How to Beat Soul Overwhelm: Encouragement and Guidance for When Life is Too Much
You're buried underneath a mountain of obligations, requirements, and commitments: half an hour for a conference call here, an hour for that unnecessary work meeting that could've been handled over email, a couple hours stuck at your grandparents' house as they tell you a story for the seventh time even though you're running late for the yoga class you somehow managed to squeeze into your schedule that's bursting at the seams.
It's all just too much sometimes.
What do we do when we're just plumb tired and overwhelmed with the stress of overstuffed calendars and over-filled to-do lists?
TAKE A BREAK
First, we take a break and just breathe. That's it. Just breathe.
Whether it means we have to literally walk away from the situation before us or just mentally disconnect for a moment, taking a break can be the easiest way to become refreshed and gain new energy.
The wonderful thing about taking a break is that it doesn't have to be complicated. You can take a break right where you are. You don't have to go anywhere specific, say anything in particular, or do anything special. You just need to give yourself some breathing room so you can return to the task before you with more peace and renewed focus.
I like to take breaks from my work every afternoon to go for a walk. It helps me disconnect, de-stress, and allows me to think more freely and creatively because there's not so much pressure to sit down and create.
CONDUCT A TIME INVENTORY
How are we spending our time? Perhaps we're truly just overworked and overcommitted, and that's what's causing the soul overwhelm.
In our culture of go, go, go, it's completely normal to have schedules filled to the brim with work, errands, meetings, family obligations, and just trying to keep ourselves and our homes from falling apart.
If you're not aware of how you're currently spending your time, you might think you don't have time for a coffee date with a friend, a date night with your boyfriend, or an afternoon spent reading your new book. But if those things are important to you, you can find a way to make time for them. We all make time for what matters most to us. It's just a matter of saying "yes" and "no" to the right things.
The best way I've found to discover how I'm truly spending my time is to conduct a time inventory with a tool like my time tracker. It allows you to write down how you spend your time for a full day so you can see where your time is really going, and then it follows up with questions for you to consider as you seek to spend more of your time investing in what really matters to you.
REFRESH YOUR PRIORITIES
What are we really prioritizing? If we say our priorities are family, health, and friends, but we continue to work 60+ hours every week, we're not acting in a way that supports those priorities.
The way we spend our time ought to reflect our priorities, but that's not always the case. Sometimes we get it backwards and let our schedules dictate our priorities, allowing ourselves to fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent.
If we fill our calendars first with time dedicated to what matters most to us-- slow Saturdays with our loved ones, screen-free Sundays, Wednesday night coffee dates with our friends, runs to the farmer's market, time to read each evening, time to work out each weekday morning-- then we'll guard that time more effectively and find that we do have enough time for the things that are most important. And as a result, the less important things will be seen as just that-- less important. They'll be relegated to their proper position, gaining space only when there's enough margin in our lives for us to take on that extra project, make that extra trip to the store, or take on that extra hobby that everyone else is doing.
I once saw an illustration that went like this: Imagine someone is filling a glass vase with rocks and sand. There are large rocks, small rocks, and the sand with which to fill the vase. Imagine the person filling the vase puts in the sand, representing the little details of life, the plethora of options and opportunities that are fun and alluring and exciting and new, first. He then adds the small rocks which represent the somewhat important things like work deadlines, volunteering in that after school tutoring program, and attending his mom's friend's kid's graduation party he got invited to. Finally, he tries to add the large rocks that are meant to symbolize the most important things like his immediate family, close friends, health, and work he's passionate about. By adding the sand, then the small rocks, and then the large rocks, there isn't enough room in the vase for all the pieces. They just don't all fit.
But when he tries again and reverses the order, something entirely different happens. He puts in the most important things first, creating a foundation inside the vase. He then builds upon that foundation with the somewhat important things, fitting them around the larger rocks at the bottom. And then he adds the sand last, allowing it fill in the cracks and gaps between the other rocks, fitting in where it can, creating something whole and beautiful. And it all fits because he put the most important things in first.
Our lives are the same way. If we focus on our top priorities first, we're setting ourselves up for success, and we're allowing the less important things to be added only where there's room. Once our lives are full, they're full. And if we try to squeeze in some of the large rocks after we've already filled our vase with sand, we're going to be frustrated and we just might break the vase in the process.
Our bodies and minds need to take regular breaks for rest in the midst of our hectic lives. If they don't, they get worn out and overwhelmed. Taking periodic breaks is great, but taking regular breaks helps us to run more efficiently on a consistent basis and can help prevent the overwhelm in a proactive way.
Setting aside specific time to rest and worship, instead of rushing around and doing all the things, will refresh us and allow our souls more space to breathe. It helps us remain centered (or get re-centered) and remember what really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Whether you observe the Sabbath on Sundays or choose to work into a different day of the week that fits better with your schedule, setting aside a day to disconnect from the chaotic pace of the world around you will give you the space and time you need to refresh.
Some things I've found helpful in creating my own practice of Sabbath are the following:
act intentionally, doing what gives you life
spend time with your people
do more of what makes you happy
take a break from work, house work, and errands
take a break from mindless social media consumption
get outside and enjoy nature
pay attention to what you really need-- a nap, a walk, a talk with a friend, time to journal, a cup of tea, a relaxing movie night-- and honor it
What ways have you found to beat soul overwhelm? I'd love to hear from you in the comments or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org!