Overwhelmed | Brigid Schulte

Summary of: Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
By: Brigid Schulte


In today’s fast-paced world, it’s no surprise that individuals often find themselves overwhelmed. Juggling work and home life can be an enormous challenge, particularly with societal expectations of gender roles in both domains. Fortunately, Brigid Schulte’s book ‘Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time’ dives deeper into these challenges, exploring the impact on mental health, relationships, and society as a whole. Furthermore, Schulte provides insights into innovative workplace practices and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate chronic stress and promote a more balanced life. Get ready to embark on a journey that unravels the complexities of modern life and offers practical solutions to navigate it.

The Overwhelming Pressure of Parenthood

Juggling work and family life leaves us with a sense of being overburdened. In the United States, parents are stressed with long working hours while raising a family. Various studies have shown that most of the respondents felt they had too much to do, with not enough time for themselves or their spouse. Working women, in particular, have experienced the brunt as they need to work full-time to generate adequate income. Interestingly, fathers also struggle with lack of free time as much as mothers. High levels of stress and anxiety are prevalent in the US, which have serious implications. This summary will explore the impact of stress and why it matters.

The Harmful Effects of Permanent Stress

Stress isn’t always harmful, but constant stress is damaging to the brain. Emily Ansell’s groundbreaking study found evidence that the prefrontal cortex of people who are constantly overwhelmed is smaller than those with less stressful lives. The amygdala, the part of the brain associated with feeling fear, anxiety, and aggression, grows in size in those who are constantly stressed. Changes to the brain can result in a diminished ability to control emotions and an increased risk of displaying addictive or self-destructive behaviors. Permanent stress not only affects individuals but also has an aggregate effect on society. A stressed workforce is less likely to be productive or conscientious. Overstressed medical students are less capable of making effective, complex decisions and are more likely to make careless mistakes. Living with constant stress makes it much more challenging to reach a state of “flow thinking,” where one can focus deeply on a task and potentially find creative solutions to complex problems.

Evolution of Stress

Our constant state of overwhelm is a result of the effects of the Industrial Revolution and our inability to manage the constant influx of information. American workers face long hours, inflexible workplaces, and decision fatigue, creating a cycle of stress that eats away at productivity.

The world we live in today is one of stress and anxiety. Though we know that stress is harmful to both our emotional and physical states, we have yet to understand how we got to this point of being so overwhelmed. However, the roots of our constant state of stress can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. With the goal of productivity, workers were forced to work harder and for longer hours. Unfortunately, this has become the norm today, at least in the United States.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Americans work the longest hours in the industrialized world, making it difficult to balance work and life. American workers also lack the flexibility to request part-time work or flexible hours, leading to tension between work and home.

The advent of the information age has affected workers’ ability to process constant inundations of information. A study found that the average American worker spends over half a day processing emails. This, in turn, leads to decision fatigue and a gnawing sense of anxiety. Our inability to manage constant interruptions eats away at productivity, furthering our state of overwhelm.

In conclusion, our inability to manage the constant inflow of information is due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Our constant state of overwhelm is caused by long working hours, inflexible workplaces, decision fatigue, and lack of sufficient methods to manage interruptions.

Breaking Free from Gender Stereotypes

Our society is still held back by gender stereotypes that restrict men and women to specific roles in life. Despite working hard for equality, men and women are still trapped in societal expectations that can cause stress and guilt. Working mothers are often viewed as selfish, uncommitted mothers, while men seeking out more flexible working hours to care for family members are deemed uncommitted and lazy. This perpetuation of gender roles creates tension in workplaces and often results in overlooked promotions. It’s time to dismantle these stereotypes and encourage acceptance of all individuals- regardless of their gender. In the next parts, we will explore how we can break free from these negative societal expectations.

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