We live in a world that moves very, very fast. It’s difficult to keep up with it. We want to get as much done as our friends and family and all those perfect moms on Pinterest, all while looking glamorous and not breaking a sweat. It’s hard. And then we see some other thing that we “ought” to be doing, so we add it to the list. And it gets harder. We don’t learn our lesson and we add the next thing to the list, and now it’s too hard. We get snippy and overtired. We wonder why no one is helping us even though we feel like we should be able to do it alone, so we stew in a toxic broth of resentment and guilt.
I understand what it’s like to expect yourself to be superwoman. I want to be her. I try, fail, feel bad, try again.
Another [Christmas newsletter study] published in 2007 documented a new fin de siècle syndrome: “busyness.” Analyzing about a half-century of newsletters, Ann Burnett of North Dakota State University saw an increase in the use of words such as “hectic,” “whirlwind” and “crazy.” Through their annual holiday letters, she says, people were “competing about being busy.”
I’m writing this note to you (and me!) at the end of November. Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is coming up. This is the time of year when it’s easiest to get bogged down and overrun with holiday commitments on top of regular duties and things we want to do, wish we could do, think we should do. Before you (or I!) go spinning out of control, let’s both stop, take a breather, and start with some emotional healthcare basics:
Be honest with yourself. You might feel like you should be able to keep up with everything, but can you? We get older. Or we get the flu, or our toddler gets an ear ache. We could keep up once, and maybe we will again, but… perhaps not right now. If you’re stressed about keeping up, ask yourself if you need to slow down for a while – and give yourself an honest answer.
Figure out what’s important. The Pinterest moms are throwing the perfect birthday or holiday party, and you feel like you should, too, because They can. Is that really the most important thing you could be doing, though? Do your kids really want a magazine-worthy party that took so much work to pull off that you can’t enjoy it because you’re too frazzled? Would your family be just as happy – or happier? – with sandwiches at the park and a family game day?
For years, I worked a major craft fair on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving. I prepared for it for weeks, while also working my regular job. The day before Thanksgiving was spent setting up my booth, and Thanksgiving night was always a family-wide marathon of packaging up my wares. My family got tired of it long before I did (and long before it became no longer profitable) and I didn’t take their feelings into account like I should have. I dampened their holiday by taking on this unnecessary work for not that much of a return on investment. I let the booth go after last year, and while it felt odd to not be preparing like usual this year, you know what? It was nice. We relaxed. And my family thanked me repeatedly. The craft fair wasn’t what was important, and I lost sight of what really was.
Take the pressure off. Don’t try to be like other people if that’s not who you are. The Joneses volunteer at the soup kitchen and the Smiths are heavily involved in their youth club. You don’t have to do the same things they do in order to feel worthy. Those are their gifts. Recognize where your own gifts are. The Lord put us all on the earth with different gifts so we can each do what we’re here to do, not so we can all compete.
Stop looking on Pinterest if Pinterest makes you feel inadequate. Stop buying the magazines if looking at the perfectly-staged photos makes you feel bad about your house with your children’s toys on the floor. Stop comparing yourself to airbrushed ideals when freckles and barn hair are just as endearing.
In Christmases past, I heavily decorated the house. I put up five Christmas trees. I had the time. Now, I don’t. I looove decorating for Christmas but as I’ve gotten busier and we’ve moved to a smaller house, I’ve done less. This year I needed to let it go. We’re putting up some lights on the porch and one tabletop Christmas tree, and calling it good. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Rather than spend my December making sure the house is decorated from top to bottom, this year I’m choosing one thing that really matters to me, which my family can also enjoy. I’m going to bake my famous almond roll-out cookies (and share the recipe with you) and I’m going to decorate the daylights out of them. I picked one thing that’s important to me and let go of things that would only add stress where none needed to be. Maybe next year I’ll have so many decorations up that the house will be visible from the space station. Or maybe not. I’ll decide that next November. I’ve decided on my limits for this season and can breathe a sigh of relief!
Say no if you have to. Or if you just want to. You don’t have to say yes to everyone who asks you to do something.
I hated doing special orders in my work. The store I sewed for would take in random special orders, and it interrupted my entire work flow. I didn’t get paid any extra labor for having done the order, and the disruption actually cost me money. It took far too long for me to put my foot down and say no, but I did, and I’m better off for it. Granted, I’m self-employed, so I wasn’t going to get fired for saying no, but that’s a pretty good example anyway. Say yes to the tasks that you are well-suited for if you have time to do them, and if not, say no. Don’t agree to do Yet Another Thing if it will stress you out. Maybe you know someone who’s better suited for the job and can make a suggestion. If not, that’s okay.
I knew a woman who used to just say “No” to things without explaining why. She didn’t feel the need to. Yes, it was awkward sometimes, but on the other hand, you never had a gray area with her. She was very organized and efficient and didn’t take on more than she should. She knew what her limits were and as a result, so did the people around her. I’m not saying be rude or abrupt, I’m saying boundaries are good and knowing clearly where they are is even better.
Take a break from multi-tasking. You’re probably a task-driven person or you wouldn’t have read this far. And if you’re a multi-tasker like me, you probably miss the joy in some of those tasks because you’re too busy Doing It All. Slow down for a minute and really think about what you’re doing. Savor the little details. Remember that you love what you do. Give yourself a minute to see the magic in those “mundane” jobs. When was the last time you noticed how pretty dish soap bubbles are?
Make a list if it helps you. When I feel particularly overwhelmed, I make lists. The more overwhelmed I feel, the more detailed the lists become. On the days and weeks when I feel more in control, I write one list for the week, with only the main points on it. It’s just a few things I want to get done by the end of the week, and that’s all I need. Other times, when I feel my obligations (or emotions) spiraling out of control, my lists get ridiculously detailed. “Take a shower.” “Get dressed.” “Eat breakfast.” “Wash the dishes.” It works with my personality to be able to focus on the tiny bites it takes to get me through my day when I’m tense, and I find it satisfying to mark things off the list, looking back at the end of the day to see how many things I’ve crossed off.
If that’s not you – if having a list stresses you out – don’t make one. Find some other way to break the work down into manageable pieces so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Take care of your needs. We’ve already talked about setting some healthy boundaries by saying No when you need to. You have other needs too, and you should acknowledge those as well. You have to protect your physical health as well as your mental health. Taking on too many extra stressors can weaken your immune system, making you vulnerable to illness. Spend at least a few minutes every day doing something good for your body. Take a short walk, do your stretches, eat a healthy snack, meditate or pray. Put some lotion on those dry hands and floss those teeth. It doesn’t take long and you’ll reap lasting benefits.
When you fly in an airplane, the flight crew will tell you that, if the cabin loses air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. If you’re flying with a child, they will tell you to put your mask on first, then put a mask on your child. Why? If you are incapacitated, you’re both in trouble.
Let go of “perfect”. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. Who’s idea of perfect are you chasing? Is it yours, or the internet’s?
Not doing it all doesn’t mean do nothing. I’m not saying that you should pull the covers over your head and ignore all your responsibilities. Blowing off our obligations can bring about it’s own amount of stress, so don’t do that. Figure out what’s important and what isn’t; what’s necessary and what’s extra; what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy. You can do this. But you don’t have to do it all.
Celebrate your wins. There is a dopamine/cortisol response in our brains that rewards us when we achieve something and makes us feel bad when we think we haven’t measured up. Give yourself a minute every day to acknowledge what you accomplished. If making a list every morning and crossing things off later doesn’t work for you, I have a twist that might. Start with a blank piece of paper. Don’t write anything down until after you’ve done the thing. THEN cross it off. This will make you slow down for long enough to give yourself a nod. “I got the dishes washed.” Write it down. Cross it off. “I took care of myself by brushing my teeth and washing my face.” “I fixed my kids breakfast before they left for school.” “I swept the floor.” Seeing how much you do, every single day, is an important thing. Pat yourself on the back every now and then.