Anxiety, Work + Productivity: What To Actually DO When You’re Overwhelmed

I don’t know if it’s the time of year or what, but I’m feeling all kinds of anxiety lately. I guess there’s just lots happening right now – we launched Nutrition House Software last week and we’re gearing up for the rush of post-holiday meal plans at Designed to Fit Nutrition. It’s an exciting time for sure, but also super overwhelming. So, instead of drinking ALLTHEWINE to deal with the stress like I did this time last year, I’m taking my own advice and revisiting this blog post. Some of you guys might feel like you’re in the same boat – or have been in the past – so I just wanted to share it again. I hope you find it helpful. 

So, the start of 2017 was rough. At the New Year, we had a slew of Designed to Fit Nutrition clients ready to start their new meal plans, but our custom software wasn’t quite ready. We were initially told by the developers that it would be finished the final week of December, but, unfortunately, it was pushed to the first week of January and then to the second week. Thankfully, our clients were understanding, but it was not how we wanted to begin our relationships with them. Once our software was ready to go, Kerrie and I scrambled to make meal plans.

And then there was this whole Carrots ‘N’ Cake business that I run, which is a big part of our family’s income, and I was barely doing any work for it. I also had Qman home with me two days a week, so, my work time was limited. I woke up every morning dreading the day because my To Do list just got longer and longer and more and more overwhelming, and I didn’t know how to do it all. I did my best to squeeze in extra hours of work when I could—in the early morning, late at night, and on weekends—but I just couldn’t keep up. I was spreading myself too thin, and I couldn’t work anymore than I already was, both physically and emotionally.

On all fronts, I was falling apart. January and February included a whole lot of crying, irritability, sleepless nights, stress-eating, and wine-drinking. Not surprisingly, my body had a negative physiological response… eczema, acne, weight gain, and feeling like my heart was about to pop out of my chest on more than a few occasions. Emotionally, I was a mess. I was cranky, distracted, and totally on-edge. I was frantic when I worked because there was just so much to do. I wasn’t the fun-loving partner and mom that I used to be. Basically, I was a terrible version of myself, and I didn’t like the person who I had become.

One night (looking back, it was probably my rock bottom), Mal reminded of me of the words that I’ve used again and again on this blog: If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. I knew he was right, but I didn’t what to do. Up until this point, I thought I could handle it all, but the more I tried to formulate some sort of plan to balance it all, I came up short. It was almost like the more I tried to plan and control the situation, the more stressed and overwhelmed I became.

Mal knows me better than anyone else in this world, and, thankfully, he realized that I needed something more than a supportive husband to manage my current situation. He suggested seeing a therapist, and it immediately sounded like a good idea. Even the thought of having a feasible option and not feeling so stuck helped me feel like I was moving in the right direction.

I made an appointment with a therapist just few days later. We immediately hit it off and she’s been a great resource for me ever since. I’m definitely someone who needs to take action when I’m stressed and overwhelmed, so we’ve spent a lot of time coming up with strategies to help me manage all of my different hats and find some balance in my life.

Over the past few weeks, I feel like my life has taken a really good turn. I’m still working a ton, but I’m starting to feel a lot more in control—and happy—thanks to a number suggestions from my therapist. Her ideas have really made a huge difference, and I no longer feel helpless to my situation, so I wanted to share them with you guys in the hopes that they might help you, too.

At the end of the day, make a prioritized To Do list + schedule for the next day

As I mentioned above, I used to wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread because I had so much to do. It was no way to start the morning, and it definitely set a negative tone for the rest of my day. Even after I was “done” with work, I’d obsess over what I still needed to do, which, not surprisingly, made me a distracted and cranky wife and mom.

Ok, so I’m a crazy list-maker. I also love my Google Calendar and use it for everything. Checking things off my To Do list and having my days planned out makes me feel accomplished and in control, so it’s almost like I combined the best of both worlds. Now, at the end of my workday, I wrap things up by taking 10-15 minutes to create a To Do list for ONLY the next day. I prioritize what needs to be done and then schedule these items into my Google Calendar. I’ll even plan when I walk Murphy and eat lunch, just so I know that I have time to do everything. For instance, if I need to edit a blog post and then promote it on social media, I’ll block off two chunks of time to keep me on schedule and make sure that both tasks get done. Having my day all laid out with everything I need to accomplish for the day makes it much more manageable, so I don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of it all. Seeing how everything fits into my day gives me a more objective perspective and helps cut down on the stuff that I’m actually worrying about.

Disconnect, but schedule times to re-connect

Completely disconnecting from CNC and DTFN isn’t a realistic option for me. The Internet never sleeps and my clients need me at all times of the day. I know that I don’t need to be “on” 24/7, but I wanted to find some sort of middle ground to make it all work. My therapist suggested making start and end times for my workday to give me more of a work-life balance. Then, in the evenings and on weekends, make it a point to put away my laptop and phone to disconnect, BUT schedule a couple of times to check-in and catch up with social media/emails/client messages. Truthfully, I’m still working on this and my attachment (especially to my phone) is habit that is hard to break, but I know when I’m not distracted and present with my family/friends, I’m a much happier person, so I do my best to disconnect on a regular basis.

Put work out of sight and out of mind

This idea of “out of sight, out of mind” goes hand-in-hand with disconnecting, and it’s made a huge difference in my anxiety level and temptation to work all the time. I used to have my phone on me ALLTHETIME, and my laptop would often end up on the kitchen counter, so I could finish “one more quick thing.” I recently started putting my phone in our bedroom and my laptop in my office upstairs when I’m home with my family. That way, they’re not constant reminders (and stressors) of what’s going on in my work life.

Gather data

This idea was a major “light bulb moment” for me. Two things that were really stressing me out: 1) SO MANY MEAL PLANS TO MAKE; 2) My income taking a nosedive. My therapist immediately tasked me with gathering data for these two stressors. She told me to time myself when I was making meal plans. How long did each one take? How many could I make per hour? How many hours would it take me to make all of my meal plans for the week? She also suggested talking to Mal to figure out what amount of income I would need to earn for our family to continue to live comfortably. When I had this data, my mind was no longer wandering to the worst case scenario, and it made things seem a lot less overwhelming.

Ask for help

No, seriously. I can’t stress this enough. Even when my therapist suggested more childcare, I mostly blew it off. I thought if I just worked harder, I could do it all and still have Qman home with me. It wasn’t until Mal pointed out that if Quinn went to daycare four (or five) days a week, I could work at a moderate/more manageable pace or I could continue to work at a frantic/insane pace three days a week, at night, early in the morning, and on weekends. For some reason, this really resonated with me, and it made me realize I’d be a much better and happier wife and mother if I had more dedicated work time. I could really shut off at night and on weekends and be much more present with my family instead of a chicken with its head cut off.

I hope you guys found these suggestions helpful and this blog post didn’t come across as super whiny. I’m really grateful for a wonderful and supportive family and couldn’t have asked for better jobs, readers, and clients. I know I’m lucky, but I just wanted to keep things real on CNC because life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, even if it seems so. I also wanted to give a shout out to the mental health professionals out there and bring light to the services that they offer. Not that I wasn’t aware of them; they just weren’t top-of-mind when I was trying to juggle it all. These strategies made a huge difference in my life when I felt totally overwhelmed, helpless, and, well, like a suck-y person, so I wanted to share my experience in case any of you are in the same boat and struggling.

Question of the Day

What do you DO when you’re feeling overwhelmed? 

98 Comments

  1. Congrats on your self awareness. Don’t beat yourself up if Quinn is in daycare more often. The benefits are better friends and great socialization. Pretty soon at pick ups he’ll tell you to come back later!!

    It’s all a tough balance and there are ups and downs. It’s great To take action to turn things around! Thanks for the honesty!

  2. There are so many things that I love about this! Not that you were feeling anxious or frustrated or overwhelmed, but all the rest of it. I’m an anxiety sufferer myself and so I LOVE that you got help EARLY. It took my YEARS to not only admit that I needed to see a therapist but to be open to it and make the appointment. I’ve been going for a year and was able to work through a lot of things and I have so many tools in my back pocket that have truly changed my life and I don’t think people really TALK about anxiety or the stress that life can take on us sometimes.

    Anyway…to answer your question, meditation has been my absolute saving grace! Whether I’m stressed or not, I’ve build this into my day and I am happier, more productive and more grounded. I now preach it from the roof tops!

  3. I really feel like it is so hard to find a good balance when working from home. I recently switched to full time at home and I am working way crazier hours, my house is messier, I forget to eat…when I was in an office I definitely still took work home, but it was so different and didn’t consume all areas of my life. Kudos for putting yourself on a more manageable path. I definitely need to set “work hours” and stick with them.

  4. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You expect to shop at Trader Joes, do cross fit, take your kid for walks and get paid?! Work is hard. Welcome to life.

    1. @Lol: Uh…. going to Trader Joe’s, doing CrossFit, taking your kid for walks, and getting paid to do work sound…. very normal and reasonable to me? Grocery shopping, working out, spending time with your child, and working for a paycheck are pretty basic parts of life. Snark fail.

  5. Thank you for this!!! I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed and stressed lately and these suggestions help a ton.
    What have you done to fix your “stress” symptoms?

  6. Thanks for sharing these tips! Especially being fairly new to blogging, trying to find time to write and test recipes, and keep up with posting when I’m limited to the evenings and weekends has been challenging, but I look forward to trying some of these out. Already making my to do list for tomorrow!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is so, so hard balancing work and caring for a toddler. I know that these are supposed to be the best years of our life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. So many people paint a picture of flowers and sunshine, and that’s just not always the case. I am glad you are taking steps to figure things out….kudos to you!

  8. Hi Tina!
    I also am a precision nutrition certified coach. I love food and fitness so it was a no brainer that I wanted to be in the field. I’ve got two kiddos at home and the amount of work I get done when they’re home is significantly less than when I have help. I know you send Quinn to daycare but days he’s home, you could employ a “Mother’s helper.” I have an awesome 12 year old come over who plays down to the level of my children. I’m home, but I can work. Sure there are interruptions, but less than if I were working with the kids and no help.
    Daycare may end up your route but wanted to offer a suggestion-I pay her $5/hour where our regular sitter is $15/hour when I leave to meet with clients.

  9. I hear you- I’m drowning in the world of stay-at-home-mom/works from home but can’t afford more than 4 hours of childcare a week. Ugh it’s the hardest challenge of my life so far!! My husband works out of the home 10 hours a day too but childcare in the Boston area is just too outrageous!!!!! The $80 we spend on the weekly sitter comes out of our grocery budget now too, so no more expensive grass fed meats and organic produce. Blegh when does it get easier?

    1. Girl, I hear ya. I can’t even believe what we’re spending on childcare. Qman is starting preschool in the next few weeks and the rate does go down quite a bit. It’s still not cheap, but better than what we’re paying now!

    2. THIS. We live in a suburb close to Cambridge and it’s ludicrous. My husband is also out of the home 10 hrs a day and I work from home and full time care for our baby with only 12 hours of a mother’s helper. I am so jealous of families that can afford daycare- i think it’s absolutely criminal what it costs!!!

  10. I can’t tell you just how much I love this post! Not because you’re going through a hard patch (duh!) but because you’re sharing it. I have anxiety and depression and they can totally get the best of me sometimes. Thank you for being open about going to therapy. It seems like things are glossier in the blog world these days and it sets an unrealistic expectation. I miss the days of less edited photos and more cruddy days (if that makes sense). Please ignore the haters and keep being real.

  11. are you in my head right now! haha. I’ve been having a serious moment of being overwhelmed and stressed…. and having “symptoms” of stress which just makes me more stressed!! and I don’t even have kids!!! it makes me feel like, wft am I going to do when I have kids! I know myself and things will get better – I’m just being overwhelmed right now and need to take steps to get back into my groove – nothing I haven’t felt before. At least I can recognize the issues and I can tell myself it will get better, andI have “tools” to fix the problems. But, still no fun to deal with!

    Good luck! Keep being your awesome self! 🙂

  12. Thank you for sharing the realness of your life with us! You’re doing a lot and wearing many hats. I’m glad you’re sharing the challenges you’re facing and how you’re overcoming them. I think readers really appreciate that!

  13. I think that the connectedness that comes from blogging is something that we all really underestimate. You’ve been blogging for so much longer than me and already I can see how overpowering social media can be. There’s this constant need to “check in” I guess.

    Glad you’re seeing someone and finding it helpful! Good luck Tina, I hope you’re able to find a work life balance you are comfortable with.

  14. Props to you for finding a way to make it work. I’ve been reading your blog for years and appreciate how you keep it real. You’re doing a wonderful job!

  15. Such an awesome post, Tina! Kudos to you for being so vulnerable publicly. I can so relate to this in everyway!

  16. Such a great post, Tina. I’m glad you are sharing your struggles and that your are getting help – it’s very inspiring. I am seeing a therapist as well because I went through something hard at the end of last year and it is helping me so much.
    I think all of these “tips” are great and something everyone can do and adjust into their lives. I know I need to be better at asking for help – it has always been really difficult for me and it still is but I am working on it, and I’ll keep working on it. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when you need it.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. My sister and I have been reading your blog for years but we’ve never left any comments. We both love your blog and felt this piece really rang true for both of us. Thanks for your honesty and for opening up.

  18. Tina, thank you so much for your honest and vulnerability in this post. We as women feel like we have to do it all – even when it’s making us frantic and unhappy. Thank you for putting such helpful suggestions out there on how to deal with that unrealistic mindset!
    Keep up the great work!

  19. This is the season of life you are in right now, but it will pass. I remember working full time with 2 preschoolers, and a husband who travelled out of town M-F every week. NO family members lived in our city. I was perpetually stressed out and depressed. One of the best things I did was hire someone to clean my house. Just having a clean house made me feel so much better.

    As my kids got older, I became more involved in my faith, and I also started taking yoga. The increased prayer time, and the stress relief from yoga was incredible. I wish I had done it earlier in my life.

    Good luck, and if you are a person of faith, please reach for it.

  20. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m not a mom, do not run my own business and I’m not starting a company (those statements sound so lame). But the point is, thank you for being open and REAL, is hard work doing any of the things you are doing right now and is not easy for us your readers to know all the stress and hard work that goes into making a living of blogging while taking care of a little one. Thank you for let in us know that not everything is perfect and easy.

  21. To do lists are an essential for me, however, when I’m overwhelmed I like to gather days. Taking a step back to asses where you spend your time and energy, and then opportunities is definitely a lightbulb moment.

  22. Thank you for sharing your story.

    As a life coach, I help people manage their energy now instead of their time. You may have time but if your energy is low it is super hard to push through, as you saw.

    Our days are like bank accounts, you only get so much energy when you wake up in the morning. We make withdrawals all day but we forget to make deposits. This leaves us with an overdrawn energy bank. We have to find things during the day put energy back into the bank. It may be something as small as taking 15 minutes out of your day and listening to an inspiring podcast or texting with a positive minded friend.

    My other tip for my clients is to make a list of your to do‘s and next to each task right is it a low energy, medium energy or high energy task. When you have some time in your hands and you need to trying to side what to do check in with how much energy you feel you have the time and choose a task from the list that matches your energy level.

    I am sure everyone can relate to your blog. With the holidays coming, stress is at an all-time high this time a year. Hope this tip that I just shared helps someone!

  23. This is why your blog is one of my favorites-so honest and relevant!

    Starting a blog is the easy part, maintaining is tough especially as your situation changes. I am amazed you are able to produce interesting content on a regular basis. I stop following so many blogs because they post so intermittently.

    Thanks!!!!

  24. I love the suggestion..ask for help.
    As a young mom I had such a hard time with this. Somehow I felt like if I asked for help I would seem weak because I couldn’t do it all…truth is..I couldn’t .The sooner I realized it.. the happier I became. When people offer help, it’s because they really want to.

  25. I hope this is ok to post, and please delete it if it is not allowed, but I am a licensed mental health therapist offering online text-based counseling at http://www.speakeasycounseling.com . Readers can get more information and message me at that site if they have any more questions. I remember the first time you posted this and am glad you shared it again because it’s a great reminder of how important self-care is to our general well-being. Thank you for sharing!

  26. Turning my phone on air-plane mode in the evening and during the night has done wonders for my sleep + cutting down my caffeine intake (I don’t feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest!)

  27. LOVE how transparent this is! I feel like setting boundaries is THE hardest thing to do in the world even though it’s the best thing for all parties involved. Whenever I start to lose sight of that I google “Brene Brown boundaries” and what she says always resonates with me. So glad to hear that things have turned around and you’re feeling more relief! XO

  28. Thank you for such an honest post! It’s so easy to become overwhelmed when you have so many things going on.
    I love that quote: “If you don’t like something, change it.”

  29. Hey there – the first paragraph you described about how you felt the beginning of 2017 is basically how I am feeling now. I have 3 kids (4,3 and 1) and I work full time, as does my husband. I’ve tried calling 4 therapists in the area and haven’t had any luck. From reading your blog for so many years, I know we are close in proximity. I wasn’t sure if you’d feel comfortable enough to e-mail me directly with whom you worked with. I can’t seem to find anyone to call me back! Thanks for your help, and no worries if you don’t feel comfortable. I totally understand!

  30. Hi Tina. Yes, an honest confession, indeed. Asking for help is tough for women, especially me. I don’t know if we’re supposed to give the impression that we can handle it all (because, we do – duh! 🙂 ) but just last week I was stuck at work and couldn’t get out my usual time to drive my daughter to piano. She was with my friend, whom I always walk her dog and do things for her and she would have been delighted to help, but I couldn’t ask her. Isn’t that horrible? I finally did and felt like it was a breakthrough for me. I’m all for therapy — as it has helped put me back together after my beloved mom died.
    I’m glad you wrote the last paragraph expressing your gratitude, because that is what my secret would be to get through the tough stuff. Sometimes it’s so easy to get trapped in the “stress” (that’s why I hate that word and hardly use it) that we just focus on that and lose sight of what’s important — having these fabulous jobs, kids, hubbies – houses — hoodies. Just last night on This is Us, when the hottie dad (forgot his name…) was overwhelmed, he dropped to his needs to the serenity prayer. So, not that I’ll do that, but i thought it was great to see how letting go when we are about to drop, is so freeing.
    And I”m happy to hear there are other emotional eaters out there besides me! Most of the people in my life don’t eat when they are anxious — I eat.
    Thanks for sharing, as always.

  31. This is an excellent post. I remember those days. I have a 15 and 12 year old and have always worked from home. My husband works a lot. It is really hard as women and moms. I find that when you are in the middle of it that it can be hard to see what changes need to be made or find a good solution. I think it is great you went to a therapist. It sounds like you found a good one that was very helpful. Also I find the unplugging thing is even more important with kids at my age since modeling being on electronics all the time is not great in my opinion. Great job in being proactive and thanks for sharing.

  32. Thank you for your transparency. Stress is something we can all relate to, and it’s refreshing to see a fellow blogger open up about it! I type this as my right eye twitches from – you guessed it – stress! Whew. I recently started devoting more time to me. I have down time during my day when I get home from work before my boyfriend does, but it usually involves cooking dinner, drafting blog posts, catching up with friends and family, etc. Sometimes, in the mornings when I wake up for a workout and I’m feeling too overwhelmed to function, I call for me time. My boyfriend will go off to the gym or sleep in, and I’ll sit in the living room and “meditate” in silence with my iced coffee and a lit candle. It’s a beautiful time.

  33. Your sharing this makes what I have felt feel less heavy. I’m nodding like crazy and feel I couls have written these paragraphs, too. My husband also suggested seeing a therapist when I felt at a loss and doing so really helped me shape a healthier emotional and physical life. I use lists, too, and what a difference. Eating as healthy as often as I can helps me a lot, and doing things that I enjoy – like reading your blog or taking time to call a friend – even if I don’t think there is “time”, give me perspective and are calming.
    Your ambition and execution are very inspiring to me and I really appreciate how you are going after it! I’m always cheering for you and think your businesses are needed and will benefit many people. Big kudos, and thank you for being honest.

  34. Tina I truly admire and appreciate the in-depth way you share certain personal aspects of your life that you feel can really help others. This post on mental health/the good therapy can do is one example, and so is your openness about dealing with IBS, and with hormone regulation, and also all your posts on the importance of financial responsibility. These are topics that can kind of get “hushed away,” and people sometimes feel embarrassed or ashamed about them. But they are SO important! So good on you for using your public platform in this way.

  35. Don’t worry about daycare. It’s the reality of working parents and there’s no way around it. When our little one started out it was horrible for me as well since he can be really shy and didn’t like all the new people. But now he’s made friends, loves spending the day with them and has overcame a lot of his insecurities and fears so I’m actually glad we went through all that instead of him staying home with his parent or grandparents.
    As far as conquering the overwhelming times goes I first let myself panick a little. Then I sit down, do an overview of my priorities and available time, make a plan and then just do my best. Some things I just let go of and add them to a someday/maybe list, some make the plan but then fail at execution time and all I can do is try to accept that. Which is hard, I’m used to getting things done and getting my way.
    Thanks for the honest post!

  36. Seriously feel like I wrote this… you took the words right out of my mouth and this feels like my 2017 as well – lots of stress & one crazy mama/wife! We actually decided to put my son into daycare 5 days a week too & it has definitely helped with the work / family time separation! I hadn’t considered going to a therapist, but now I am seriously considering it. I’m so glad she has helped you out so much and I am SO THANKFUL you wrote this post! Very helpful and encouraging to know I’m not the only one feeling like 2017 was one tough year. I’m definitely looking forward to 2018 and a lot less anxiety! Seriously, thanks again for this post!

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