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Help, I'm Stuck in Overwhelm 


The sun rises and the sun sets. It sounds trite, but when a friend said it some years ago, it was a profound realization of why the closeness in our relationship was waning. Pressures to produce, waves of relentless deadlines, multitasking ourselves toward distant goals—these were consuming us, even though being silly and outrageous and philosophical together seemed vital soul nourishment.

There seems to be just too little time for everything—or more accurately, there is too much to do for the time we have. Maybe for a while (years, even) we try to cram everything in, while stressing about it, losing sleep, berating ourselves, leaning on stimulants of choice, and postponing favorite pastimes until a lull appears in the schedule, if it ever does. Eventually, health problems may arise, depression may set in, relationships can suffer...we know the downside.

Instead of this picture, how can one find a nourishing balance of work and play, productivity and relaxation, and other elements from the realms of the body, mind, and spirit?

Easy Fixes
“There are no easy fixes,” the saying goes, but actually there are. If you can jettison things you really don’t want to be doing but are hanging on to them out of “shoulds,” let them go! What are you waiting for? Imagine the time you would have for other interests, and draw courage from that delicious vision. A relieving bottom line I learned years ago (but still have trouble believing sometimes) is that nobody cares as much as I do about the choices I make. If I make a choice that disappoints somebody, their own life will soon sweep them onward with less and less thought about my decision. If I make a choice that pleases somebody, ditto.
If other people rely on you for something you want to bow out of, affirmations like these can give you courage to do so: Somebody else with fresh energy and ideas will bring something great to this. Doing this because I feel I should is blocking the natural flow of creative energy, for me and the project. I am the expert on “me,” and I know better than anyone what I need. Change sparks growth and discovery, so I’m giving everyone involved a chance to do that.

Besides ending the things you care for least, other easy fixes include sharing tasks with friends (such as child-care groups held at different people’s houses each week); hiring somebody to help out, even if a few hours a week; and getting a new piece of equipment to streamline a task.

Some changes may not be easy but are important to consider, such as paring down on work hours by saying no to overtime. Ask other people who know you—or who don’t know you as well—for feedback about your situation; they may think outside your worry-worn scenarios very creatively. Try saying “That might work!” to each new suggestion before dismissing it, and think through how it could help you.

Time Transitions
Perhaps you’ll find something familiar in Billy Internicola’s story. He is a teacher, drama club director, and head of the English department at a Poughkeepsie middle school. He is also a husband; father of three children (ages 2, 4, 7); a writer of scripts, fiction, and poetry; a musician; and a volunteer with his son’s Boy Scouts troop. Over the summer he and his wife Annie, a freelance artist, will add co-directorship of a kids’ summer camp. And this is with less time than he had before the kids and the fulltime job, when he and Annie lived in New York City.

“Before, I used to be involved with lots of different creative endeavors,” says Internicola, “like poetry, fiction, theater, and painting. It was possible to get a toe dipped into a lot of things. You can sort of convince yourself you’re committed to all of them, until you have to really make some hard decisions to let some things go. Now I have to focus on what is really most important. The transition was difficult, and at times I felt resentful and angry about it.” But in a way, he says, having children and a traditional job has made him more focused. “You have to be more careful with how you divide your life, and more sincere with what you do.” So he has narrowed the most-important list to four things: creative arts, family, work, and service with a spiritual component—still a very full plate.

Speaking of...

  • Lorrie Klosterman examines strategies to make the most of our time and our lives.

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