Overwhelmed and overworked? Are you over these too?


Last week I went away with my family and got to enjoy some sunshine. Being out of my normal routine is always a useful insight into stuff for me.  What I noticed on this holiday was my natural tendency to ‘over’ and I’m sharing it as my guess is that if you’re in the Wisdom For Working Mums’ community then you might have this tendency too.

I go into a holiday looking forward to the rest and relaxation.  But a good friend of mine once told me that she doesn’t call a holiday ‘a holiday’ anymore, because after children she no longer gets to relax and replenish!  She calls it ‘making memories’ because often it’s about managing little people’s wellbeing (emotional, physical and mental) but in an unfamiliar environment.  This isn’t always relaxing and doesn’t always feel like a holiday – can you relate?

This holiday I noticed that I was getting stressed.  More than necessary and more than made sense. I was in the sunshine not having to work, cook or clean for goodness sake – what was going on!?  Then I noticed it – it was those damn ‘overs’ at play again. I was overfunctioning.

Do you overfunction too?  You’ll recognise if you overfunction if:

  • something needs to get done at work and you just do it 
  • someone in your life is struggling with something and you feel responsible to help them
  • you have a secret (or not so secret) belief that if something needs doing, it won’t get done unless you do it

Are you nodding your head?  Does this feel true for you?

The other signs of over functioning are:

  • Feeling overly responsible for everything and everyone
  • Over helping – rescuing others even if they didn’t need or want you to
  • Over delivering – going above and beyond what’s needed or expected
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed 
  • Being over organised – planning and perfecting everything
  • Feeling overly concerned for everyone’s happiness

Overfunctioning is basically doing more than is necessary, more than is appropriate and more than is healthy. 

These characteristics are often rewarded and appreciated in our culture though. You might hear feedback like “I don’t know how you do it all!?”, “You’re superwoman!”, “You’re amazing to juggle it all, you’re incredible!” which can be dangerous as they validate and reinforce our overfunctioning.

If like me, you’re an overfunctioner then it’s really important to balance this out.  Because it becomes exhausting and can too easily lead to burnout. And just like my experience on holiday shows, even when you get away in the sunshine (if you keep doing what you’re doing) you can’t escape from it.  Changing your external situation doesn’t give you the relief you might desperately need unless you change from the inside.

So how do we move though from over functioning to optimal functioning?

Step 1:  Become aware.  When I did my training in Gestalt (a type of therapy) I found it really reassuring to realise the awareness on it’s own can be enough.  Just noticing it can give us the choice to do something different.

Awareness in and of itself is curative.

Fritz Perls (The Grandfather of Gestalt Therapy)

Also that awareness can give you insight into the situations, people or things that trigger you into over functioning.  Do you do it more at work or more at home? Do you do it more when certain people are around? Do you do it more when you’re tired or hormonal?Just start to notice. 

Step 2:  Stop doing stuff! I know that sounds really simple, I know you can do more but can you do less?  If the thought of doing or giving less to a situation makes you feel uncomfortable then this suggests you don’t have a choice.  That it’s a rigid behaviour that’s potentially controlling you and you don’t have choice and control of.

We have the personal power to change this dynamic. It comes down to prioritising with courage and conviction what matters most to us, then building the boundaries to focus on this.  And leaning into the discomfort that comes from letting go of the rest.

Step 3:  Building your village. If you’re overfunctioning it’s also likely that you’re not great at asking or receiving help from others.  You probably see it as a weakness to ask for help and will probably turn down the offer of help from other people.  But it was never meant to be that way and it’s not a sustainable way of being in the world. We’re meant to be interdependent.  So actively look for opportunities to ask others to do things for you. Don’t rob them of the opportunity to help you. And don’t steal the experiences that allow them to stand in their own power and ability to do things for themselves.

Step 4: Make fulfillment the goal not achievement. Oooh this is a biggy.  If like me you believe the path to fulfillment is through achievement then this one might feel really tough.  The questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is my current way of living bringing me any happiness and sense of fulfillment?
  • Do I have the freedom to focus on what matters most to me? 
  • Am I proud of the way I show up in the lives of my loved ones ?
  • Do I like the way I treat myself?

If not, then we have to use a different measure of success.  We have to have a different way to walk in this world. It can be hard if that’s the way we’re used to doing and being. But it’s how we unhook ourselves from the overfunctioning behaviour. 

So let today be the start of a new way.  For the next week let’s do an experiment together. Let’s make fulfillment and well-being our measure of success, and let’s see what difference that makes.

Let me know as we’re in this experiment together! 


We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!

We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.


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