Tag Archives: stress

BOOK REVIEW: Overwhelmed, by Brigid Schulte

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

by Brigid Schulte, 2014

KathyThis book stressed me out. Just sitting on the sofa reading Brigid Schulte’s descriptions of how thoroughly Americans are tying themselves in knots, trying to do it all, made my body respond with the same rush of adrenaline it usually sends me for things like hosting Doodlebug’s birthday party. No one wants to live like that. So how can we fix it?

Schulte, a journalist at the Washington Post, explores solutions to the condition she calls “the overwhelm” – that feeling of complete imbalance we manage to achieve while trying to be the perfect employee/spouse/parent/person. She looks at factors that drive the stereotypes of the Ideal Worker and the Ideal Mother and shows how our society has placed them at odds.

Since women have entered the workforce, we’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to meet both of these standards. And as Schulte points out, men are also being pulled in opposing directions as they become more involved parents. So what loses out? Among other things, taking time for oneself. By now your introvert alert system should be flashing DANGER DANGER DANGER.

And there’s more! Multitasking, time fragmentation, overscheduling our kids, parental leave policies, gender roles. This book points out so many problems with the way we live, but in the end there are so many potential solutions. And the good news is, many of the strategies Schulte explores will seem familiar to introverts. We have something of a head start in (and maybe a biological imperative for) seeking balance. But I still found a lot that was useful, enlightening, and just plain fascinating.

There are three main sections to the book: work, love, and play. Each one deserves its own post, but I’ll try to pull out the parts that spoke to me the most.


One of the most important points in Overwhelmed was that flexible work schedules help everyone, not just parents, and I hope things will change as more people realize that. Maybe you need to leave early because your kid is performing in the kindergarten play, or maybe you have no kids and it’s just a nice afternoon for a bike ride. Or maybe you DO have kids and you just want to go for a ride before they get home from school. Any of these reasons should be okay, as long as you’re getting your work done.

Schulte talks a lot about the culture of face time and ways to break away from it – sometimes you have to be in the same room with your co-workers, other times it doesn’t matter. iDad and I are both very lucky to work from home, and I know that’s key to maintaining our family’s balance. Things were much more chaotic when he left every day for “the office” and had to travel several times a year. I don’t miss it one bit.


Schulte is honest about her marriage and the unsatisfactory division of labor she and her husband drifted into after they had kids. So it’s important to set clear expectations with your partner and reevaluate as you go. It seems way too easy to shift into traditional gender roles as new parents. I know this happened with iDad and me, mostly because I was home full-time. And it was a surprise, because up until then we’d had a pretty good division of labor. I think that, for introverts especially, it’s key to be part of a strong team with your spouse and talk about this. A lot.


Take time for play, without the dose of guilt for focusing on something besides your kids, your spouse, or your job. Introverts know this one, but personally I still struggle with it, and Schulte has a lot of interesting evidence that women have never really had much of a “leisure culture.” But she makes such a good case for the importance of play that I almost felt tempted to try one of the crazy moms’ playgroups she writes about. Or maybe I should just find a book club instead. Introvert fun is still fun!


So is this book worth the blood pressure spike? I say yes — if we can get this balance right, or at least take steps to improve, that will be really good news for our kids, both now and when they have to navigate this crazy landscape themselves.

— Kathy

Bonus materials:

Schulte’s web site at the Washington Post has links to articles she’s written, many about aspects of work/life balance. She also has a personal website with a blog and more info about the book.

Happy Thanksgivukkahmas!

The first night of Hanukkah is tomorrow.  Thanksgiving is two days away and Christmas is closer than the Moms care to admit. We’re a little stressed just writing the word “holiday.”

Fortunately, we have a plan.

Kathy My version of a perfect holiday season goes something like this: Sweet potato casserole. Pumpkin pie. Menorah. Latkes. Christmas music. Cookies. Gingerbread house. Charlie Brown, the Grinch, and Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. More cookies. My ceramic light-up tree. Snow that looks pretty but melts before I have to drive in it. Visiting family. More cookies. Movie night on New Year’s Eve. 

Luckily, Doodlebug and iDad are happy with this holiday scenario, too. And when I lay it out like this, it seems perfectly obtainable. (Except for the weather. The snow gods have not smiled on us in recent years.) But I know I need to plan ahead if I want to keep the focus on the things I love and not get sucked into the holiday maelstrom. Some strategies: 

  • No malls. This is a new one for me this year – in the past we’ve cut way back on shopping stress by limiting the number of presents we exchange and by planning fun trips with our families in lieu of gifts. This year I want to focus more on gifts we (or our talented friends) have made, or things we’ve found at local shops. I’ve decided I’m not setting foot in a mall again until 2014.  

  • Letting go of certain traditions. For the past five or six years we’ve done an advent calendar with a mini stocking for each night – Doodlebug would either get a candy cane, a note about a fun holiday activity we’d do that day, or materials for a craft project. Last year, though, I ran myself ragged trying to come up with new fun things that she mostly wasn’t interested in doing anyway. This year I bought an advent calendar with chocolate inside. Done.  

  • Saying yes, with care. This can be risky — Christmas caroling with the Brownie troop? I have a bad feeling about this — but I also want to be sure Doodlebug gets to spend time with other kids this season. As the only grandchild in the family, I know she’ll be logging a lot of time with grown-ups. So yes, we’ll go caroling. And we’ll be at the neighborhood holiday party. And maybe, if the snow gods cooperate, she and Princess Slim can break out the sleds. Hot chocolate and cookies at my house afterward.

— Kathy

tiffany_head_256 Is anyone immune to holiday stress? Anyone? Bueller?

I’ve been feeling anxious and melancholy lately. The latter is attributable to missing my family, which I’m not going to see this year; the former is … well … hmmm.  There’s baking card-writing decorating shopping wrapping to do in addition to regular home and work responsibilities. There are babysitters to hire and parties to attend. And Dreamy’s birthday to plan. Inhale, count to ten, exhale. Repeat.

As a kid I remember feeling the same way even without all the adult responsibilities mentioned above. My parents attributed my crabbiness to being afraid that Santa wasn’t going to leave me any presents. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Way to throw gasoline on the fire.

While the fear of no gifts undoubtedly contributed to my moodiness, between holiday music program rehearsals and performances, family activities, school, and travel is it any wonder I was a pint-sized stressball? Looking back the connection between Little Grouchy Tiffany and Big Grouchy Tiffany is clear:  not enough downtime.

So, this year the holidays will be different. I will not, for example, succumb to the siren call of holiday craft projects. Store bought tinsel? Fine. I will not attempt spritz cookies, with their mercurial dough and dungeon-worthy cookie press. Bakery treats? Absolutely. I will not attend every party or dinner to which I am invited nor will I stress about making everything perfect for everyone. I will do my best, but that does not include draining my energy tank to mission-critical low levels.

Here’s what I will do:  plan activities for the kids to do while they are on break. Playdates, museums, and a day trip or two. I will bake and cook but not to the point of exhaustion. I will take naps, preferably with Lunchbox in his tiny twin bed. I will drink wine and watch movies (“Skyfall” arrived on Netflix last week.  Double-O YES). And I will hopefully arrive at 2014 feeling happy, healthy, and infinitely grateful for the many marvellous things with which I am graced.

Daniel Craig, that includes you.

— Tiffany