On overwhelm

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in our house. I’ve discovered that a teething baby that’s learning how to walk and talk does not sleep well.

It’s left me feeling overwhelmed from sleep deprivation, and without motivation to do much but lay on the couch and stare blankly at the wall.

But I’ve also learnt something extremely valuable amongst all of the chaos these last few weeks.

In addition to the dishes being left unwashed, toys not being put away and general “crap everywhere” situation, there’s been things to do. I mean there’s always things to do, but particularly at the moment.

We’re moving house in five weeks. I’m writing this blog. We haven’t even started thinking about packing.

Did I mention we have a baby?!

My usual response to this kind of overwhelm would be to go into hyperdrive-mode and push myself to get everything done on my to do list in order to regain a sense of control.

It would make me feel better (for a while), but I’d be exhausted. And it would never end.

There would always be one more thing to get done, one more box to tick – resulting in one less hour of sleep for an already chronically sleep deprived Mum.

That response used to be my default, I wouldn’t even think about it.

But not now – I’ve changed.

Yes, that hyperdrive-mode muscle memory is still there, but now there appears to be a safety mechanism in place. I owe that to burnout – not a place I’d like to be again, but it has gifted me with better coping skills nonetheless.

This safety mechanism kicked in this week.

Instead of speeding up, I consciously slowed down. I acknowledged the compulsion to want to run around and tick things off my to do list.

And instead, I did nothing.

I relaxed. I read some interiors magazines and got excited about our impending move, and the big old house that will soon be ours.

I wrote in my journal and watched House of Cards.

I ignored the mess, the clutter, the busy-ness, the to do list.

Then I discovered something – the world kept spinning. Rather than feeling more overwhelmed because I hadn’t done anything, I felt more in control. I had more space, I felt lighter.

Shutting everything down allowed my mind to quieten and my body to relax. Once I felt calm, everything else seemed easy. I whipped through all the things I needed to get done, without any of the stress, and without grinding myself into the ground.

I’ve never taken this route before. EVER.

I never considered doing nothing as a serious antidote for ‘busy’.

When I write out those words it seems bleedingly obvious, but don’t we all do this?

It’s easier to speed up when we’re already in motion, even if we’re exhausted.

The real effort is in putting the brakes on, taking stock, and sitting back. When we’re in the thick of it that feels like the hardest option.

But I dare you to try it sometime.

No doubt the next time I feel overwhelmed I’ll still feel like launching into ‘doer mode’, but I’ll be relying on my newly found safety switch to help me.

The hard weeks will always come, no question. This will never change. And the craving for control and perfection will likely never leave me either.

But knowing I can disrupt this process and alter its course for the better – all through doing nothing – well that sounds pretty damn good to me.

 

2 comments on On overwhelm

  • Mike

    It can be very hard to resist the urge to do more. I’ve found overwhelm can lead to busy-work… that is work that takes time, adds stress but is not productive. A vicosous cycle! Great thoughts!

    • Nicole (author)

      Totally 🙂 Busy work is never a good mode to be in!

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