Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is Overwhelm the New Normal?

Over spring break I had the opportunity to spend two weeks with my family in Florida, relaxing and being away from our usual commitments, emails, and "stuff." All we had to manage were a couple of suitcases, a rental car, and our fried food intake. Our only responsibility was to make sure our kids didn't get irreparably sunburned or eat too much key lime pie. Life was good, and upon returning I felt rested and refreshed.

When I arrived home, however, I noticed that weeds had taken over the front and back yards. Right away, my husband noticed the two hefty bags of clothes my generous and fashionable sister had given me (I never tire of hand-me-downs!) I'd left them sitting in the hallway for four weeks, on top of the clothes hamper, which meant my kids didn't have any place to put their dirty laundry. (I could go on, but you get the picture).

Being acutely observant, I noticed the difference between my normal life and being on vacation, and I felt overwhelmed. I thought of my organized Virgo friends, which only made me feel worse, because for all my fine qualities, house keeping, record keeping, and general maintenance had never been my strong suits.

So I spent some time pondering the overwhelm, and realized a few important things:

1. The new "normal" is for most of us to feel a little overwhelmed by life. We live in an amped-up, down-sized, multitasking, social networking, age of too much information, distraction, stimulation, and activities. (Add to that school-aged children and aging parents, and there's no way around all the action and responsibilities). We need to learn new ways of coping.

2.  Our human nervous systems are not wired for this much input, so we spend way too much time in "fight or flight" mode (which used to be reserved for crisis situations). So, the more sensitive and/or high-strung we are, the more we have to consciously build into our days restorative time (for exercise, meditation, extra sleep, etc.).

3.  It is of critical importance that we prioritize tasks, and not see them all as equal (or even necessary). This is where making a list can really help. Writing down everything that you believe needs to be done and then determining what is most important for today or this week, can organize your thoughts and bring about great relief. Even if you're behind on everything, chances are you can work out a reasonable schedule for getting things done.

4.  Simplify, simplify, simplify! Do your kids really need to participate in five extracurricular activities and then fall into bed exhausted every night? Do you or your spouse commute two to three hours a day so that you can have a bigger house, nicer car, and high blood pressure? It might be time to consider ways in which you can take some of the unnecessary stress out of your family's lives.

5.  It's okay to give yourself a break. You don't have to be an over-achiever. Just because you intended to keep your photo albums up to date doesn't mean you have to follow through, especially if it's stressing you out. The way I see it, that's what the golden years are for!

This week, if you're feeling at all overwhelmed, I ask you to take a few minutes to step back and reevaluate your life, your priorities, and your current values. You might find that decisions and commitments you made in the past are no longer serving you, or that your current needs are not being adequately addressed.