My wise brother-in-law said this to me years ago. BC. (Before children).
I have spent most of my adult life chasing the quieter day, the quieter mind. Thinking, when I just get this done, then I’ll… I’ll just clear these decks, then I’ll sit down.
Twenty years later, I can honestly say he was so right (sorry Simon for not taking your word for it). Apart from the exception to the rule of going on holiday, (and let’s face it, it’s a total ordeal to just get ready to have a break), these quieter days we long for just don’t come.
What tends to come instead, is waves of overwhelm. Too many tabs open in our brains. Too much to do. Too many demands on our time. So much to do that we often just feel that none of it is being done very well and so then comes the guilt. Add in a global pandemic and some high-profile human rights issues to your daily grind of work, kids, family and the like, then no wonder we feel it’s all a bit too much.
Here’s a few tell tale signs you’re possibly dealing with some feelings of overwhelm:
Being irritable, touchy or over-sensitive
Over-reacting to small changes, asks or upsets
Erratic eating and/or sleeping
Brain won’t switch off
Knots in your stomach
Pulling away from people, tuning out
Lack of focus or motivation
Trying to get stuff done on your to-do list but not knowing where to begin and so doing none of it
Add in a global pandemic and some high-profile human rights issues to your daily grind of work, kids, family and the like, then no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
The first stage in dealing with overwhelm is to recognise that the quieter day you crave is probably not coming. That miracle-cure-life-balance isn’t coming. Life’s busy, everyone!
Instead, you need to build in some mechanisms that step by step bring about change in your life, both in that moment and for the future, too. (I asked you on socials what some of your methods were and you gave me lots of ideas).
Important point: There are no quick fixes, no easy strategies out there for hopping off this crazy hamster wheel.
Also important point: There ARE some things we can do. We don’t have to stay on planet stressed-out. There is so much more that is in our control than we realise (or perhaps want to realise?)
Can I give you six suggestions?
Take some time to think about what really matters to you. I mean really, really. When you have this down on paper, make sure that every day you are doing something that contributes to what really matters to YOU.
Write down all the stuff that is in your head, all the stuff you need to get done, all that is bothering you. Sit there and write it all out. No, this is not a waste of time. Now put numbers against the things that need to be done in order of priority. Be realistic. The things that you can’t get done today? Diarise when these will happen – even if it is two weeks away. My friend Lianne said she tries to group things together, so she does lots of similar jobs one after the other, a bit of batching brilliance there!
Get outside. You don’t have to be a nature devotee to appreciate this one – it is simply factual that we need to change the scenery to improve our state of mind, and where possible getting outside and being with nature (one tree will do) makes a huge difference to your perspective. Realising your smallness as you look up at the sky, realising your youth as you look at the one-hundred-year-old tree, imagining what it has seen, experienced, weathered. Put your phone in your pocket (I would say leave it at home but I’m a mum and know the importance of being contactable, so pocket will have to do) and turn the music off. Don’t be scared to be alone with your thoughts.
Connect. Our tendency can be to either withdraw, or act in an unhelpful co-dependent way when we are overwhelmed. Neither are a good idea, and neither represent real connection. Call a friend. Go for a walk with them. Write to someone. But connect. Tell them what is on your mind but also hear what is going on for them, too. You will be surprised the difference it makes to hear another’s journey, another’s difficulties. We are all in it together, as cheesy as it sounds.
Play. Us adults don’t make the time for play that we should. It’s all so serious. Play unlocks things in us. My friend Emma, who is a play therapist, sees incredible breakthroughs as the children she works with just let go and simply play. Why do we think we would be any different? Play is simply time spent without purpose. Quite tricky when you’re already overwhelmed. But find what feels like play for you and do it as an act of resistance.
Let yourself off the hook. You’re not perfect and neither am I. You get stuff wrong and so do I. You will drop balls, forget things, say the wrong thing, make mistakes. It’s OK. Show yourself the same level of kindness that you would show someone else. Forgive yourself (and ask for forgiveness where needed) and accept the limitations of your humanity.
This, like most of the stuff we talk about, isn’t solved in an instant. It is about small choices, over a lifetime, not to accept things as they are but to begin to make those marginal gains that help us to move on from ‘uptight and overwhelmed’ to ‘happy and productive.’
P.S. Photo is me on my hols in a less overwhelming moment. I was in fact overwhelmed with the beauty of the place. So good for the soul.