I came close to a breakdown this morning. The obvious reason is ridiculous. My cleaning lady comes today. Who has a breakdown over someone coming to clean for them? I have someone help me out for an hour every other week. It keeps me sane.
Rebecca coming makes sure that no matter what else happens in my schedule, my toilets get cleaned and my floors get vacuumed and my house gets dusted on a regular basis. This two hours a month is a complete luxury for me, which I am so very grateful for.
Except for this morning. She’s only here for an hour. In order for her to do what I pay her to do, I have to have some things done in advance. For example, she can’t vacuum the floor if we have stuff everywhere. I pay her to vacuum. She can–and is happy to–move stuff, but she can’t do as good a job and I want her vacuuming, not picking up.
My house is a disaster right now. I have a pile of stuff in the living room that’s been there since the Destination Imagination competition in March. And our hallway is full of stuff my son left there when he came home from camp in June. Everywhere else is just as big a mess. It drives me crazy. I worked upstairs in my parents’ area last weekend because I didn’t have time to clean up and I couldn’t handle the visual chaos and constant reminder of what I wasn’t getting done. I’m hoping I’m not the only one and someone out there can relate.
This week is Fall break and my son is home for a few days and we’re not travelling. Perfect time to make some headway on cleaning up things like the hallway and the DI piles. Right after I get this podcast recorded, get my work caught up and make candy for a meeting tonight.
But, I forgot it was a Rebecca day. On top of my already crazy full schedule, I needed to get the place Rebecca-ready. I almost had a breakdown. The real problem right now is lack of margin. I’m operating way too close to the edge of handling everything. So, one thing–adding something into my full morning schedule–that wouldn’t normally be a big deal instead makes me feel like losing it.
Overwhelm is a type of emotional paralysis where you feel as though you’re unable to cope with or handle your circumstances. It may not be schedule driven like mine was this morning. It could be financial, relational, or physical.
Overwhelm is an epidemic in society today. The speed of change, amount of daily inputs we have to handle, the culture of overwork, chronic stress levels, cultural pressure to do it all, be it all and have it all, personal factors (like perfectionism), and social pressures (like an environment of comparison) all contribute to a vast number of people feeling overwhelmed.
A year or two ago, I got tired of feeling that way, so I did what I tend to do when I get curious about something. I did some research. How are people talking about overwhelm? What can we do to combat it? Today, I had to pull out my results from the work I did then and use it. So, I thought I’d share a little bit of it with you.
There are two phases to feeling overwhelmed. One is an acute phase, an initial paralysis, a breakdown, a panicked. “I’ve had it, I’ve hit my breaking point” phase. The second is a chronic phase. This morning, I was in an acute phase. So, I pulled out my first aid tactics. I have twenty-five of them, so I’m not going to overwhelm you with all of them. Here are five that helped me today.
Do a Brain Dump.
Part of what caused my anxiety this morning was too many things in my head. So, I sat down and got it all down on paper. Today, that looked like a to-do list for me. It might look like a list of all the things you’re worried about. It might be a list of all the projects you need to manage. All the steps needed to do whatever you’re trying to do. All the things you’re afraid you’ll forget. Everything running around in your brain, get it all out onto paper. Just the act of acknowledging the thoughts seem to help them back off the pressure. You can remember them, organize and evaluate them now that they’re in black and white. And you have mental space cleared out for dealing with life.
Do The Next Right Thing
The reality of my Thursdays is that they’re my least stressful day. My most stressful days all happen Sunday -Wednesday, so Thursdays are usually a relief. But today, I had a handful of things that all had to happen in a three hour time span and the last minute clean up threw me into overwhelm. I needed to narrow my focus and just deal with the next right thing. Multi-tasking, no matter how good you think you are at it, isn’t effective. I needed to do one thing, then move on to the next thing and only deal with the one that’s next most important.
Do Something, Anything
Progress always reduces overwhelm. It feeds momentum which then helps you make progress and in the way of cyclical things…it spirals in a beneficial way. So, the key to this first aid tactic is choosing something small. Choosing something small allows you to gain that momentum foothold faster. It doesn’t really have to be related to what you’re feeling overwhelmed about. You need an action starting point that will move you out of paralysis. For me, this morning, that was two quick texts to people I needed to get in touch with.
Music is a mood manipulator. One of the things that really had to get done today was this podcast. But, I was having trouble focusing, getting started and staying calm enough to deal with it. One thing that helps me focus when I write is using white noise. So, on went the headphones. I had an immediate physical response when I heard the wave and rain sounds. It’s as if my whole body breathed a sigh of relief as the repetitive, calming noises washed over me. You can use music to boost your energy, relax, or help you focus. If you’re on Spotify, you can find a few playlists I use to manipulate my mood and energy at michelleberkey: a few zen chill lists, with and without lyrics, happy happy mood and stronger are a few you’ll find there.
Radically Slash Your To-Do List
If your overwhelm is schedule related, slash your to-do list short term. Consider what would get done if you were bedridden-sick for the next week. Do only that. For me this morning, I wanted to re-do an art piece I wasn’t happy with yesterday. That was squarely on the nice-but-not-necessary list. When I started to get overwhelmed, that got taken off the table for today. Doing my laundry, some follow up emails, and some work and ministry things that I need to get done (but not immediately) also got removed from my schedule for now.
In review, the five first aid tactics I used today were Brain Dump, the Next Right Thing, Do Something, Use Tunes, and Radically Slash Your List.
These five suggestions won’t get to the bottom of your overwhelm. They’re intended to be first aid for the acute paralysis that can occur. Put them in your pocket and pull them out when needed.
Because inspiration and education are great, but they only result in transformation when you add action – and that’s your job – here are a few action steps you can take today.
Good: Digitally, file this information away where you can get to it easily when you need it. File the email, bookmark the post or favourite the podcast episode.
Better: Make yourself an index card of these five tactics. Write them in your planner or a journal. Physically writing them down will help solidify them in your mind and will give you something physical to pull out when needed. I made myself a flip book of all my tactics that I could drop in my bag or keep in my desk or car. I haven’t needed it for a long time (that’s an indication of growth right there), but I pulled it out this morning.
Best: Begin to work on the underlying root cause of your overwhelm so you don’t have to deal with the acute paralysis.
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