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Feeling Overwhelmed? Surprising Statistics & Unexpected Solutions

Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has The TimeAfter reading "Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has The Time" by Brigid Schulte I knew I had to share this important book with others. The author Brigid Schulte an award-winning Journalist with The Washington Post, accidently starts down a road in search of the elusive “leisure time” in her life. She stumbles onto the unconscious values held by the American culture that drive us at work and home. According to Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson, the keys to a good life are having time for: work, love and play. What Brigid discovers is that most working mothers in the last couple of decades increased the amount of time they spend at work, and increased the time they spend on family (love), leaving very little time left for play.


In an effort to determine why this shift has happened, Brigid explores other societies around the world to find out if anyone is finding a balance between Work, Love and Play.

Play, Love (Family), Work - Finding BalanceThe statistics from around the world, regarding what is happening to our time and how we feel about time, stress and overwhelm are shocking. It is like the frog in the pot – we know things are heating up but we didn’t know it was so bad. I found the book fascinating as it explored our unconscious value systems that we are unaware of. I was surprised by the suggested solutions from the researchers that came at the end of the book.

I highly recommend that all parents & teachers read this book. The following is a brief overview of some of the points that I found interesting about the book.

Part One: Time Confetti

Womens work
Mothers Multi-tasking and Feeling Scattered and Exhausted

This concept that Brigid refers to as "Time Confetti", I refer to as "Multi-tasking to the Ridiculous". We all have our name for it - when we are doing too many things in a limited amount of time and it brings on the experience and feelings of stress, of always being behind, running late, running on fumes, getting insufficient sleep and for all this effort, not feeling that we are getting far on the ever turning hamster wheel of life. Just reading about Brigid's typical week, I could identify with her, and I knew that many others, especially parents, would also relate to how she felt.

Brigid started this journey when she was asked by her employer to become involved with a "time study" with John Robinson the Sociologist who studies how people spend their time. In the 1,440 minutes that make up a day his research shows that women (including mothers who work fulltime just as Brigid does) should have 30 hours of leisure time in a typical week (men have even more). Although the research states that there are 30 hours of leisure, Brigid is in disbelief that this is possible in her life, given that she feels that her life is "scattered, fragmented, and exhausting".

Some of the Shocking Statistics

  • Mothers, even those working outside the home for pay, still do twice the housework and twice the child care as fathers.
  • Surprisingly, American mothers spend more time taking care of their children than mothers did in the 1960’s even though many more are working full time. Mothers spend about 14 hours a week caring for their children, up from 10 hours in 1965 but most parents don’t “feel” like it’s enough. This means that today’s parents are spending more time at work on the job, and more time with their children – and what suffers is “sleep, health, leisure time and me-time”.
  • In Canada, a survey of 30,000 workers with families, found that 90% reported moderate to high levels of "role overload" meaning that they were trying to do too many things at once to meet the demands of both work and life.
  • Health Canada has found that people are straining on the brink of role overload - more workers are depressed, anxious, sicker, distracted, absent, unproductive and less innovative. This costs businesses and the health care system an estimated $12 Billion a year and it is known that these workloads are not sustainable over the long term.
  • Time researchers from around the globe report that time pressure is going up and that levels of role overload for both women and men are rising, with the sense of life speeding up at a breakneck pace and that peace is elusive.
  • 40% of American workers from top to bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, report feeling overworked and work among the longest hours and the most extreme hours of any industrialized country in the world.
  • One in four Americans don’t get any paid time off. Those that do have paid vacation, get, on average 10 to 14 days. The irony – many Americans don’t use it and even when they do, many take work along and never unplug.
  • The mental tape-loop is so common among women that the researchers gave it a name “Contaminated Time”. It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything you have to do and having that tape running in your head all of the time.
  • Researchers have started looking at how to provide people with relief from overwhelm and move into a state of “Time Serenity”.

Uncovering Unconscious Values that Drive Us to Distraction

Working Mother
Americans feel overworked and work the longest hours in the industrial world

In the old days when meeting someone, we asked “How are you?” the answer would be a full answer “Good and this is what I am up to.” Then the answers changed to “Fine”, and then in more recent years the answers have turned to the one word answer “Busy”. With the busyness comes the underlying value of “Achievement”. What researchers have found is that being “Busy” is now what drives us because it has become an unconscious value where we attribute busyness as a status symbol, where people brag about their level of busyness. If you are busy, then you are important – leading a full life. If you are not busy, you must be lazy.

What Busyness does to us Physically

When the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for intelligence, how we think, reason, learn, plan, concentrate, remember, judge and control ourselves, and is also responsible for regulating blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels - when it feels rushed, and in overwhelm mode, it shuts down and shrinks. The pre-frontal cortex helps us stay calm and gives us the feeling that we can cope but when it shrinks and shuts down, this allows the Amygdala to rule. The Amygdala is the part of the brain that rules negative emotions like fear, aggression and anxiety, and we become emotional, angry, frustrated.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) found that even though Americans live in the richest country, they are the most anxious. The average high school kid today experiences the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient of the 1950’s. Scientists are finding that when children are exposed to stress and overwhelm, it can alter they neurological and hormonal systems, and DNA.

The Happy Country

The United Nations “World Happiness Report” put Denmark at the top of its global list and the United States ranked 11th. Danes are the happiest people on earth and Danish children are also among the happiest (United States kids rank 21st). Researchers have found that mothers in Denmark, 80% who are employed full time, have the same amount of leisure time as Danish fathers, and they have the most leisure time than any other country. The country has gone to great efforts to support families and the following are just some of ways that they have helped families create the balance between work, family and leisure:

  • vacation
    Danes get 6 weeks of paid vacation every year and they take their vacations
    Danes view the hours of 5:00-8:00pm as sacred family time. Children are picked up from schools and daycares between 3:30-4:00pm. Most Danes work flexible work schedules so that they are able to pick up their children.
  • All Danish boys and girls are required to take Home Ec where they learn to cook. This country is the most egalitarian with fathers and mothers spending the same amount of time taking care of the children, cooking, and cleaning.
  • Danes value “A good life” and they get status from what they do in their leisure time. The newspapers are filled with stories about people doing interesting things in their leisure time.
  • Danes don’t live to work – but ironically, they do work hard in their typical 37 hour week. What do they do differently? Lunch is 30 minutes and companies provide a healthy lunch for their workers. Some companies provide take home dinners for the family and do their laundry for them.
  • Long hours are outlawed for workers. In Denmark, there isn’t the chatting around the water cooler – you do your work and you go home. No one works late. They focus on what needs to get done and just do it.
  • The value system: if workers feel that they have a life and are happy, they do better work. Danes don’t check email after hours. The belief is that people who put in extra long hours are not an ideal worker, and in fact are considered inefficient.
  • Danes get 6 weeks of paid vacation every year and they take their vacations.
  • The Danish economy is one of the most competitive in the world and is one of the most productive, ranking just behind the United States, even though Danes work so much less. Denmark has a low unemployment rate and one of the highest standards of living in the world, with the smallest gaps between rich and poor of any country on earth, while the United States has one of the largest.
  • The government guarantees every child a spot in an early childhood development centre and for school-age children a spot in an after-school program. These are run by professionally trained child development staff who are well paid.
  • In Denmark the question “is it better for a mother of young children to stay home than to work” is not one that would be asked. With mothers and fathers equally sharing in the paid work, housework and child care, and with the supports in place by companies and government, this hotly debated question in America becomes a non-issue in Denmark.

The Surprising Suggested Solutions to Get to the State of “Time Serenity” from the Researchers

Work hard at not feeling stressed:

1. Get the proper amount of sleep
2. Eat right
3. Exercise
4. Breathe
5. Meditate
6. Set realistic expectations

What is interesting about this list? From a yogic perspective, 5 out of the 6 items have been encouraged and taught by Yogis teaching about the yogic approach to life for thousands of years.

What Can You Do to Increase Leisure in Your Life & Your Family’s Life?


Janet WilliamsBio:

Janet Williams, B.Ed, RCYT is a certified Primary/Junior Teacher, Yoga Instructor and Author of the Award-winning book “What I See, I Can Be: A Guided Yoga Flow for Children”. Concerned about the childhood obesity issue and high anxiety kids face, Janet created easy to use Kids Yoga Resources so that Parents and Teachers could get their children active and fit – and calm and relaxed. Janet offers a “95 Hour Kids Yoga Teacher Training Certification” that is recognized by Yoga Alliance and is excellent for parents, teachers, daycare providers, youth leaders and health care professionals. To learn more:

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