Stuck in Survival Mode – how I found my way out

So after my post the other week, I think a few people might have been a bit worried that I was completely loosing it. But the funny thing is that although, ok that weekend kinda sucked in some ways, I was actually in a really good place when I wrote that post because I knew that life was heading in a good direction and my grumpiness that Saturday morning was mostly just frustration that circumstances were stopping me from doing what I needed to do and going where I needed to go and although I had all this intention to start changing my life… the momentum hadn’t really got going yet. Have you ever felt like that before? I think I’ve felt like that on and off for a long time actually. Having young children and babies that are breastfeeding and up in the night often… a lot of the time I felt that I knew what I needed to do, but I couldn’t do it. I was stuck being too tired to exercise, or too busy to clean my house properly, or I had a baby that was stuck to me 24/7 like a little koala bear in a wrap and I couldn’t possibly cook healthy meals etc. etc. It’s a horrible feeling. And a lot of the time it’s true, when you are in one of those really hard seasons of life like when you have a little baby, or lots of young children, you can’t change your circumstances, you can’t make a baby sleep through the night and not want cuddles all day long (sorry if you’re still under the illusion that it’s all just down to a good routine… it’s not. But don’t worry they grow out of it!)  and you just have to go with it for a while and let go of the other things.

It’s that feeling of being in Survival mode isn’t it? It’s an all too familiar feeling here and I spent many weeks last year thinking ‘I just need to make it to Friday 5pm’, feeling like there was no point trying to stay in control of my house, my children, my weight! It all just felt too hard. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, I knew the messiness and clutter was making me feel down, I knew I needed to eat better and exercise to improve my mood… but there were so many barriers in my way. All I could do was keep the kids fed, happy and clean-ish, and try to keep my mood lifted in anyway I could.

When the weekend did role around I felt about 1 million times happier with my husband, my rock, by my side… but I was still in that place of complete overwhelm. I wouldn’t know what to do first, the house was always a huge mess and the shopping needed to be done, 9 times out of ten the kids were playing up too, but I also wanted to chase our blues away by getting out for some fun and adventure. Most of the time the fun and adventure won out, which I’m glad of because amongst the chaos we made some really lovely memories last year, but it also meant that I started Monday morning right back at square one, ready to begin the cycle again.

For a long time I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me, I knew I had everything I had ever wanted, three gorgeous children that I was lucky enough to stay at home with, a house that had the space we needed, financial security and the most amazing supportive Husband…. so why wasn’t I happy? On paper, everything looked great, but I felt out of control of it all.

As Ernie got older, slowly but surely I managed to claw my way back out of survival mode, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s like we’d forgotten how to live an organised life, the only routines we had were were really bad unhealthy and unproductive ones that we’d fallen into and and we had mountains of clutter all over the house that we hadn’t had the energy to deal with until now.

But before I could begin to tackle any of that, I had get my mindset out of survival mode.

Everything is still a work in progress, we still have bad days and shouty moments and messy house weekends… but I don’t feel stuck anymore. I don’t feel like this is the way it always has to be and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’m sure I’m not completely unique in this situation, so in case someone happens to stumble across this post that any of this is relevant to, here’s some of the ways that I got my head out of survival mode and started to feel like I was able to move forward with the things that were holding me back.

 

Give yourself a project

In November last year I suggested we decorate the kitchen. Carl said he immediately knew that was my little chink of light and he jumped on it straight away, buying the paint the next day and getting started that weekend. We’d moved in a bout a year before, a few weeks away from having Ernie and hadn’t had time to decorate anywhere since but I suddenly realised I was desperate for the four walls I spent so much time within to feel more like ‘me’. Our kitchen is small, so we managed to completely transform it in one weekend, which was such a blessing. Managing to get something like that done, even with three kids running around felt like a big achievement and I was so happy with the results. For a while, I smiled every time I walked into the kitchen. Over the next few months we did a couple more rooms and I started to feel content to be at home because I liked my surroundings more and also I had a lot of more of a sense of ownership over it. Having a project is so great because you feel like you’re winning at something, even if keeping on top of your whole house/life is just too much right now. You can choose any project you like but make sure it’s something that makes you feel like you’re moving in the right direction. The other project I had last year was my blog, but that didn’t help because really it was a deflection and a distraction from the real work I had to do in my home. My blog gave me the purpose I was searching for and made me feel better for a little while, but it didn’t fix anything long term and it felt like I’d jumped into a hamster wheel of blog writing and social media promotion that I couldn’t get out of and actually ended up adding to my stress hugely.

Do 1 new thing

Want to change your life? Start doing 1 new thing today. Our intentional actions become habits and habits build up to become routines, and routines become the anchors that keep us from flailing around in our lives feeling out of control. Once you’ve conquered one new thing, add another. Some of the habits I’ve integrated into my life are drinking more water (I actually had to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to drink every 2 hours to start with but it worked and I feel so much better when I’m hydrated), getting up earlier (not one to try until your kids are sleeping ok), putting a wash on everyday – the key to this is to make it habitual, I always put it on while I’m making dinner, then get it out and hang it up after dinner while we’re tidying up. The next morning Carl takes it down and puts the airier away and at some point during the day I put it away. I know it’s pretty dull to talk to you about my washing routine but it’s a daily habit that means that I never feel overwhelmed with laundry mountain and I can always quickly and easily find clean clothes for my kids when we need them.

Fill your head with positivity

I love to listen to podcasts while I’m cooking, cleaning or getting on with things around the house. It gives me a bit of motivation to actually do those things and I also just find them really inspiring and encouraging. In these podcasts I feel like I’ve finally found people who are like me, which is good, because I was starting to think I was an oddball on my own.

My favourite podcasts are: Cohesive Home Mindful Parenting in a Messy World The Purposeful Home At Home

I also have to give a shout out to Fearn Cotton’s brilliant book Happy which is full of uplifting practical advice to just be a little bit happier. I love this book and I urge you to read it.

Meditate on the person you want to be

Meditation sounds like a bit of a scary word but it’s not at all really. All you have to do is sit down and close your eyes. The way I do it is to concentrate on my breathing and while I’m sitting, just notice which thoughts pop up. I don’t try to solve them or start having an internal conversation with myself about them, I just notice them and then let them pass. This bit gets easier the more you do it. Then I choose a word for the day, something that I want to concentrate on for that day. For a day with my kids, it’s usually something like ‘fun’ or ‘patience’ or ‘kind’. Then I just say that word to myself, I imagine it written down, I see myself being that thing. It sounds a bit kooky but it works for me. I use a timer and set it to a certain time, you can start low on just a few minutes and then increase it as you feel more comfortable with sitting alone with your thoughts. Headspace is also a great app to help you get started with meditation.

Write about it

I find it really helpful to write about how I’m feeling in a journal. Sometimes I write about my day on here or instagram, but the writing I do just for me is my most cathartic because I just get all my thoughts out of my head and onto paper without thinking about who will read it, and that somehow makes me feel lighter. My current practice is to write once a week about how I’m feeling and how the week has gone, the good bits and the not so good bits. It really helps me to get closure on the week that’s passed, whether it was amazing or a disaster from start to finish, and look forward to the week ahead.

 

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed and stuck? These are just a few things that helped me because the popular advice of making lists and prioritising tasks just didn’t really work for the kind of overwhelm I was experiencing, at least not initially. And it’s all about what actually works right?

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3 Comments

  1. May 25, 2017 / 6:59 am

    Thanks for sharing this Louise. 1 new thing is a great idea, it’s easy to think you’ve got to change x,y & z all at once to make a difference, but then you just end up failing, so changing just one thing until it becomes habit is much healthier. I’ve started using a timer for housework, so I set it for 20 minutes, do whatever I can then move on as before I was fretting about the state of the house but not achieving anything! I need to be better with water so maybe I’ll follow your lead on that one. So pleased you’re feeling better about everything xxx

  2. May 25, 2017 / 9:30 am

    I’ve been in a state of overwhelm for years and mine is all down to a lack of control. I like to be in control but the mess everywhere has left me feeling like my mind is as jumbled as the state of each and every room. I am slowly decluttering every room and it is making my mind feel less cluttered too. So glad you are feeling better and I love that Carl noticed a spark and rolled with it, so lovely. x

  3. May 25, 2017 / 7:00 pm

    I hear you. I might only have the one but I feel like around about eighteen months everything suddenly got A LOT easier – it wasn’t a struggle to fill the day or get (most of) the housework done or generally cope; there have been a lot fewer evenings when I’ve been standing at the window, waiting for Steve to appear home from work. When I think about a second child, I feel daunted by going through all those early months of feeling like the little things are out of control again.

    Also: daily laundry routines are [ever so boring but] wonderful.

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