I realized a long time ago that the constant feeling of having way too much to do and not enough time to do it is probably never going to go away.
I’ve always felt behind (well, except maybe when I was little kid), and it’s highly likely that I always will feel behind.
But when I look at the reality of my life, there’s been a lot of feelings of urgency, of running up the down escalator. And yet I’ve always managed to get the important stuff done.
In other words, when I stop to look from a place of rationality, the reality is that my feeling of having so much to do and so little time is just that: a feeling.
If I can accept this as benign reality, then every time I have that “Oh-My-God-I-Have-Way-Too-Much-To-Do-And-Not-Enough-Time-To-Do-It!” feeling, I can have a conversation with myself that goes something like this:
Panicky Self: Oh my god, I have way too much to do and not enough time to do it! Ack!
Outside-the-Distress Self: Hmm… I see you’re feeling a bit stressed.
Panicky Self: Um, DUH! Did you not hear that I have way too much to do and not enough time to do it?!
Outside-the-Distress Self: I heard that you are feeling overwhelmed and overstressed.
Panicky Self: Yes! I am!
Outside-the-Distress Self: Well, I certainly understand the feeling. However, I just want to point out that you have had this feeling many, many times before, isn’t that right?
Panicky Self: Yes! All the time! It’s imminent disaster!
Outside-the-Distress Self: Well, let me ask you this. Has the disaster ever actually happened?
Panicky Self: Err.. Um… Well, no.
Outside-the-Distress Self: Exactly. Which leads me to believe that it’s highly unlikely it will happen this time either. N’est-ce pa?
[Author’s Note: the Outside-the-Distress Self seems to have a command of French that I do not. Amazing how that is.]
Panicky Self: Well…
Outside-the-Distress Self: I understand that you feel extremely overwhelmed, overworked and overstressed. I understand that it feels like imminent disaster. But it seems that you pretty much always feel this way – am I right?
Panicky Self: I… Err… YES!
Outside-the-Distress Self: So if you always feel this way, but the “imminent disaster” never actually happens, I wonder if you might be able to entertain the notion that the feeling is just a feeling.
Panicky Self: Just a feeling..?
Outside-the-Distress Self: Yes – so far it hasn’t been attached to any kind of benign reality, right?
Panicky Self: Well, yeah. This is true…
Outside-the-Distress Self: And yet I know the stressed-out, overworked and overwhelmed feeling keeps coming back. I suspect that feeling of imminent disaster will probably always be there, but if you know that it’s just a feeling, maybe you can have a more peaceful coexistence with it. What do you think?
Panicky Self: [Sits down, noticeably more relaxed.] Aaaahhhhh. I feel sooooo much better. Thank you!
In actual fact, my conversation doesn’t last nearly that long. I just remind my Panicky Self that this is just a feeling, that I always have 10 (or 20) things on my “I really want to get this stuff done today” list, when it’s only humanly possible to get 3 done in a day.
And yet, despite being perpetually “behind,” I always manage to get everything done by whatever deadline really counts.
I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) that an unpleasant feeling is a) not necessarily reality, and b) something I can just notice, and allow to be there while I go on with my life.
The lovely bonus to this is that the more I notice the feeling and allow it to be – without trying to fix it or squash it or change it – the less of a hold it has over me. The more free I feel from it!
The upshot (here’s the rub) is that the more I’m able to be at peace with my feelings of overwhelm, the more space I’m able to create in my life to follow my creative Blisses. Not to mention spend time with the people I love, and take care of my own self-care.
This one little trick allows me to live a much more relaxed existence. And somehow I still manage to get everything done.
I’m curious – does this resonate with you at all? What kind of change would having a conversation like this with your Panicky Self allow in your life? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
Oh yes indeedy—I said all of those Panicky-Self things not 10 minutes ago! I just returned from 10 days away (and I mean AWAY—up in Alaska at a remote fishing lodge) and now my “home world” is rapidly closing in. I really needed that message right NOW, Melissa, so thank you! I actually need to remember it about 10 times a day (hmmm…there seems to be a “10” theme here). So now I will break down all the Overwhelm into itty-bitty workable pieces and just TCB. Merci beaucoup.
Sally, whose shoulders are riding a little lower now…
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Ah, yes, the Just-Back-From-Time-Away Syndrome! That’s definitely one of the times when that panicky voice starts working overtime!
You’re right, though — all the Overwhelm is doable when broken down into itty-bitty workable pieces. 🙂
So glad to hear your shoulders are riding a little lower, Sally! And welcome back!
Lovely Melissa, I have this conversation with myself oh, about three or four times per day. As someone who’s pursuing her creative interests and dreams and still working the other stuff to support those creative passions, these kinds of internal conversations are normal.
I used to be able to get everything pretty much done before I became a parent. But after my daughter was born, that had to change. I struggled a lot to get my work and art done and look after her; I had this crazy idea I could do it all. Not! Eventually I just told myself, what needs to get done will get done. The rest, I’ll finish when I finish it. And when my daughter is around on the days she’s not at daycare, I’ll focus on enjoying time with her. I think I’ve learned that when you listen more to the Outside Your Distressed Voice more than the Panicky voice, you actually reach more goals and enjoy life a lot more.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Yep, I often have the conversation multiple times a day too. Our lives are so turbo-charged these days. (I honestly don’t know how parents do it!)
You’re so right though: listening more to the Outside-the-Distress voice is the key! 🙂
Wil H says
Sista Melissa – Thank you…I needed that!!!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
You’re so welcome, Wil! Glad you found it. 🙂