The calendar is filling up. Choir has begun, along with Bible quizzing. Speaking and teaching events are coming up. A week-long trip out of state is looming on the horizon. And that doesn’t even count the laundry.
I caught myself getting overwhelmed today. Catching myself was a good thing. There was a time when I would not have recognized the symptoms until I was careening downhill into a headlong crash. Those meltdowns usually involved tears, lots of Kleenex, serious conversations with the hubby and emotional nuclear waste.
The crisis was usually blamed on hormones, fatigue, stress, or just “being overwhelmed.” I didn’t realize that the meltdowns were mostly avoidable.
The downhill slide started with thoughts. Random thoughts, like dandelion seeds floating through the air and getting tangled in my hair. The more thoughts that accumulated, the more crowded my brain became. The thoughts were floating around in my mind, creating an undercurrent of vague uneasiness.
It didn’t take much to tip the scales into overload when there was already an accumulation of underlying stress.
Even when I “knew” that eventually everything would be handled, I went into stress mode almost automatically. Turns out I felt most comfortable in a state of anxiety after having grown up in a home where feeling anxious was the norm. If there wasn’t enough to get stressed about, I created stress so I’d feel at home.
The good news is that I am learning to use some simple tools to get out of the stress zone and into productive mode. Here’s the short list:
Stop. Recognize impending stress feelings so you can deal with them before they progress.
Look. Step back and distance yourself from what is happening. Analyze without emotion. Be careful of sweeping generalizations, like “This ALWAYS happens,” or “I NEVER get to ____.” This was my normal mode of thinking.
Write. Write in a journal when you feel the stress starting. Make a list on paper of what really needs to be done and when. Write things on the calendar or put them in your phone with an alarm. You don’t have to do it all today. Get it out of your head and onto paper so you can see what really IS.
Think. Be aware of automatic thought patterns. You do have the choice to change your thoughts. Thoughts secrete chemicals that create emotions. Thoughts add up to your attitude. You can even change the physical structure of memories in your brain by thinking differently about them when they come up in your thoughts.
Details. Vague, floating thoughts create stress. Back to pen and paper. Details show the reality and remove the fear of the unknown. We tend to avoid details because we want the freedom to be flexible. Freedom is actually found in the details. Writing down, planning out, scheduling in—when you have the details you see the big picture and know where you can flex.
Living in an overwhelmed state can seem natural and understandable. After all, we’re so busy we SHOULD be stressed out, right? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Give yourself a checkup by becoming aware of your stress feelings. What brought it on? What automatic thoughts did you immediately think?
The next time you feel the overwhelm rising, use these simple tools to help lower your stress level. As your calendar fills up and your list gets longer, you can smile and feel confident in your ability to handle it with the right thoughts and all the details!