In the course of a day or week, there are likely times when it feels as though 24 hours is not enough time to get everything knocked off of your to-do list; you are always running late or you may have completely missed something that you “should” have been doing. It is times like these when feelings of overwhelm begin to direct your thoughts and choices. There may also be seasons of life when it feels less than an exception and more like your standard to be rooted in rushed thoughts, feelings and actions. For these times, rushing around may feel inescapable and you tell yourself that you “must” do all of the things set before you. You find yourself saying things like “I have to do this right now” or “I should have been there fifteen minutes ago.” Being in a state of constant rushing can present itself in many different ways, but if you find yourself feeling over-booked, over-worked, over-thinking, over-caffeinated, rushing from thing to thing and multi-tasking your multi-tasks, you may be in the good company of the many of us who are rushing through life and consequently experiencing the anxiety and stress related to never getting it all done. Now don’t get me wrong, your overflowing schedule most likely filled with very good intentions. You may have a full and fun social calendar, family functions that keep you busy, working towards a promotion at work or meeting the needs of your family and household which are all positive aspects of your life. The question you must as yourself though, is at the end of the day are you spreading yourself so thin that you are less happy, calm and healthy? It is important to take a step back and make sure that on your long list of to-do items, taking care of YOU makes it on the list.
Rushing, over-doing and over-caffeinating are feeling states that I know well although it is often when we see these “symptoms” in others that our awareness begins to come into focus. I began to recognize these attributes in others recently, triggered by an example a few weeks ago as I was sitting at a red light. The person behind me was becoming impatient as she wanted to turn right at the red light and I was going forward through the light, therefore requiring her to wait until the light turned green to turn. She honked, edged closer to my car and made some rather unkind hand gestures before finally the light turned green and she sped off in the direction of her next to-do list item. It was with this interaction that I thought “wow, she lost her calm” and then I realized how frequently I also lose my calm and replace it with being busy, stressed or rushed. This example is just one of many I’m sure that we can think of when we reflect on trying to pack too much into the hours that we are given. The ability to patiently wait for the light to turn green, to take things one step at a time rather than constantly feeling three steps ahead, to breathe well, eat well and take care of oneself throughout the day are lost when we choose rushing and stress over peace and calm.
As with any change, it may feel overwhelming to change the pace with which you run through life or even impossible to know where to start. You may have self-doubting thoughts, worries about how to get your to-do list accomplished if you aren’t running on all cylinders or difficulty knowing what step to take first. You are not alone in these reactions. Change is difficult and exploring within yourself what needs to change in order to move from rushed anxiety to calm confidence will be a process and a journey. To get started, think small. Here are 5 small steps to encourage yourself as you move toward a calmer pace:
1. Look at your do-to list and organize what is a “must-do” and what is something that can be delegated, deferred or deleted. If you struggle in finding anything that isn’t a must-do, ask a trusted friend, significant other or colleague. The trusted people in your life most likely see the stress bubble around you on your most rushed days and they want better for you. Allow them to help you refocus and prioritize your list
2. Care for yourself as well as you care for those around you. You would never ask your best friend or child to go without a meal simply because he or she were busy, yet you may do this all of the time. You wouldn’t want your partner or child to delay sleep for 3 or more hours later simply to finish a project. Diet, exercise and sleep are important pieces of a healthy you and if you choose to care for yourself in these ways you may find it easier to accomplish more on your list each day.
3. Schedule down time. The art of doing nothing is often lost on the over-doer and in doing so, the rush never has a break. Block out time on your calendar and make an appointment for yourself. Challenge yourself to not schedule anything over this self-time appointment and find a calm and quiet activity free of your cell phone, laptop and calendar. If that feels impossible, start small and find 15 quiet minutes every day. You may start to find that you enjoy the time and want to schedule more!
4. Learn to say no. It is okay to say no to things especially if it is something that you truthfully do not have the time for in your busy schedule. It is not lazy, apathetic or selfish to say no and it is important to recognize that many times saying no to one more thing in your schedule is saying yes to self-care and your own health. Again, saying no to an additional responsibility or activity is saying yes to yourself. You don’t need to explain your reason for declining and you aren’t obligated to say yes to everything. It is okay to say no. You are important and a key piece of your journey toward calm is being able to say no to things that will rush or overwhelm your schedule.
5. Start small and learn from your mistakes. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Anticipate that there will be times that you get completely off track. For those times when you find yourself eating in the car, while checking email at the red light as you rush between meetings or staying up late to fit in everything on your list, give yourself grace and remember that you can make small choices throughout the day to help regain momentum toward your goal. Even in that moment, take a breath and remember that it is okay if everything doesn’t get completed; you are working to re-prioritize your to-do list and take care of yourself. Taking those mindfulness moments to reflect on where you are in the present can be quick booster shots of positivity in your rush filled day and may be a simple and focused strategy toward getting yourself back on track.
Now let me encourage and remind you that change takes time. As a goal driven individual, you may want to feel completely on top of this journey in one day but let me assure you that this will take time and that the time is worth it for your sanity, peace and calm. Make small, positive choices. Give yourself grace for the times when you get off track. Practice patience with yourself and those around you. Honking at the person in front of you won’t get you where you need to be that much faster, and remember that the person honking at you may also be working to catch their calm at well.
Sending you positive vibes as you work today to find your peace. If you find yourself stuck or unsure of where to start, ask a friend or contact Northstar Counseling Center to explore how counseling can help in this journey.