Whenever I catch myself in ‘overwhelm’ mode and can see it’s not temporary (i.e. isn’t the kind brought on by an expected short-term project, or a compressed work-week because I’ve been sick), I know it’s time for some re-calibration.
Or, to put it another way: a life edit.
I reckon I do one of these edits every six to eight months for the simple reason that my life tends to follow this cycle:
Overwhelm > Life edit > Ahh, I can breathe > Space to breathe gives rise to opportunities > Accept one opportunity > Accept another > Accept another > Oops, one opportunity too many > Overwhelm > Time for another life edit.
Perhaps I should learn to never accept that ‘one opportunity too many’ – but what I’ve found is that it’s seldom the most recent opportunity or commitment that’s causing the stress. More often it’s the things that have been in my life for a while that need re-assessing. (i.e. Something that was a great idea a year ago either didn’t turn out the way I expected, or isn’t the same level of priority now.)
So, I’ve accepted that these ongoing life edits are necessary and have performed many of them over the years. I’ve also walked a good few friends through them. Thus, I feel quite qualified to say if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, putting a red line through at least one of the following three things will relieve a whole lot of pressure. The best thing about all them? They can be done today. Ahh, gotta love a bit of instant gratification …
Edit #1: That standing commitment
You know, the one that only requires you to show up once a month so it really doesn’t sound like much, but gee, a month rolls by quickly doesn’t it? And it’s not just the hour or two that you’re required to be there – it’s the travelling there and back. It’s the prep you have to do. It’s the disruption to your normal routine.
And, of course, I’m not just talking monthly commitments; I’m talking about any kind of standing commitment – weekly, bi-annually, whateverly. It could be a committee meeting, a book club, a guest post for a big website. Whatever it is, if it fills you with dread and creeps up on you each time the cycle rolls around … it’s safe to say that editing that commitment out of your life will free up a good amount of much-needed head space.
Edit #2: That friend who’s not good for you
Some people come into your life for a reason, some for a season, and some a lifetime. Problems arise when we hold on to ‘reason’ and ‘season’ friendships out of a sense of obligation despite knowing the friendship has outgrown the reason or season.
Then there are the friendships that are just no good for you. They don’t make you feel good about yourself, are hugely one-sided, or drain you of energy.
If there’s a friendship in your life where everything feels like a huge effort, ask yourself whether it’s time to let that friendship go. And remember, letting go of it for now doesn’t mean you’re letting go of it forever. That friend might be right for the next season of your life. They’re just not right for you now.
Edit #3: That story you’re telling yourself
‘I’m not good enough.’
‘Why do these things always happen to me?’
‘Why can’t life just be easier?’
Every one of us has at least one story that tends to rear its head when we’re feeling overwhelmed and our resilience is at a low ebb. (Disclosure: the ‘Why can’t life just be easier?,’ story is mine.) And, frankly, these stories are unhelpful.
Here are three ways to edit these stories:
- Defusing them: This involves interacting with the story in a different way so that it loses it power. You could try telling yourself the story in a funny voice, putting the words ‘I am having the thought that …’ in front of the story, or repeating it, out loud, over and over until all the words run into each other.
- Challenging them: This involves taking the story and challenging its veracity. For instance, I could ask myself ‘Is everything actually too hard? Or is it just some things?’
- Re-framing them: We can’t always change the things that happen to us in life, but we can change the way we view them. So, when I fall into the mindset of ‘Why can’t life just be easier?’, I can re-frame that to something more realistic: ‘There’s a situation I’m finding quite challenging at the moment, but happily most areas in my life are ticking along nicely, so I’ve got the capacity to deal.’
A life edit is like a spring clean
No matter how vigilant we are about what we let into our houses, and no matter how frequently we declutter, we still find it necessary to do a big clean out once or twice a year. That’s because things that made sense to hold on to a year ago might not hold the same meaning for us now.
Life is no different, so resist the urge to look at the need for life edits as some kind of failure on your part.
Life is fluid; priorities shift and circumstances change.
Developing good life-editing skills will allow you to identify and arrest overwhelm more quickly each time, and even, in some instances, completely avoid it.