Feeling Overwhelmed? Ask Madeleine

Overworked word sticky note projects errands tasks jobs to-do liDear Madeleine,

I’m not sure what my exact problem is, except that I am in a constant state of overwhelm.  I have a wonderful job that I love, with a great boss who gives me plenty of challenging opportunities and always has my back.  My employees are all excellent and hardworking.  I have a lovely home—which usually looks like a toy and laundry bomb went off in it—with a spouse who works as hard as I do.  We run from day care drop-off to work, race back for kid pick-up and then home to fall into bed only to get up at dawn and start all over again.

My head is spinning.  I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until this holiday season when I took a few days off and could barely get off the couch. 

I feel like my life is whizzing by and I am missing it.  My kids aren’t even in school yet and I have serious career ambitions, but I don’t see how I am going to keep up this pace.   —Can’t Keep Up

Whoa there, Can’t Keep Up!

Boy, do I sympathize with your situation—and I am sure most of my readers do, too.  My kids are all young adults now and I look back on those early years and wonder how I did it.  You are absolutely right in thinking you aren’t going to be able to keep up the pace. You are behaving as if you signed up for a sprint when, in fact, you are in the first stretch of an endurance marathon.  And what that means, my friend, is that you must pace yourself.  Here a few keys for doing just that:

Put yourself first. This is counterintuitive, I know. But seriously—our culture is so child-centered these days, it can be really hard to focus on yourself and your own needs.  The way you are feeling makes me think there may be some fundamental needs you are not getting met.  Maybe it is time to exercise; maybe it is simply quiet time to think.  Whatever it is, the operative word is going to be time. So whether you carve it out of your workday or your family time, I guarantee that you can find two hours a week where you can do something you need to do to take care of yourself.  And while we’re on the topic of needs—your family will only make it through these years in one piece if you and your spouse pay some attention to each other.  Date nights might be corny and it might be hard to get a sitter, but you simply have to spend some time together when you’re not both comatose.

Let something go. You can have everything, just not all at the same time.  So for any given interval of time—say any week, month, or quarter—decide what is going to get the largest percentage of mindshare.  Sometimes it will be a big project at work; sometimes it will be prepping for the holidays. Decide and prioritize and stick to your guns.  Look at everything you are spending time on—and if it isn’t that important, dump it.  I skipped sending Christmas cards this year—even though I really enjoy it—because guess what? There is no big rule book in the sky that says I have to do it every year.

Get help.  A rule of thumb I learned from entrepreneur guru Michael Gerber is that if somebody else can do something, delegate it—and stay focused on the things only you can do.   If both you and your spouse are working full-time, chances are you can afford a laundry service.  And if I could go back in time and do one thing differently with my kids, I would have been better at making them clean up their toys before bed every night.

Practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness can be defined as the self-regulation of attention or awareness to internal or external events with an orientation of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.  There is a lot of noise on this topic, but the research shows that people who regularly practice mindfulness experience less stress and more joy than those who don’t.  You don’t need to go take a class or become an expert. All you need to do is breathe deeply and notice. Pay attention to what is going on—both within you and around you.  That’s it.  It will lower your stress level and blood pressure; it will be make you feel like a sane person instead of a lunatic.

Practice gratitude. Instead of scanning your phone while waiting in line at the grocery store or rehashing your to-do list while driving around, come up with a mental list of all the things in your life you are grateful for.  It will change your brain chemistry and improve your quality of life in measurable ways.

Take a snapshot. I learned this from my mother-in-law, Margie Blanchard, who has taught me a treasure trove of cool things. This is just a goofy little technique that will help you put some shape to the blur your life has become.  Every night, just as you are getting settled in bed, ask yourself What is the snapshot from today?  It could be a triumphant moment in a meeting; it could be one of your kids saying something hilarious.  It can be sublime or ridiculous, but it is one thing that happened today that is a hallmark of this small regular day that will never happen again.  Some days you might get two snapshots.  And some days your one snapshot will be absolutely prosaic.

The fact is, your life is whizzing by—and it will go even faster as it goes along.  Try some of these small easy habits, one at a time. I think they will help you slow down and enjoy each moment in 2016 just a little more!

Love Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

4 thoughts on “Feeling Overwhelmed? Ask Madeleine

  1. Those descriptions should make all kinds of alarm bells go off. STRESS is a huge contributor to disease. Eliminating some of the over-scheduled, over-extended pieces is a good start but in my book, this life is begging for a complete make-over and reorganization before an even bigger price is paid. Why do people get onto this kind of express train heading for a collision? To get ahead? For success, whatever that might mean? For status? Take a deep breath, a week or two off and recalibrate what you’re doing and why your’e doing it would be my strong recommendation. Or wait until you need a therapist.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Gary. I see your point, I really do. And, I also know that recommending a total make over will result in this person doing nothing at all, and will make him or her feel even worse. It is my experience that working with people to make small, manageable changes over time yields actual results.

  2. “Constant state of overwhelm” suggests something more radical than incremental but I understand the one step at a time approach and how it’s better not to scare someone into inaction. That said, the seriousness of the situation may not be able to wait much longer before someone suffers an even worse condition. Just saying that interventions are sometimes necessary. Why prolong the agony and misery? If that were one of my family members, or patients, I would not delay much longer. Even a radical reorganization of one’s life and work can begin with the first step.

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