The Happiest Year: Motherhood and Mental Clutter

The baby is almost out of diapers. Ugh, those crumbs in the carpet are driving me CRAZY! Did I pack any veggies in L’s lunch? Can’t forget Grandma’s birthday next weekend. Gotta call the doctor for all of us! It’s almost lunchtime. Oh that contractor will be here any moment! Poor babies, I’ve barely paid attention to them all morning!!

Does this influx of thoughts sound at all familiar to you?

If you’re like me, the mental clutter that comes along with all of our maternal duties can sometimes feel like a tidal wave.

The maternal mental load is so real, and the effects it can have on our mental health and wellness are, too. Mental clutter, or that constant ticker tape or “to-dos” and worries, can contribute to lack of focus, anxiety, and general unhappiness.

While researching for this post, I found a few articles regarding mental clutter in general…but tack on the words “and motherhood” to the end of that, and it’s like opening a massive closet full of actual clutter. Moms have A LOT to say about their cluttered thoughts, and I can relate! I find myself the most anxious and miserable when the most “things” are piled on my mental plate. I’m short with my kids and am more prone to anger and rage outbursts. I don’t enjoy my time with them when my mind is occupied by all of the things I still need to do (when really all I need to do is right in front of me). I feel more sluggish and actually less productive.

Mental clutter can completely overwhelm our true essence as mothers…so what can we do to reduce it? I’ve gathered a few tips, below!

Write It Down

I found this tip from several different sources, including a therapist of mine, and I know it’s true for me. Sometimes just letting the words flow out of us onto a piece of paper helps release us from them. It’s especially cathartic for me to write about future things I’m worried about, or things that have passed that I’m sad about but can’t change. Journaling helps prioritize, track symptoms of mood disorders, and help with self-talk (source) . Positive Paychology lists a myriad of ways journaling helps with mental health.

I also find it helpful to write down my long list of daily to do’s. Once they’re on the paper, I can release them from my memory and also…

…Check That Stuff Off!!

Sometimes I can put stuff off and put it off until it’s piled so high in my mental bank that I feel stuck under the weight of everything I have to do. Like I don’t even know where to start because there’s so much. Once, I was explaining this to my therapist and he simply said, “Well, why don’t you just DO some of it?” Blunt, but I took his words to heart and, more often than not, I feel immediate relief from mental clutter once I do just DO something off my list. I also tend to feel guilt for the things I’ve been putting off, like mailing a package to a friend or calling someone back, and so I continue to avoid it, which causes more guilt. Just DOING what I’ve been putting off always lets a little weight go!

Decide When to Give An F

I’ve decided this year to really be choosy about what I put on my plate, or what I give my “f’s” (yes, that f) to. With social engagements, appointments, children’s extracurriculars, holidays, long distance loved ones, and more, the list of expectations can pile up pretty quickly.

This year, from now on really, I am really trying to be mindful of what I say “yes” to. Is it something I really want to do? If not, is it something I really have to do? Some of the things I’ve found I can let go of are certain phone calls, birthdays of acquaintances, and extracurricular work functions we’re not too psyched about, among other things. A great TED Talk to watch about picking and choosing when to “give an f” can be found here.

Declutter Your Actual Clutter

Ok, guys, this January theme is “Clearing, Cleansing, and Refreshing”, so did you really think I’d get out of this post without talking about actually cleaning? But in all seriousness, in all the articles I’ve read so far, clutter tends to have serious affect on our mental health. According to my therapist and a local professional organizer that I had the privilege of working with this month (more on that later!), clutter tends to affect women in a household more than men.

Think about it: the more things, the more to worry about! The more clothes to wash, the more toys to pick up and keep track of for your moody 3 year old, the more kitchen gadgets to put away. And though I’d love to say that gender roles are equitable in this day and age, the reality is that much of the household cleaning falls on moms, and that moms feel more of the judgement behind a messy house than dads.

I am constantly trying to de-clutter, but even I find it hard to let go of some things. One quick tip I learned from Tracy Hayes of Miss Organized, a local professional organizer and feng shui specialist, is that if it’s not a solid “Yes, I love this” when you look at any object in your house…it doesn’t belong there!

Meditate

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but mindful meditation has really saved me in a lot of ways, including helping to clear my mind of mental clutter. When we focus on the here and now, we literally cannot think about all of the other things that always take up space in our brains. Research shows taking just 10 minutes a day for mediation can improve cognitive functioning. It definitely helps calm my anxious brain!

I do a daily mediation via the Calm App, but there are simple and quick mindfulness activities you can do throughout your day to escape your mental ticker tape. One commons exercise I like to use when feeling overwhelmed is a body scan. Starting at the top of your head, scan through your body and just notice how it’s feeling throughout. How does your head, neck, shoulders, torso, thighs, legs, feet, arms, and fingers feel? Notice any pain, tingling, heat, cold, or vibration? It’s important to really try to only “note” these things, rather than apply an emotion to them (“Ugh that annoying tingling is back!”). Once you get through your whole body, take a deep breath and wiggle your toes and fingers. Hopefully paying attention to your body has helped clear a little bit of your mental clutter!

Sloooooow Down

As moms, we tend to multi-task more often than not. I often find myself wondering what else I can get done while I do something else. Who can I call while cleaning? Can I stop by any store on my way to X?

But all of this multitasking can lead to unfocus and a scattered feeling, and do we REALLY need to be doing so much with our time? I’ve been learning to do one thing at a time, really focus on it…and not worry if I don’t get things done in a day. Sometimes it happens, and I’ve learned to apologize with a smile and be comfortable in saying, “Sorry, I had too much on my plate today.”

We only have so many minutes! Personally, my time is better spent engaged in the activity I’m doing, ESPECIALLY when it comes to family time, than trying to get a lot of things done at once.

Mostly, I just want you to know that if you experience overwhelm by all of the trillions of thoughts in your head at any given moment, your “mental clutter”…you’re not alone! I personally feel that humans were never meant to have all of the responsibilities we do these days, and it stretches our brains in ways they weren’t meant to be stretched…especially as moms.

I hope you found something valuable in today’s post. More on organization, including feng shui, next week with my conversation with Miss Tracy Paye from Miss Organized!

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