multithink

When mums multi-think: why we do it and how to stop

Parenting Editor Sophie Hamilton consults the experts

Sophie Hamilton

Do you ever have that feeling that your brain may explode from all the things you're trying to remember to do?

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Like many women, I'm a busy working mum who frequently finds herself multi-thinking. You know, that endless mental to-do list constantly whirling around your head. Yes, I have actual lists on paper and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy making them, but all the daily jobs still circulate in my mind.

A typical multi-thinking moment might go: make packed lunches, work, pick up kids, remember form to give to teacher, organise playdate, wash kids' sports kits, pick up more cat food, buy friend's birthday gift, pay cubs subs, book flu jab, work out what's for dinner, do school applications, call babysitter etc etc.

Then there are all the things my husband is thinking about too – it's not just us mums with busy brains. I ask him what's buzzing around his mind: he says work projects, family finances, kids sports clubs, DIY jobs, holiday bookings, sorting out insurance – the list goes on.

Frankly, it's exhausting - and we're a two-parent household sharing the load. I admire all single parents managing these huge to-do lists solo.

working-mum

It's almost impossible to switch off from all of life's admin, isn't it? I wonder if parents have always had so much to think about and remember or if the fast-paced nature of today's society is completely overwhelming us.

Are we trying to do too much or have we forgotten how to live in the moment?

Children seem to be busier than ever before. They have a huge range of after-school activities to choose from and there's that constant worry of not over-scheduling them, allowing their young brains some downtime at home. I'm baffled by their plea for daily playdates; I'm sure I didn't require this as a child.

Our social lives are now busy again after so long at home during the COVID-19 pandemic – we're all loving seeing friends in-person – and too right, isolating has majorly sucked. But with the invention of smartphones has come even more to think about: constant messages to answer and information to look at. It's not surprising so many people are going on social media detoxes.

So what do we do about this multi-thinking head spin we've got ourselves into? Do we just accept that's how life is now and learn to deal with it, or is there a way of shutting it off and becoming more organised?

I spoke to two experts from the parenting website Bloss for their advice on this modern-day phenomenon: Psychologist Dr. Nihara Krause and Conscious Family Coach Joanna Hunt.

What's going on when we multi-think?

Dr. Nihara Krause explains: "Mothers have always had to juggle a whole load of stuff but why is it more the case now? Is it that there's an imbalance or more demands on new mums these days?

"The transition to motherhood can be quite difficult. You are constantly 24/7 on-demand - that is the new role that you've taken on - but that doesn't mean you have to be 24/7 on-demand to all of these other tasks. That's one of the things to recognise – to set limits and boundaries. With it comes the mother-guilt bit, where you say: 'Is it ok for me to set limits and boundaries?'

"Of course multi-thinking can lead to burnout because people can overthink and over juggle, so feel really worn out. It can affect self-esteem and self-confidence because you can start to feel you can't deliver. Anything that's not in balance will have an impact on your mental health, and it can become a cycle."

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Joanna Hunt tells HELLO!: "Multi-thinking, overcomplicating, and worrying are so widespread and habitual in our modern world that they appear to be an almost 'normal' state of mothering. They are, however, an indication of burnout. In a simple form, if we are caught up in our heads, we aren’t living from our hearts.

"Multi-thinking prevents us from being in the present moment. And if we are not present, then we are unable to truly enjoy our time with our children and our children are unable to truly enjoy their time with us.

"Many mothers get addicted to the high of crushing their to-do list, no matter the cost. It leads to worry, stress, rushing around, being overwhelmed, and of course depletion. It promotes a lifestyle where you are living in the future and reacting from the mind rather than being present and living from your intuitive heart.

"When you are busy being busy, you are usually out of alignment with yourself. This leads to a continuous build-up of stress in the body and mind. This build-up strains your adrenal glands and taxes our nervous system, which, in essence, drains your energy until we reach total Mama Burnout."

How to stop multi-thinking

Dr. Nihara Krause advises: "It's worth stopping and reflecting on the multi-thinking that you're doing, and ask yourself why you're doing it and how to be more efficient.

"It's a good idea to take some time out for yourself, challenge the guilt that you feel and learn to say no. I know, that's easier for some than others. Rather than thinking only about what would benefit your child, think about what will benefit you too. Don't feel guilty about that.

"Sometimes social media isn't very helpful either if you compare yourself and how much you're doing to others, so set limits and boundaries on that and be aware of FOMO."

meditate

Joanna Hunt says: "When it comes to beating burnout - it is key to slow down, think less, and feel more. When you are burned out, you have burnt through your energy. And, this happens when functioning from a place of overthinking and doing 'all the things' over an extended period of time.

"I get that slowing down seems impossible for many modern-day mothers – especially if you have been running from yourself for years. But it is the only way the thoughts and feelings will come to the surface. And if I can do it, I promise you, so can you."

It sounds so easy, but how do we take a step back, check out of our to-do lists and be in the moment?

"There has to be a radical honesty with yourself that something needs to change and a deep belief that you can do things in a different way if you're willing to learn the tools," she says.

"Take 20 minutes a day to carve out that time to connect to yourself, to what makes you a woman, out of the role of mothering. Meditation, yoga, mindful walking, breathing practices, and journaling practices – these are all really common tools. Getting yourself into a community of women who are there to see you and support you is unbelievably important."

Joanna makes the key point of loving ourselves – if we do that then we want to take the time for ourselves during the day.

"There is always 20 minutes," she says. "It's about how much you want it, how much you want to feel better." After a while, she says, we start to crave this 'sacred time' to ourselves as the body adapts to it.

Managing the to-do list

Dr. Nihara Krause suggests: "If you can, focus on one thing and then complete it. Then sit back and appreciate what you've completed before moving on to the next thing.

"Don't feel bad asking for help. If you're a perfectionist, be honest with yourself and think about if you want to do everything to that perfectionist standard or whether you are prepared to do less than that to get the job completed."

Joanna Hunt says: "We feel like everything on our list is so important and it's so anxiety-provoking. Take a look at the list and decided the three to five things essential for me to complete tomorrow. One of these three to five things should be your 20 minutes me-time – especially if you're not getting great sleep or you're overly stressed."

"It could just be writing what I'm grateful for in my journal or having a few breaths and a stretch before bed. I make a promise to myself to take this time during the day. It's about softening and being gentle with myself. It shifts my energy and brings me into a state of balance."

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