Feeling overwhelmed. Recently, this topic seems to come up again and again both personally and professionally. Whether it is facing midterms in your college semester, a parent running their kids from one activity to the next or a kid losing sleep because they don’t have time to complete their homework, we all experience the feeling of being overwhelmed.
We live in a culture that keeps both us and our children over-scheduled and overworked. This means losing out of sleep, increasing stress, increasing poor eating habits, and decreasing our patience…which is just not good for anyone. So, what can we do about it?
When everything seems like a top priority, it can be hard to make decisions about anything. You might just want to curl up in a ball and do none of it, or feel like you are spinning your wheels on one task while five others are waiting for your attention. You may have a lot on your plate, but admittedly some of it will be more important than others.
Figuring out what is most important to you can help you maintain your focus and help make decisions about what to do first. For kids, their main priority is often school, but sports and clubs and friends and theater sometimes vie for their attention. For adults, our main priority might be family or work, and then our kids, friends, groups, chores and finances all fight for our attention. Deciding what is most important can help you focus your efforts and be more productive.
The hard part? Often our priorities shift and change depending on how demanding they are. For example, this weekend I cleaned my kitchen. So cleaning the kitchen is low on my list of priorities. But as the week goes on and I’m running from one place to another, dishes pile up and the garbage gets full. It becomes more and more of a priority to get to clean the kitchen again.
Our physical health and mental wellness are very tied to one another. Just think of those days when you get very little sleep, or you miss a meal due to busyness. You are more irritable, your emotions are more unpredictable, and you have low energy and focus. It makes us inefficient and makes us more prone to do things that we may regret.
The pressure to have a full schedule is very real in our American culture. Whether it is the pressure to say “yes” to anyone who asks, or the comparison to other kids or other families, we face the pressure in many ways. Part of decreasing this feeling of overwhelm is to cut out those things that are not a priority for you. No, you may not be able to cut out your kid’s soccer practice, but you can cut that weekly book club that you have been doing that takes up your Wednesday nights.
Creating space in our schedule, even if it is only temporarily, allows us to get our feet back on the ground and adapt to the busyness that life sometimes holds. Saying “no” to new requests is certainly a good place to start. It is better to say “no” up front than commit and not be able to follow through. When you can prioritize your obligations, it can be much easier to see what is able to be cut out for now, and what should stay…to maintain your sanity.
Make the most of it
Okay so you’ve prioritized your life, cut out those things you can, but you are still feeling overwhelmed. Now is the time to make the most of the time that you do have. No, It may not mean adding another thing to your schedule. Here are a few suggestions to implement during your week that don’t involve creating any extra time:
- Take Time in the Car: Stress relief can also help reduce your feeling of overwhelm. We spend time in our car driving from point A to point B. Use that time to listen to music, sings really loudly, pray, or repeat a mantra to yourself (“I can do it” or “I’ll be okay” or “This too shall pass.”). Using that time to intentionally relieve your stress can help make your day go a bit better.
- Mindfulness at Meals: I know that life sometimes keeps you working through lunch. Or you find yourself grabbing fast food on the way to your child’s dance class. But since we all eat, using that time can be helpful for all of us. You can be intentional about scheduling meals with loved ones or friends to get in some social relief. Even being mindful of your first few bites can be relaxing and enjoyable. You can try one of these mindful eating meditations that are only about 5 minutes long, or try this basic mindfulness of food activity.
- Be intentional: Again, this is in the same vein as managing stress while facing on overwhelming schedule. Add something stress relieving on to something you do everyday. For example, being aware while you are in the shower. Try being mindful of what is going on around you. What can you see and feel and hear in the shower? Stay focused rather than letting your mind wander onto the day. Or instead of spending the 10 minutes when you wake up flipping through your phone, spend it meditating or reading a book or in prayer. Or before you go to bed, instead of watching a 20 minute episode on Netflix, do 20 minutes of yoga.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you manage your schedule when you are feeling overwhelmed?
Erica K. Cieri, LCSW is a therapist and trainer at Made to Thrive in Williamsville, NY. She specializes in working with kids, teens and college students dealing with anxiety, behavior problems, tough relationships and difficulty managing their emotions. She collaborates with her clients to develop strategies to manage their current issues, but also to discover long term how to find peace. Erica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.