwhelm can show up in many ways. 

  • Brain fog
  • Endlessly tired
  • Quite lethargic
  • Lack of motivation
  • Unsettled or unable to switch off at night 
  • Feeling guilt at making choices that will upset others

Lockdown life

When home and work are the same place it becomes harder to create the space needed to effectively be present for the role you are playing. 

I remember during the first lockdown way back in March 2020 that I didn’t have the home office space I needed. I would wake up in the morning and my desk was in the same room as me. Therefore my first waking thought would be work. 

The lack of distinction between home and work is unhealthy. We must try to create new boundaries. When work is home and home is work, too often our work identity will win out. We end up creating more issues and feeling worse by in effect saying no to the things we are trying to look after at home. It’s  a cruel catch 22. We must try hard to navigate away from it. 

Pressure of individual tasks can become greater than the sum of its parts

I’m sure we’ve all heard the famous saying that an outcome can be greater than the sum of its individual parts? Well, for me, overwhelm can show up in a similar way. On the face of it those extra tasks are simple asks: pick the kids up, cook tea, write that report, review the applications, schedule social media, go to swimming lessons, reading before bed, go to the gym – you get the idea. 

But if we aren’t in the space to be prepared for accepting these tasks I think the smallest ask, the simplest of requests, can become a huge burden and contribute quite quickly to the sense of overwhelm we face. 

The pressure of individual tasks combines to be greater than the sum of its parts. 

Stress container

To avoid this sense of overwhelm we must consider some controls. The first thing to go when we get busy tends to be ourselves. Our fitness winds down, our hobbies evaporate and our friends become more distant because we just don’t have the time to look after them all – there is too much other stuff to do!

I recently completed a Mental Health First Aid course. One of the biggest takeaways for me was the concept of the stress container. When we get overwhelmed or we get short tempered the chances are our stress container is full up. And the tap – our personal wellbeing – hasn’t been turned on to help drain the stresses that flow in. I bet some of us think that by forgoing what we enjoy personally we feel we are doing our manly duty. In reality, we could be doing more damage than good by not allowing time for ourselves. 

Take a look at the image below and answer honestly the questions outlined from our presentation.

How do I manage overwhelm and what do I think can help you?

It’s important to point out, I am not a mental health professional, I’m just a dad who runs three business ventures, trying my best to navigate a path that looks after the family, creates us a lifestyle we enjoy and builds something the kids can be proud of their dad for. I take full responsibility for my work life balance and I use a couple of tools to help keep me in check. 

ATracker App 

The ATracker app is a fantastic app (it costs about £3 a month). It lets you create tasks or projects and you simply tap in to that task as you start it and it counts your time focussed on that project. It has helped me see where my time is spent and more effectively say no to certain projects or work-focussed things that aren’t conducive to any effective business development or opportunity. I talk about this more in the value of time as a working Dad article.  

Transitions

My colleague on the Dads In Business project, Angga Kara, is an executive coach focussed on helping men in the workplace and runs the fantastic Men Up North community. He speaks about transitions and I think it’s a great way to help us switch from one role to the next. Even when home and work are the same space, by getting up from our desk, walking around the block, doing some quick exercises and breathing routine, we can mentally switch our focus from all 50 tasks we have on our plate to the one most important task at hand. It’s a simple practice. But it can yield great results for us trying to focus shift our energy to the task we are supposed to be working on, be it home or work duties. 

Chunk it down 

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Take a step back. Look at your overwhelming projects and think as an observer what small step you can do next to achieve the greater goal. Remember, the pressure of individual tasks or goals can become greater than the sum of its parts so by chunking things down to more manageable bitesize nibbles we can more effectively create change and get more done in a much more realistic approach. 

Create the space

I hope this has helped you see what overwhelm means for me as a dad, but more importantly, for dads all over the world. I’ve shared here some examples of my own experiences of overwhelm and how it shows up but also shared some of the insights from our sessions that suggests overwhelm is getting more prevalent in our daily lives. The home and work space being the same place can create challenges. I hope by utilising the tools I use I can help you or someone you know better manage their overwhelm. 

 

Dads In Business have a four part series for dads in the workplace that covers guilt, overwhelm, anxiety and balance. It is a fantastic way to create the space for open conversations about the world of dad. We also have an important Discovery Session that is open to all employees of a workplace to help introduce the topic and rationale for creating dad specific spaces for the greater good in the workplace. You can reach me any time on [email protected] and please do take a look at the Dads In Business research and articles over on my blog. 

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash





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