Recently, this headline about how overwhelmed modern families are popped up in my Facebook newsfeed.
I couldn’t resist clicking because this topic is so familiar to me. The reporter interviewed families and researchers to get a snapshot of the typical middle-class American home: frantic schedules, more toys than people know what to do with, and a general attitude of “well that’s just the way it is.”
I was sad to reach the end and see that there was no solution or hope offered; so many parents are simply feeling defeated.
I’ve been caught in that cycle myself.
Not too long ago, I was feeling overwhelmed as a mom of small children and just accepted that this was my lot in life.
As they got older, the demands on my body, time and energy changed, but the stress level really didn’t. The clutter piled up throughout the house; our schedule got fuller with activities and demands. And I saw the direction we were headed as I watched some of my
To be honest, I can’t say that I’m completely out of the woods when it comes to everyday overwhelm as a mom and I doubt I ever will be. But there’s a difference in mindset that has made a profound difference in the way I look at my life.
Rest is a choice.
Faithful Rest vs. Fake Rest
Rest is not a new concept, but it is unfamiliar to many of us in the way we live. Even our days off are not really “off;” they’re full of fake rest.
For moms especially, there’s no such thing as a lazy Sunday afternoon; we pack productivity into every margin of the day: folding laundry, wiping counters and catching up on phone calls. If we get that special moment to collapse into a nap, it’s out of sheer necessity and we feel guilty afterward.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Fake rest is the way of the world, friends. It is not the way of God.
What do you mean, Gina? I hear you say. The Christian life is one of self-sacrifice, is it not?
Yes, it is. And that’s why maybe we need to sacrifice the old way of thinking: that I will work myself to death for my family and community, and somehow be more righteous in the end.
God instituted rest from the beginning. In the creation account (Genesis 1), he rested. A weekly holy day of rest was one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). He commanded his people to even let the land rest every seven years (Exodus 23). He has built cycles of rest into nature: days, nights, seasons.
Perhaps when we choose rest, we acknowledge that we can’t do it all or be it all. If Jesus himself had no qualms about taking naps, sneaking off by himself, and shutting all but his inner circle out from time to time, why do we treat self-care like it’s some luxury or guilty pleasure?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Perhaps when we choose rest, we give God the opportunity to show us how he works.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with motherhood or just life, I want you to know that there’s hope, that you can break the cycle, that you can choose rest.
It isn’t easy. In fact, choosing rest takes faith. But I can tell you from experience that the rewards are abundant and everlasting.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed as a mom, consider three ways you can intentionally choose rest: for your body, your mind and your soul.
Want to dig deeper? Be sure to check out my email series, StressLESS.
1. Choosing Rest for Your Body
Confession: I have been known on more than one occasion to wish out loud that I just didn’t have to sleep. Just imagine all that I could get done! (Especially if my kids had to sleep and I didn’t.)
But alas, the mind is willing; the body is weak.
Trust me, I’ve tried to push the limits. I had many a late night in college. I thought I was a champion then, but a few years later babies came, a period which redefined the meaning of “sleep deprivation.”
My body was literally pushed to its limits in every sense of the word during the baby years. And you know what my response was?
Tearful joy and gratitude Frustration. I felt like my rights and ownership of my time and energy were completely stripped away.
Even then, I’d try to calculate the minimum amount of sleep I needed to still feel like a human (somewhere around seven hours, I guessed—not too bad, right?). I’d set my alarm as a good, disciplined mama should so I could get a good jump-start to my day, even though by the time afternoon hit I’d be reaching for my umpteenth cup of coffee to make it through.
The result was: I did “make it,” technically, with “just enough” rest. But it wouldn’t take much to tip me into a very cranky, self-centered fatigue. I also suffered from chronic back pain due to stress and inadequately rebuilding my muscle strength after three pregnancies in four years.
I share all these things with you to illustrate that for many years, I’ve had a problem when it comes to my body. And that problem is: I’m just not content with its natural limitations.
Fatigue Is a Symptom: Listen to It
While some people do have complicated and chronic health problems that contribute to fatigue (hang on for a minute if that’s you), for many of us it’s the result of our choices.
If you’re always feeling overwhelmed, tired, cranky and weak, it might be time to take a little pause and do some self-reflection. You are not a victim of your circumstances, mama. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you are in charge of how you spend your limited time and energy.
A few years ago I got certified as a stress management coach. While my ultimate goal was to help others, I quickly learned that student #1 is me. And hands down, the biggest takeaway from my training was embarrassingly simple.
I needed to sleep more.
As I’ve already explained, I have been in the habit of pushing my body to its limits since pretty much forever. But here’s the problem with that.
Each night, your brain goes through several cycles as you sleep, typically about 90 minutes in length, which get increasingly longer over the course of a night. During the first part of each cycle, the rest is primarily regenerative for your body. For the second part (also called REM or dream sleep), it is for your brain.
Up until recently, I denied myself my last cycle of sleep. In other words, my brain didn’t get that last bit of regenerative time it has needed to function at full capacity. The result:
- Crankiness/short patience
- Increased anxiety/worry
- Decreased mental sharpness/productivity
- Memory loss
- Frazzled mama/mommy brain
- Lack of energy/motivation
- You get the idea
And so I started making sleep a priority. Simple right? I now get 8–8 ½ hours most nights. And the difference is astounding. I can honestly say I don’t miss that extra hour in the day one bit because during my time awake I am so much more energized.
Strategies for More Sleep
I know, I know, you’ve got a million excuses for why you can’t make more time for sleep, or even if you do, you can’t fall asleep. I never said it was easy. But consider some of the following strategies and see if you can’t make some small changes:
- Increase the amount of time you sleep in small increments (in other words, don’t jump from five to eight hours a night because your body will not adjust well).
- Experiment to find how much sleep you actually need versus what you’ve been forcing on yourself. Try to sleep for as long as you can without an alarm (do the math; you’ll have to either get up later or get to bed earlier).
- Stop drinking caffeine after lunch.
- Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Follow a calming nighttime ritual. This might include activities that trigger your brain into “shut-down mode” like dumping all of your thoughts onto a piece of paper so you can save your worries for tomorrow. Make a mental “turn off” point.
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, dark and tidy to make it more relaxing (if you have a night owl husband, I highly recommend earplugs and an eye mask!)
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- If you have babies or other things that wake you up, try to compensate. Give yourself even more time to sleep in or go to bed earlier. Take short naps. Try to adjust your work schedule. Ask for help from your husband or support network so you can find the time you need to rest.
- Keep a sleep diary and track your patterns throughout the day so you can identify what might be causing sleep deprivation (I recommend this one).
Now, as I said in the last section, some people are suffering from more complex health conditions, whether mental, physical, or often both. If this is you, seek help from a medical professional. If they don’t have the answers, ask another one. Don’t stop searching for answers.
These are all simple strategies. The hardest part is deciding, or giving yourself permission, to follow them.
2. Choosing Rest for Your Mind
On any given day, I have been known to misplace my keys, phone, wallet, purse, watch, glasses and a number of small accessories. I find myself spacing out during important conversations and making thoughtless decisions. And like many women in my station in life, I identify a single culprit.
Mommy brain: The phenomenon known to mothers where their brains become useless piles of goo after being around their children for too long (Urban Dictionary).
Funny as it is, there is actually scientific evidence that overstimulation, in combination with sleep deprivation, does, in fact, turn your brain into a useless pile of goo as far as intellectual capacity is concerned.
Not only do we have the normal pressures of stress and sleep deprivation that just come with the role, but modern moms also have another factor working against them. What do you do when you have a moment of breathing room in the middle of your day? I’ll admit it: I reach for my phone.
But it’s like drinking salt water when I’m already dehydrated. While there’s nothing wrong with checking in with an app or a message, it does little to nothing to provide the recharge that my heart and mind desperately need. What’s more, it can actually hurt me.
- Excessive social media use interferes with clear thinking and decision-making and leads to lower self-control, impulsive buying and poor eating decisions.
- It’s also associated with higher BMI, binge eating, a lower credit score and credit card debt.
- “Milkshake multitasking” (specifically overstimulation from screens) prevents focused thought, which opens us to shallow judgments and decisions, along with passive mindlessness. (Source: Switch On Your Brain by Caroline Leaf)
Related post: Social Media Addiction: 20 Strategies To Break It
To sum it up, we have a lot of factors working against us. That’s why we need to be very mindful of how we combat mental overstimulation in our hectic lives.
How to Banish Mommy Brain
I’ll be clear: electronics or being around our kids 24/7 isn’t the heart of the problem.
The problem is not prioritizing rest for our hearts and minds (in addition to more sleep).
It’s called wakeful rest. You’re not asleep, but your mind is disengaged from stimulation. You might be surprised at just how refreshing it is to just give your mind permission to wander.
Amazing things can happen when you daydream. (Personally, this is why I enjoy a looooong shower). Your brain processes everything that is jostling around in there. You start solving problems and having original ideas. You can approach the next task without feeling completely taxed.
If you don’t have that space, your brain can’t process all that it’s taking in over a given day (or longer). Combine this with sleep deprivation, and you have a guaranteed recipe for chronic mommy brain.
Sidenote: you might want to retain a little control when your mind wanders. If you’re prone to depression and anxiety, I suggest learning practices for guiding your thoughts in positive and productive directions.
Related post: How I Manage Anxiety with 5 Calming Steps
Remember that leaving space for mental rest also gives you the opportunity to pray and surrender all of your thoughts to God.
More Strategies for Mental Health
I know it’s hard to practice this kind of rest. I’m a work-at-home, homeschooling mom; quiet time for my overwhelmed mommy brain seems like an impossible dream on some days.
But here are a few suggestions for creating that much-needed space:
- Have set hours in your daily schedule when screens are off and phones are out of reach.
- Turn off your phone’s app notifications.
- When your mind is feeling taxed, give yourself permission to just stop what you’re doing and reflect or pray for a few minutes before continuing on with your task.
- Leave space in your daily schedule for breathing room. Don’t just jam as many tasks as possible into your limited free time. (Not sure where to fit it in? See The Ultimate Time Management Guide for Moms.)
- Ask for help when you feel like your head is going to explode. Have your husband or another friend or family member watch your kids for as little as ten minutes so you can get some time to think and reset.
- Find an enjoyable, restful activity outside of scrolling through your phone that you can do during downtimes, whether that’s listening to music, crocheting, gardening, cooking, etc.
For me, the biggest change I have made personally in this area is simply giving myself permission to stop and rest my busy mind. And because it’s a priority, I make sure that I have breathing room in my daily schedule.
A short but important note here: if you feel overwhelmed to the point of not being able to function—please don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional.
3. Choosing Soul Rest
Not too long ago, I hadn’t been to Sunday worship in about a month.
That’s weird for me because, with perhaps the exception of when my children were born, I have been quite the dedicated attendee for all of my Christian life.
I had excuses: being out of town and sickness on consecutive weeks. And while I was otherwise doing well spiritually (I mean I hadn’t committed any crimes or anything), I nonetheless felt a little…off.
Excited to return to the fold after my absence, my heart sank when I realized I was on rotation to teach in children’s ministry during the service. I can listen to the sermons online, but to be perfectly honest, hanging with kids is not my favorite way to spend Sunday mornings, considering I am herding children all the livelong day every other day of the week.
I couldn’t get out of this commitment, but I knew that I desperately needed spiritual food. So I had to assess: how could I continue to give, without falling into the trap of Christian burnout?
Understanding Christian Burnout
Let’s just call a spade a spade, okay? Christian burnout happens when you give and give and give for the spiritual good of others but you’re bone dry yourself. I’ve been there. A lot.
What’s tricky about it is that it looks like you’re doing well. You’re serving in your church; you’re practically laying down your life for your family; you’re reaching outward and helping people. You could even be reading your Bible dutifully and be doing everything “right.”
But inside, you’re feeling so overwhelmed that you’re like a bomb waiting to go off. All it takes is for your child to speak in that whiny voice or your husband to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and you snap in a quite ugly, non-Christ-like way.
How do we navigate these tricky waters: doing the work we know we’re called to, without wearing ourselves down? For me, a key answer to this question, once again, is rest. Specifically, soul rest.
Tips for Soul Rest
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4, NIV).
The word Sabbath means a deep rest, a deep peace. It’s a near synonym for shalom—a state of wholeness and flourishing in every dimension of life. When Jesus says, ‘I am the Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus means that he is the Sabbath. He is the source of the deep rest we need. He has come to completely change the way we rest. The one-day-a-week rest we take is just a taste of the deep divine rest we need, and Jesus is its source (Jesus the King by Timothy Keller, p. 44).
I like to make things complicated, but it’s really quite simple. Jesus. The beginning and the end. The source, the vine.
It’s hard to wrap my head around how this works, but I know if I am seeking Jesus, I’m pointed in the right direction. When I remain, or abide, with him, as he commands that we do in John 15, he works through me.
So what does this look like?
Unfortunately, I can’t provide a formulaic way to rest or a spiritual checklist that will answer that question. Resting in Christ is primarily about relationship, which is full of nuance.
But I can offer you some guidelines and principles that have helped me tremendously, and you can apply them to your own situation.
- Keeping the Sabbath: this concept has been all but foreign to me until a couple of years ago. I liked the concept, but I just didn’t see how it would work practically. But then I thought I’d do a little experiment. The need to rest was practically screaming at me from the scriptures, so…why not try it? For a 24-hour period each week, I do not check email or social media. I don’t do major housework, errands or work. I have found this simple practice to be the most powerful in helping me feel refreshed and Christ-centered as I start my week.
- Connecting with Christ: speaking with being Christ-centered, it takes intention. Taking communion, prayer, worship and digging into my Bible is an essential piece of my Sunday, even when I’m “serving” in children’s ministry or elsewhere. Focusing my heart and soul on the cross is not something I strive to do just weekly, but continuously. When I create space in my life for this kind of connection, I am much more likely to pray deeply, to examine my heart and to surrender my anxieties.
- Community: this one can be tough for me because I am indeed an introvert and, as I’ve indicated, I can burn out. But I need people, and they need me. Christ is in the church, and therefore to be connected to him, we must be connected with each other. True community for me goes well beyond saying hello in fellowship on Sunday. I have prayed with my friends and laughed and cried over coffee and lamented our weaknesses while marveling at the way God works. Without these kinds of connections, I’m disconnected from the vine.
As with every aspect of rest I’ve explored in this article, soul rest is a choice.
I fulfilled my commitment to serving the kids on that Sunday…but I didn’t suffer from Christian burnout. That’s because I deliberately started my Sabbath on Saturday night as I sat down for dinner with my husband. I opened my morning in prayer and took communion thankfully before teaching the kids. I enjoyed my time with then and then enjoyed lunch with my family and a friend.
And then I relaxed…entrusting God with my never-ending to-do list, abiding in him, and enjoying a piece of his creation (which on this particular day was a good book).
By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I was ready to take my week by the horns and give it my heart.
Want to Learn More About Facing Overwhelm…with Rest?
If you’re intrigued by the strategies I’ve presented in this article and want to dig deeper, I invite you to enroll in Choose Rest. This eCourse will help you learn how to take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually…so you can finally give more to your family without feeling overwhelmed and burned out.
Not ready for a full course? Be to check out my free email series on stress management, StressLESS, so you can face overwhelm and stress the godly way.
Leave a comment: are you feeling overwhelmed with life and motherhood? What’s one small step way you can choose rest and feel a little better today?