Your journal prompts this week:
How does my mind manage overwhelm?
How does my body respond to overwhelm?
What are the "hard cuts" I need to make in my life to ease my overwhelm?
For those things beyond my control, how can I support myself in going with the flow?
Note: Before I get into this week’s essay, I want to share that my newest Substack and podcast, The Mindful Content Creator, have officially launched! When you subscribe, you’ll receive weekly prompts to help you create content mindfully.
I've been seeing it on many social media accounts I follow . . . this beautiful picture of the slow, simple life. It looks lovely. I want it—but it feels far from realistic.
I don’t lead the simple life. My life is one of pretty continuous overwhelm, one where there are always competing priorities and things that feel like they need to be done, right now, and it's all my responsibility. People are counting on me.
My husband jokes that my mood changes any time I get an email from someone asking me to do something for them. While this is an exaggeration, there's truth to it, and that bothers me. It bothers me because doing things for other people is pretty much my job. For most of us, that's what a job is.
My ability to become quickly overwhelmed has been a problem for me for quite some time. I remember a day early in my TV news career. A newscast I had just produced wrapped up, and I came to my desk to see a new story had come across the wire. I told the assignment editor about it, making sure we had it on the list to potentially cover. She said she'd seen it already, that it had come in just before we went to air, but she didn't want to tell me because she knew I didn't like last minute changes or surprises.
I felt embarrassed in that moment. Last minute changes and being able to handle them is a basic in the job description of every news producer.
While I made it a personal goal to be more flexible and more prepared for changes after that (and eventually got praised in work reviews for my ability to respond quickly), I still honestly just don't like it when things pop up out of the blue. I'm the kind of person who likes to know more or less what she has to get done (and what her deadlines are) when she wakes up for the day.
This need for a clear flow or routine has become more important to me since I had a baby. Now I quickly become anxious when someone other than my baby needs something from me right away because I feel like I have to choose. Either my baby gets the attention or someone else does, or they both get lower quality, split attention. I feel pressure weighing me down, I feel guilt that I can't respond quickly—and I feel guilt over the fact that sometimes, I just don't want to respond.
I have tried in recent months to take some things off my plate, but still, I find myself having these moments of overwhelm and guilt. I wonder if perhaps this makes me lazy, and if something within me needs to fixed so I can better handle multiple priorities at once. It seems like most other people can do it, so why can't I? Well the truth is I can do it, and on the surface I can look like I'm doing it well. But inside? It's just a mess of overwhelm, anxiety, and on a really bad day, panic.
The most obvious solution is to do less. But how can any of us truly do less in a society and culture that demands more, where our survival depends upon money, and money is most often earned by working or doing more? My ability to do things for others (provide services) has always been my number one commodity.
I ultimately, against all the odds, want to embrace that simple life. I want to stop making myself feel bad for wanting a slower pace. It's not going to be as easy as it looks on social media, that's for sure. But there are a couple of things I am going to try.
First, I'm going to try to do only one thing at a time. When I was struggling with a more overwhelming, stressful period of my life, I went to see a yoga therapist, Susana. And she actually wrote me a permission slip to start doing just one thing at a time, so I am bringing this back into my life.
Second, while I have scaled back, it's time for me to face the "hard cuts." My husband and I bring up this phrase every time we move and are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we have. We acknowledge it's time to make "hard cuts" and not just the obvious ones. The hard cuts are the things you might like, you might use again, but in reality, they are currently just in your way, taking up valuable space. So I'm going to apply this to all the things I do and not just what I own.
Maybe you don't get as easily overwhelmed as I do (I grew up with an anxiety disorder that I'm sure contributes to most of this), but this expectation that we handle all the things at once, that we respond to everyone else's needs immediately, will wear down the best of us over time. In today's world, there's a whole lot coming at us at once, and what is this doing to our psyches, to our nervous systems?
My hope is that if we all start to embrace a slower pace, if we all learn to do one thing at a time again, maybe eventually we can make a simpler life more of the norm. Until then, all we can do is find the best ways to support ourselves in the midst of the chaos. And maybe we can be an example for others who feel this need brewing within them as well.
Do you also feel this overwhelm, or maybe you don’t, but want a simpler life? And what hard cuts do you think you’ll need to make? Explore your experience with overwhelm with the journal prompts above and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below this post. If you comment about something you’re working through, I will pull an oracle or tarot card for you to provide deeper insight!
With much love and gratitude,