"No matter how fast I run, I just can't seem to keep up with everything." "My life seems to be one crisis after another." "Exercise? Who has time for exercise?" "I know we should really spend more time as a couple and family - but life is just too busy."
Ever felt this way? Then you're not alone. More and more people are in an overscheduled, overwhelmed condition that saps physical energy, reduces time for essential relationships, and drains the joy out of life. A few simple tips can help you trim the stress in your life, making more room for the things that matter most.
Why Is Life Feeling So Busy?
For many, this condition is largely driven by escalating demands at work. In difficult economic times, many businesses are trying to reduce costs by decreasing their workforce - leaving those still employed to try to compensate. These dedicated workers do their best to do the job they were hired to do - plus the job of a former coworker or two that was let go. "Well, at least I still have a job," they tell themselves. But the long hours and endless pressures can take a tremendous toll on their physical and emotional health, their relationships, and their general sense of well-being.
Overwhelm can also result from escalating demands at home. We live in the era of "The Overscheduled Child." No longer do children leave the house in the morning to go play outside with friends all day. Our modern world feels too perilous for that. So child-raising today requires a lot of parental driving - to ballet classes and music lessons; to scheduled play dates at friends' houses; to soccer practice and baseball games; and other activities to keep kids busy with positive activities outside the home. (One recent advertisement for a minivan captured this situation well. It featured a tired-looking mom in a minivan filled with busy children holding tennis rackets, ballet shoes, etc. - the text in the ad read "What idiot ever invented the term "Stay-at-home mom?")
Or, alternatively, the kids stay in the house for hours a day to play the Wii or Xbox; to watch TV or DVD's; to talk to friends on Facebook or surf the internet; or to just "hang out" with friends at home. Their being in the house all day often leaves behind a "trail" of items - from the bags and boxes of treats they consume ; to the dishes they eat from; to the toys and game controllers they've played with; to the homework items, musical instruments, coats and shoes, and other items they briefly use and leave behind. Whether in or out of the house, kids take a lot of time and focus.
Technology itself can add to the pile of pressures. Whether it's responding to that next insistent text; answering the ever-present cell phone; keeping up with all those Facebook friends; downloading the next required update for your favorite computer software; keeping up on the endless stream of reports on upsetting world events; or crashing at the end of the night for some "must-see TV," technology can be both "friend and foe" in keeping us in touch with others - but never giving us a very long leash away from the pressures and demands of modern life.
The Impact of Overwhelm
When you feel like you're constantly running, to keep up with demands at work, home, or elsewhere, it's not long before it all starts taking a toll. You might become chronically tired, even drained. You might try to prop yourself up with quick junk food or junk beverages - which leave you crashing soon after. You might have a hard time getting enough sleep, let alone enough exercise. Your mood may become irritable, anxious, or even depressed. Your self esteem may suffer - since there's so much to do, you might feel that you can't do any of it well. Your relationships may become distant or strained - since there's just not enough time to nourish these crucial ties effectively, in the press of so many other things. Spirituality and a sense of meaning in your life may become all but non-existant, since you have no quiet, uninterrupted time to get in touch with your wiser, deeper self.
It's important to recognize the contributory role that overscheduling can play in developing and maintaining emotional
and relationship problems. For example:
- It can contribute to depression. When you overschedule, you set yourself up for failure. You almost guarantee results that are not satisfying to you or to others. You try to do so many things that you end up feeling you haven't done any of them well. This powerfully feeds the sense of worthlessness, failure, and depleted motivation that contribute to depression.
- It can contribute to low self-esteem. Similarly, your failure to get satisfactory results when you overschedule may leave you feeling that you are inadequate. You may compare yourself with others, and find yourself woefully lacking.
- It can contribute to anxiety. When you have more to do than you can possibly get done, it can leave you feeling anxious and uptight. You may worry about the consequences of not getting this or that done, or of disappointing others who are important to you.
- It can contribute to insomnia. You might lie awake at night thinking of all the things you have to attend to the next morning. Or you may wake up throughout the night worrying about this detail or that detail. All of this interferes with your ability to get the rest you need to do an effective job the next day.
- It can contribute to irritability and anger. The constant stress of having too much to do may wear on you, and leave you cranky. You may also start to believe that others aren't working nearly as hard as you - which might leave you feeling angry and resentful toward them.
- It can contribute to relationship problems. These various "hits" on your mood and wellbeing cannot help but make you less pleasant for others to be around. They may also feel that you're "too busy" to care about what they need or feel.
The problem of the overscheduled life seems to be getting increasingly common - among kids, teens, and adults of all ages. Ultimately, if we're not careful, it can cripple our effectiveness in those areas of life that mean the very most to us.
Simplifying Your Life - A Few Practical Tips
Many family therapists, church leaders, and others have spoken up in recent years to identify this problem, and to offer advice to resolve it. Some of the most commonly-made suggestions are:
1) Rethink your priorities. What are the most important elements of your life? Your family? Your health? Your spirituality? Make sure that these those things that are most important to you are getting a consistent chunk of your time and focus.
2) Trim away the non-essentials. Tremendous relief can be derived from trimming a few non-essentials. How many Facebook friends do you really need? How many committees do you really need to be a part of? How many lessons do the kids really have to get to each week? Saying no to a few non-essential things gives you the time and energy to invest in those things that are essential for your health and wellbeing.
3) Dejunk your living environment. Get rid of physical items you don't need any more - from old magazines and newspapers; to clothes that don't fit you or your style anymore; to toys and movies that the kids have outgrown. When what you don't need is out of the way, it takes so much less time and energy to find the things you do need. Make good use of your local charity or second-hand store to contribute items that still might be useful to someone else. Make good use of your trash can to eliminate items that have outlived their usefulness to you or to anyone else.
4) Put first things first. Usually, the most important things in your life are not necessarily the most urgent. They don't call you on the phone, put deadlines on your calendar, or knock incessantly at your door. They are often quiet - in the background - easy to forget and neglect. But neglecting things like your kids, your physical health, your mental health, your marriage, your spirituality, or your own personal needs often backfires - like neglecting essential car maintenance like checking the oil or rotating the tires. Essential things require consistent, steady maintenance to stay healthy. Schedule them first - and then schedule the nonessentials around them.
5) Put aside your perfectionism, and strive for balance. Perfectionism creates demands of time and focus that inevitably can create imbalance. Demanding perfect performance in one area will invariably it will divert attention away from even minimal performance in others. Seek a healthy balance between family time, work time, personal time, and other important parts of life. Don't let today's "pressing project" rob a lifetime investment in your health, your relationships, or your general wellbeing. Stay balanced.
6) Take joy in small achievements, day by day, and one at a time. In today's busy, demanding world, we will likely always have more to do than we can ever get done in a single day. Learn to take joy in what you can accomplish and experience today. Enjoy this moment, this activity, this experience. Learn the skill of "mindfulness," tuning in to the good things that surround you today. Recognize that good things get built a little at a time, a day at a time.
Even in this busy, demanding world, there is much to savor, much to enjoy So slow down a little - unclutter your life - tune in to the essentials - honor your own needs and those of others. If you have children, teach these same skills to them, as in many cases they are likely to be just as overbusy and overwhelmed as you are. Make some decisions as a family about a few top priorities you will all commit to doing together - such as eating healthy meals, praying and attending church, getting regular exercise, playing and talking with each other. When you do these important things together, you get the additional benefit of increased family closeness, solidarity, and unity. And you teach your children important skills that will help prepare them to be grounded and resilient in an ever-more demanding, tumultuous world.
-------- For additional insight and suggestions on this topic, you may want to explore:
The "Family" section of our Bookstore, for titles such as "Putting Family First," "The Intentional Family," and "The Shelter of Each Other."
The "Wellness - Emotional" section of our Bookstore, for titles such as "Lifebalance" and "The Power of Full Engagement"
Especially for LDS visitors: "LDS Articles on: Simplifying Life and Setting Wise Priorities" - Recent General Authority talks on this topic, including "Good, Better, Best;" "Of Things That Matter Most"; and "First Things First."