How to Reduce Overwhelm and Stop Living in a Constant State of Busy
Almost three years ago, I had just had my youngest son and was really struggling with my health. I didn’t take medication for my autoimmune disease while pregnant so my body was in a full flare. I was literally in the worst health of my life. I could barely use my hands, I struggled to carry my new baby and lifting my four year old was out of the question.
While I waited for my medication to kick in, I began acupuncture, which was incredibly helpful in managing my symptoms. However, even with medication, acupuncture and regular physical therapy, I was still struggling. I had a four year old, an infant, had never taken maternity leave and was crazy busy working like an insane person – all while only sleeping 4-6 hours a night. Not good for anyone, particularly someone with an autoimmune condition that is aggravated by stress and lack of sleep.
My acupuncturist (who is also a physician) had heard a story on NPR about a book that he thought was written exactly for someone like me. I am a huge bookworm, so I decided to check it out and I can’t express enough what a positive impact it has had on my health and my family. It isn’t just helpful for a busy working mother with young children. It is for anyone who has too many to-dos and not enough time to breathe and have fun.
The book, titled, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” by Brigid Schulte, addresses our culture’s constant desire to fill our lives with busy. We overschedule ourselves and pride ourselves on how busy we are and how little we sleep. Our culture rewards productivity and looks down on rest.
Even though I read the book almost three years ago, whenever I am in a life stage that is overly busy and stressful, I find myself remembering the book and trying to implement what I read. I rarely re-read books, however, I have gone back to this book over and over again.
I related to her anecdote of doing interviews with sources while sitting in the hallway outside her son’s dentist office. Too many times, I myself have sat in the pediatrician’s office with my sick child while texting my staff and answering customer calls, rather than focusing on my child. I also complained to my acupuncturist that there should be a way to read while the needles are in because I felt like I was wasting time lying there!
So how does one step back from the mindset that busy-ness equals value? Schulte provided some really great advice on how to incorporate “play” into your life when you are overly busy and being pulled in so many directions.
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Nine Ways to Reduce Overwhelm and Cut Back on Busy-Ness:
- “Time is power. Don’t give yours away”: This is definitely easier said than done, particularly when your time is “booked” to care for others. However, there are activities in our life that we can reduce or eliminate to take back some of our time. We may not be able to stop parenting our children, but we can say no to the extras like being a board member in your home owner’s association or running the recycling program at your child’s school – unless of course, those things bring you joy.
- “Don’t wait until the dust bunnies are gone and the fridge is full to share time with friends”: This is by far, one of my favorite pieces of advice from the book – and one I really strive to do regularly. My house is regularly a mess – I have a 7 year old, a 3 year old, a husband who travels and chronic health issues. Before reading the book, I never invited anyone over because our house was such a mess and I was embarrassed. Not anymore. My true friends don’t care that there are puzzle pieces on my floor, dog hair on the rug or Pokémon cards stacked up everywhere, regardless of the binder I meticulously set up for my son. They don’t live in perfect worlds either. Why should we miss out on spending time together because we’re not living like we “should.”
- “Remember most of your to-do list will never get done”: As a type A person, this is a tough one to do, but the reality is, that many items on the to-do list are not really mission critical. Perhaps picking the top 3 things you want to accomplish makes more sense, and then anything above that is a bonus.
- “Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day”: No matter how busy your day is, hopefully you can squeeze in one thing that’s actually good for you. I am trying to squeeze in stretching since it will benefit my health, and the healthier I am, the more I can do for my family. It also only takes about 10 minutes, so I feel like it is something I can accomplish.
- “Create family systems and automate routines to cut down on arguing, nagging, and resentment”: As a parent, you may feel like you have to do it all, but delegating tasks to others can help you all feel close and it is better for your well-being.
- “Remind yourself that play is useful. Humans need it. Give yourself permission to do it”: There are some months when I realize that every weekend is full of obligations, sometimes fun, but it doesn’t leave room for spontaneity. I usually step back and really take a look at what we have on the calendar and decide, is that something that I consider “play” or is it a “should do.” Once I decide, I get rid of the “should dos” and leave room for just play – whether it is play as a family or me carving out time to “play” with my friends. I never regret it.
- “Give your brain a rest. Get out of your head and into your body, your breath, or the moment”: There have been so many studies on mindfulness that demonstrate the importance of meditation. It brings the brainwave pattern into a relaxed state that promotes healing. I struggle to carve out time to practice mindfulness, so this is definitely a work in progress for me. There are apps and YouTube videos that can help guide you through a mindful meditation, if you are looking to give it a try.
- “What if we really did live like we’re dying? How would that change what you view as important and the choices you make for what to do with your time?” I recently used this tip in making a major life decision. I had been running my business for seven years and while I loved my customers and their families, I was operating at a loss (and had been since the inception) and was working 50-60 hours per week at a high stress level. I was sacrificing time with my family, not just quantity, but quality, since when I was with them, I was either too tired or in too much pain from pushing my body that I was only marginally involved in family activities. I finally decided that I needed to prioritize what is truly important to me, which is my family. I thought, if I die next week, will I regret shutting down my business, or will I regret missing these crucial moments with my husband and children. The answer was simple.
- “Banish the busy-ness”: Part of the reason we are so busy is that we have a hard time saying no. I have heard the statement “no is a complete sentence,” but always feel awkward saying just “no.” It becomes less awkward when you think about what you are giving up by saying yes – are you giving up time with your spouse or children or time to dig into a good book? We can’t do it all and no one is a hero for doing everything at the cost of their own well-being. We also can’t do a good job on anything when we spread ourselves so thin.
I highly recommend checking out this book. Even if you don’t have time to read the entire book, the last half of the book shares how you can banish busy-ness in your life and incorporate more play. I return to it every time I feel like my life is spiraling out of control.
Do you feel like you live in a constant state of busy?