This is the third in a three part series. Part One covered the symptoms of overwhelm and anxiety. In Part Two, I shared some of my survival tactics for weathering a season of overwhelm. For the final installment of the series, I give some suggestions for how to develop greater overwhelm resilience by “underwhelming” your life.
After I published Part One of The Overwhelm Diaries, I got an email from a beloved, far-away friend, James. He shared how when he feels overwhelmed, it’s as if something outside himself takes over and wrests the helm of his life away. Helm, as it turns out, is from the German for handle. He wrote, “As in: I just can’t get a handle on my life!” I understand exactly what James means. There are times when I feel as if I’m sailing along, very much the captain of my own ship. And then, before I know it, a storm blows up and the waves are crashing over me and I’m not steering anymore. I’ve lost the helm.
When I first started teaching about overwhelm, and its first cousin, overload, I pitched my workshops along the lines of defeating these two. I no longer think of it that way. Now, I think in terms of resilience. Adversity will come into our lives; this is a given fact. We can’t avoid the storms, the crises, the difficulties, the struggles that life sometimes deals out. What we can do, however, is prepare for them. Think of this as a form of disaster preparedness. You’re going to get swamped. You’re going to have seasons of storms. But you don’t have to drown.
How Do You Underwhelm Your Life?
When something is underwhelming, we usually mean it’s disappointing or not quite up to expectations. The underwhelmed life I’m talking about isn’t like that at all. An underwhelmed life is one that is stable, has some predictability, and is well grounded. Here’s how I’ve underwhelmed my life so that I’m better prepared to weather the seasons of overwhelm, when they blow in.
- Slow down. A couple of years ago, I realized that I value feeling unhurried. To put it another way, I really detest feeling rushed or frantic. One of the ways I honor the value of being unhurried was by changing how I allocate my time. I take great care to keep my schedule balanced and spacious, to hold space for daily self-care (like lunch away from my desk), and to take regular breaks. One side effect of slowing down I didn’t anticipate was that big projects sometimes take longer to complete—however, the benefit of feeling less stressed is worth the it to me.
- Create containers. Often, people tell me that I’m very busy. However, what these folks don’t know is that I’m actually not nearly as busy as I seem to be. What looks like busy from the outside is actually my well-honed ability to put activities into containers and not let them spill out. I decide how much space in my schedule to allocate for particular activities and I don’t let those escape from the nice boxes I’ve put them in. Of course, there are times when everything goes haywire but I mostly manage to wall work into certain days and times and not let it roam freely over the landscape of my life.
- Cultivate relationships. Social support is essential when I’m in a season on anxiety and overwhelm. I tend to isolate myself when I’m stressed and that is not healthy for me. Because I need the support of family and friends when I’m in distress, I cultivate and nurture relationships when I’m calm and happy. I do art dates with my girl friends. I take days off with my hubby. I have coffee with my mom. I’m present for my people so I can be a loving source of encouragement when they need me. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only shows up when I need something. I make lots of deposits in the emotional bank accounts of friends and family—those are good investments for all of us, not just me.
- Get good at being still. Being still will anchor your life. A stillness practice will ground, stabilize, and center your soul. Part of the reason stillness underwhelms my life is that I’ve been able to learn who I am. I am not my circumstances. I am not my emotions. I am a beloved daughter of God—a spiritual being having a human experience.
- Look at your calendar. Ask: How can I make more space? Give yourself permission to open space and not fill it with anything.
- Practice stillness. This might be as simple as going to a local coffee shop, alone, without your laptop. Take a book and read. People watch. If necessary, leave your phone in the car!
- Look for your values. What do you value most? Invest in that.
- In the comments, share your strategies for underwhelming your life. You can be certain that your story will help someone else.
For the month of December, I’ll be focusing on creating intentions for 2016. There will be posts on year-end review and reflection, suggestions on how to choose intentions instead of resolutions, and a mini-workshop on how to create a beautiful and lasting intentions book as a tangible reminder of what you’ve chosen for the focus of your attention. For newsletter subscribers, there’ll be a special gift!