By Kresha Faber, Contributing Writer
Just a quick note before we begin: I purposely didn’t title this post “5 Ways to Fight Overwhelm” or “5 Tips to Living More Simply” because while the five items listed below are the five things *I* remind myself of when I get into overwhelm mode, I know you wise mamas have lots of tried-and-true ways of making life feel less crazed and more meaningful as well. So please share with all of us in the comments what YOU do to maintain sanity when life gets stuffed to the brim and overflowing.
Please share how YOU deal with overwhelm and busyness below!
When was the last time you cried yourself to sleep (or couldn’t sleep at all)?
Or how about snapping at your kids just because they spilled their peas during lunch?
What about feeling actual physical stress because dinnertime is coming (do you all really have to eat AGAIN? – seriously!) and you hope you can come up with something that takes less than 10 minutes.
If you’re like me, it’s these little emotional responses that are my barometer to when I’ve crossed the line — that line from normal-healthy-mama who can go with the flow to grizzly-bear-mama who has so many balls in the air to keep track of and manage that if One Little Thing goes wrong, all the claws come out and my stress level goes through the roof.
Not a fun way to live.
And at this time of year, when kids have headed back to school, when we deal with all of those school-time breakfasts and lunches and school activities, when we begin heading into the ever-busy holiday season and life just seems to be fuller, it’s especially important to know how to create space for remaining sane and joyful.
So, how do we decompress in the everyday and – more importantly – make our lives simpler and considerably less frazzled (even with all the busyness)?
With that in mind, here are five essential aspects to moving yourself from frazzled, heavy overwhelm to a sense of purposeful joy. This is the list I personally return to each time I find myself acting like a grumpy green eyed monster.
Now, two very important notes here….
1. This post does not deal with psychological issues that can cause mental and emotional overwhelm, such as clinical depression.
If you suspect you are dealing with a larger issue, seek help from someone you trust. And find someone to give you a bear-hug daily. I’m sending you one virtually, but that’s no substitute for the real thing.
2. This post is not a how-to article on how to get more organized, how to get rid of clutter, or other similar how-to tutorials (as lovely as those are).
This article is specifically geared toward helping you step back, reflect, and identify what’s important to YOU, your family, and your community. Because, really, once you see clearly and identify what’s really important to YOU, all the rest – the healthy eating, the exercise, the organization, and the clean house – all falls into place, whatever that proper place is in YOUR life.
1. Do something every day that brings you joy — and take every opportunity to laugh.
Laughing, singing, reading, exercising, talking to a friend or loved one, or just doing something you genuinely enjoy all increase the level of endorphins in your body and allow the body to destress. Thus, laughing, connecting, and finding deep enjoyment not only are important mentally but physiologically – they not only allow a breather from the stress of the day, but those pleasant, endorphin-creating activities allow the body to actually begin to heal from the stress.
Katie over at Kitchen Stewardship even suggests laughter can be used as a sugar replacement! (Her article is seriously fun – definitely give it a read when you’re finished with this one. :) )
Finding opportunity to laugh everyday is also just an important habit to cultivate. No matter what life brings, laughter can be the levity that carries you through.
“Oddly enough, [my wife’s] cancer has taught us that life is good, dealing with it can be hard, and sometimes the very best thing — no, the only thing — we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.”
[Tweet “Sometimes the only thing we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.”]
2. Prioritize – and then be okay with letting what’s not at the top of the priority list fade into the background.
Our plates are full. Meaning filled to the brim, packed down, and still spilling over the edges kind of full.
But our time and energy are finite. So whenever you choose one activity, you are automatically giving it precedence over another one.
Think about it: the next time you’re asked to write all the fundraising letters for the PTA at your child’s school, stop to reflect on the fact that that will inevitably take afternoons and evenings of your time. Is that the best use of your time at this point in your life or would those hours be better spent cuddling with your kiddos on the couch, connecting with your husband, or even writing letters to friends you haven’t connected with in a long time?
If the PTA option really is what you would like to be your priority, then bless you and go for it. But if not, then by all means feel free to say no, even if there is great pressure for you to say yes. (“You’re the only one.” “But you’re so good at it.” “You did it last year and we so appreciated it.”)
Also, sometimes the requirements on our time come from within ourselves – such as when we’ve said yes to too many activities (even if they’re all good ones) and we have yet to follow through. But sometimes they come from outside ourselves – such as when we’re caring for an ailing family member. Either way, we still have to balance all the of things on our shoulders.
Examining and identifying your priorities is both the easiest and the hardest step to regaining joy in your life. It’s easy because in the grand scale, we know what’s important to us, so it’s simple to give priority to those things. For example, “family” is important, so we give family activities precedence.
However, it can also be excruciatingly difficult because at a more specific level, priorities can get a bit more muddled and we also often feel great pressure from others for what we perceive should be our priorities.
For example, while “family” is priority, does that mean eating dinner together every night is our priority? Attending every soccer game of every child? Keeping your house clean to the extent where you’re happy with it versus your mother/sister/neighbor’s version of clean?
It’s also difficult because many of the activities and responsibilities that fill our life are GOOD things, like volunteering to help out at a task day at the church or leading Girl Scouts. These are even important things as we invest ourselves in the lives of our community. But when we’ve crossed the line into crushing Overwhelmville, we have to examine EVERYTHING in our lives and choose our priorities.
What I find especially helpful to remember when sorting through my priorities is that just because I say “no” now to something, doesn’t always mean that it will be a “no” forever. Life is full of seasons. What may need to be a “no” now may be able to be a resounding “YES!” later.
[Tweet “Life is full of seasons. Even if you say no now, you may be able to say a resounding YES later.”]
Here’s an illustration about finding our true priorities: Sean Croxton, author of The Dark Side of Fat Loss, told this story about a woman he was coaching regarding weight loss:
“This woman — we’ll call her Sarah — had been trying to lose 20 pounds since the Reagan Administration. She jumped from diet to diet, trainer to trainer, practitioner to practitioner.
In the end, self-sabotage reared its ugly head and she found herself back at square one (or worse).
I asked Sarah about the things she valued most in life, what she considered of utmost importance.
With a little bit of coaching, she rattled off things like taking care of her family, traveling, contributing to her church, spending time with her friends, and excelling in her career.
After about 20 minutes of coming up with a solid list of her highest values, I asked her if she found it interesting that a certain something was missing from her list. And that’s when she shouted…
Yup, for two decades Sarah had been setting a goal that was out of alignment with her highest values.
In the grand scheme of things, getting healthy and losing weight just weren’t that important to her. And when that happens, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find yourself in Self Sabotage City. Sarah knew the place well.
Her goal of “getting skinny” was more about the values society had imposed upon her, not really her own.”
What’s especially important to note here is that what will help you regain deep joy is not just knowing which activities you should give priority to, but knowing that you need to be truly content with letting the ones that don’t have priority fade into the background and even disappear.
These can be activities, relationships, lifestyle habits (such as sleep or exercise), or even food choices. (Yes, you read that right. If the way you’re doing real food is stressing you out, reconsider the relationship. You have my blessing.)
Example #1 – How to Redefine Priorities
You feel like you spend a lot of time cleaning and you feel stress if your house is not clean. Why?
Is it because you’re worried what a neighbor might think if they knocked on your door unexpectedly? Is it because you yourself can’t think straight if there’s clutter? Is it because you then feel like an unworthy mother who isn’t successfully teaching her children to take care of their belongings? Is it because your husband gets stressed when there’s clutter?
Each of these can define a different priority for your time and energy when it comes to cleaning your house.
Example #2 – How to Redefine Priorities
You feel stressed every night to get dinner on the table and then cleaned up. Again, let’s look closer.
Do you choose to cook from scratch because you enjoy it or because you believe it’s the healthiest way to feed your family (or both)? Do you cook from scratch because it’s important to your husband but it doesn’t really matter to you? Is the stressful part the time it takes to cook each meal or is the stressful part the planning what you’re going to make? Or for that matter, the clean up? Do you cook homemade meals because you feel that’s what “expected” of you and you’d be embarrassed for ladies at your church to find out that you don’t always make “from scratch” meals?
Again, according to your answers, how you get dinner on the table each night and what you serve might change according to YOUR priorities.
When we can see the ROOTS behind our actions, our motivations, and our stresses, it’s easier to decide whether the activity is important to include in our lives – and if it is, how we can best minimize the stress we feel.
This is what causes me stress when I sit to work through these steps in my own life – it’s absolutely downright difficult – sometimes even painful! – to see something in my life that I realize I need to be okay to let it go. (I’ll refrain from singing any Frozen songs – I promise.)
Stephanie recently wrote an absolutely beautiful description of this called “the little no.” Absolutely read it. It will feed you and fill you.
Also, just a side note: STOP comparing yourself to other moms! (Here’s why.) This is not only a one-way street to Stressville, but it breeds discontent, which pervades your mind and spirit, and doesn’t allow you to nurture and focus on whatever it is that YOU do so well. I struggle with this one big-time and I find that the more I let myself dwell on other people’s successes, the less work I can actually get done on my own tasks, which then makes me feel even more discontented at my lack of “success.” Ironic, isn’t it?
So, how do you say “no”?
Saying no can be as simple as: “I’d really love to participate, but I’m over-committed at this point and I know I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Thank you so much for thinking of me!”
If you’d like, you can include contact info for someone else you think might do a bang-up job on the request or send along some other helpful information with your gracious “no” (the templates you used last year for writing all those PTA letters, for example, so that the person who does take the job has a ready-to-go framework).
Beyond that, there’s no need to explain your reasons, apologize, or offer to do it later – just decline graciously, take a deep breath, and let it go.
3. Find a quiet place, go there daily, and just breathe.
Creating a quiet space for yourself even just for a few minutes a day can provide needed respite, clarity of mind, and a sense of renewed energy to accomplish the day’s tasks. Curl up and just be still or go for a walk in natural surroundings. (And of course, be sure to turn off all media.)
As a side note, if you’re a mom of young children and they don’t “get” the whole quiet-time-alone thing, here’s a tip: I remember one writer over at Passionate Homemaking writing years ago that when she would sit down in the afternoons for a bit of quiet, she would light a candle as a signal to her children so they would know when Mommy’s time alone was up. I thought that a wonderfully concrete image for young minds. She also describes the quiet time bins she provides for her children to keep them occupied.
It’s also helpful in this quiet space to cultivate thankgiving. Not only are we instructed to do this by numerous writers in the Bible, but I find this makes naming priorities easier and easier over time, because as you find yourself thanking God for the good things, the challenges, and the grace to sustain you through stressful periods, slowly you hear yourself talking about / praying about what is really important to you and what you long for.
Also, through times of quiet, we slowly get a glimpse of the fears that drive us – and not in the good way. Personally, I’m terrified people won’t respect my intellect, but by naming that fear and seeing it, I can more easily recognize the times when I agree to take on a task or even create a task just to prove that I’m smart and capable. It doesn’t end the compulsion, but it does help me recognize when I’m about to agree to a task under the guise of being “helpful,” when really it’s not a task I would enjoy and my main motivation is proving my intellectual worth. Not exactly a recipe for REDUCING stress. :)
[Tweet “By naming our fears, we release the power we have locked in them.”]
4. Lean on family
I know not everyone has this option, but if at all possible, connect with family members and lean on them as much as possible.
Connect: Curl up to read with your daughter, take a half-hour break from all the to-do lists and have a glass of wine with your husband, or linger over dinner with your whole family even when other tasks are screaming for your attention.
Lean on: Ask your older children to take on tasks in the household to relieve your load, ask extended family members if they’d be able and willing to take care of your children once or twice a week, or discuss with your husband ways he can help you shoulder the load through an extra-busy season.
5. Remember that YOU are precious and that you have gifts to give to the world that are uniquely yours.
Now, I know that this sounds a bit shallow — or at best, cliché — but it’s true in a profound way.
You ARE precious — not in the newborn baby, “Oh, isn’t she precious?!?” sort of way, but in the “You are a treasure worth more than all the riches in the world” kind of precious. You have been created for a purpose, with a purpose, and in the times of exhaustion and overwhelm, it is INCREDIBLY easy to lose sight of that.
So, even if it’s hard to believe it when you feel like you’re barely holding yourself together with some sort of metaphorical super-glue, just hold on to that little thought. Cherish it in your alone times, remember it when you’re frustrated, and cling to it when you feel like you’re drowning.
You ARE precious. Your very presence here in the midst of your family, co-workers, friends, and community makes the world a better place, even on the bad days, so rest in the promise that “He who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (did you hear that? even better and more than the best you can imagine!) and who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
Let me end with two little stories.
Did you know that many of the grand cathedrals in Europe took hundreds of years to build? Think of the shivers and goosebumps you get when you stand in such places! Can you image what it must have been like to be the designer or the ones who built the foundation knowing that you would never see the final building – the end of all your work?
And what about many of the great artists and composers? So many have died thinking they had been failures and not knowing the blessing their music and art would provide for hundreds of years.
It’s the same with us. We work, we strive, we dream, we pour ourselves out until we are beyond empty. But in all this, remember two things:
1. You may not see the purpose behind all your striving, but God has a plan, even when seems like all your striving is empty, so know that your work is not meaningless.
2. You are precious and you were made to thrive, not just scrape by through each day, so refresh and renew yourself as often as you are able and remember this manifesto:
Want more tips for making life less frazzled? Read Why “The Simple Life” is Rarely Simple and How to Make “The Simple Life” Simpler (and More Joy-Filled).
How about some comforty-cozy drinks while you curl up? Some of my favorites are tea, black coffee, Honey Caramel Apple Cider, a homemade Salted Caramel Mocha, a Slow Cooker Gingerbread Latte, cozy Chai, or occasionally, Glögg (Swedish mulled wine done right :) )