Feeling overwhelmed? Try a new mantra

Earlier this summer I admitted to being stuck in a bit of a funk.

An unexpected shift in our child care situation combined with my own ambiguity about “fixing” it with anything other than me, left me feeling totally overwhelmed by chaos and exhausted from working around the clock.

And until I came clean about it on the blog, I felt powerless and stuck – white knuckling it through each day.

Writing about my struggle was cathartic and transformative.

Not only did all of you make me feel better with your thoughtful and helpful comments, but taking a step back and dispassionately looking at the swirl of words on the page also made me realize I had a real focus issue.

I did have the power to regain control. And it was all in my mind. I

My Overwhelm Mantra

stressful mantras may be keeping you locked in a feeling of overwhelm
Do you know what a mantra is? Basically it’s a sound, syllable, word, or phrase that one repeats – traditionally in a quest for transformation.

My dad, a big believer in Transcendental Meditation, taught my brother, sister and me to meditate at an early age. I think I was about 6 when I got my first mantra and learned how to meditate. We were supposed to do it for ten minutes, twice-a-day. Confession: I understood the practice intellectually, but I totally hated doing it. I was too fidgety. My hips hurt when I sat criss-cross-applesauce for more than a minute. And I pretty much thought the mantra I was taught was bo-ring.

I can remember hiding in the attic or on the roof when dad would come looking for us to meditate with him at the end of each day.

Nonetheless, the fundamentals stuck with me. And over time, I came to appreciate the power of a mantra to quiet the mind and regain a productive focus. I have used it most often and effectively as an adult when I want to throw cold water on anger’s hot embers.

I digress.

As I reflected on my situation earlier this month, it hit me like a blinding flash that I was unconsciously repeating an energy-depleting, soul-sucking mantra.

You see, I was SO focused on my mile-long to-do list that I literally would walk around with the words, “ohmyGOD I have SO MUCH to get done today!” looping around and around my sleep-deprived brain from the time my eyes opened in the morning until the moment my head hit the pillow.

Just like a mantra.

And clearly, it was transformative. My reality was that I was completely and totally overwhelmed. And unhappy. And stuck.

A Mantra Experiment

Once I realized the power of my subconscious loop, I became determined to swap out my soul-sucking phrase for a positive one.
customizeable gratitude stone via: Etsy

Once I realized the power of my subconscious loop, I became determined to swap out my soul-sucking phrase for a positive one.

So over the past few weeks, I’ve run some new mantra experiments.

The first two weeks, I literally just swapped one phrase for another and tried looping it. Here are three that felt true and were easy enough to loop:

1. Who will I choose to be today (or right now)?
2. Thank you God for this day. How can I honor you with it?
3. I am so lucky. Thank you.

I would spend the first five to ten minutes after waking up just repeating those words. And if I felt my mind wandering in a negative direction during the day, I’d turn to them again. At night, I’d take the last five minutes before bed and reflect on them one last time.

Holy cow what a difference it made.

Especially the second phrase. Rather than focusing on a litany of to-do’s and requirements, my brain started to focus on all of the abundance in my life. How much joy our family has (and ways I could add to it). How talented the team at Buttoned Up is (and ways to showcase that). The amazing people I get to interact with – virtually and in person.

I could feel myself getting unstuck. And even though I got it intellectually, I still am kind of awestruck by the power of a simple thought.

The third week, I tried a slight variation on the above. I realized that the days my “mantra” included a question were much more productive and happy. I think it is because my brain takes the question as a directive to go and find answers to it.

So I made a list of 5 questions and have been starting each day with one of them.

1. What can I happily contribute at home and at work today?
2. What am I grateful for (at home/at work/in my personal life)? How can I convey my gratitude for those things today?
3. Thank you God for this day (or moment). How can I honor you with it?
4. Who am I going to choose to be today (or right now)?
5. What actions today will truly make our home/buttoned up/my life better?

I’m not sure which technique is more effective yet. Both approaches have dramatically shifted my experience of daily life for the better. Rather than feeling at the mercy of a never-ending to-do list, I have reclaimed control over my time. And…

The laundry is currently all folded and put away.
The kitchen counters are clean.
I am going to bed at 10pm instead of 2am.
I am able to ask others for help when I need it.
We are eating homemade dinners most nights again.
I got more work done in July than I did the previous month.
I am at peace with my to-do list.

The one other question I start each and every day with now is, “What time am I running today.” (or at bedtime I ask, “What time am I running tomorrow?”)

Guess what. I haven’t missed a day since I started asking myself that question.

Are you at the mercy of a sub-conscious mantra? Have you ever experimented with this kind of thing? If so, I’d love to hear what worked for you!

  • Jessica McMullen

    Congrats and awesome! The voices in our own heads are often the most difficult ones to deal with 🙂 I am glad you have found some great ways to break through that.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Thanks @jessica_mcmullen:disqus! 🙂 It definitely feels WAY better in my head today than it did a month ago today.

  • Maria Knight

    Really need this as I often tell myself ” I am so overwhelmed ” or ” there’s just too much to do ” etc ., & I definitely need a better approach . And I have found it right here . Woo Hoo !! Many Thanks Sarah .

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Keep me posted Maria on what works for you! XO

  • Ann O

    It’s so interesting. I read your post this morning just after I started reading the book, “Buddha’s Brain” about the intersection of neuroscience and contemplative practices. I’m about as far from a contemplative person as you can get, but I can’t help but think the universe is trying to tell me something!

  • Sara

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you so much for posting this!

  • SarahButtonedUp

    I think it might just be! 🙂

    I have that book in my reading queue, too. Can’t wait to crack it… I’m endlessly fascinated by the impact the emerging field of neuroscience has on every day things – like staying organized.

    Ommmmmm. 😉

  • SarahButtonedUp

    So glad it spoke to you!