Do you ever (or always?) feel like you’re just too busy, too stressed, and too tired? Like you’ll never get everything done, no matter how hard you try or how late you stay up? Like you keep running and running but you can never get to the top of a wheel that keeps spinning faster and faster?
If you’re too busy to even begin thinking about how to relieve your stress, there could be a very simple answer to your problem.
The mom who does it all
Picture this: Your child is performing in a play next week and dress rehearsal is tomorrow morning.
You haven’t finished her costume yet. Oh, who are we kidding? You haven’t even started. You’d been waiting for a quiet moment in your busy day, but one never materialized. Now, it’s almost midnight. Everyone’s in bed. The night is yours.
You tiptoe upstairs to gather sewing supplies and bring them down to your office. You don’t want to wake anyone with the repetitive thrumming of your sewing machine. You tuck the ironing board under your left arm and pick up the iron. Convinced you can get everything downstairs in just two trips, you load your other arm up with costume pieces and a small box containing pins and several spools of thread.
You take only two steps before realizing your misjudgment, but it’s too late. The box falls to the ground, scattering pins and thread all over the floor.
As you drop to your knees to gather it all up, simultaneously praying that the crash didn’t wake any children, you can’t help but wonder why things fall apart at the worst moments. Is it bad luck? Over-tiredness? Or are you simply trying to do too much?
It’s not a matter of choice—or is it?
Too often, we overestimate how much we can actually do, not realizing it until we find ourselves in a big mess. Somehow, everybody else sees it coming before we do. They try and warn us by saying, “I don’t know how you do it all,” but we laugh it off.
Because who else would do it if we didn’t do it? It’s not a matter of choice, right? We don’t WANT to do it all; we just know if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. (Which, perhaps, is neither true nor terrible, but that’s a topic for a whole other post.)
My point here is we are all guilty of taking on more than we should sometimes (and for us recovering overachievers, a lot more sometimes) and allowing our lives to get too busy. There are times when we know what we’re getting ourselves into and we enter intentionally into a chaotic season knowing that it will be difficult, but fixing our eyes on that known end date.
At other times though, all of these commitments seem to creep up without us even giving them much thought. It’s like one day we think our lives are in balance and then all of a sudden, we’re totally overcommitted and exhausted.
Being too busy for too long will burn you out
This has been my experience in recent years. As a self-employed, homeschooling mom of four, I tend to take on a lot. I’ve always prided myself on having an extremely high capacity for stress. I did an intensive one-year Masters program when I had a two year old and an infant. I join committees and boards left, right, and centre. When someone has a good idea, I always want to get on board and pitch in to make it successful. Too busy? There was no such thing as far as I was concerned.
Can you relate?
But eventually, all of this catches up with us.
It’s like driving your car around all day and not refuelling, which may or may not get you into trouble, depending on your car’s model and mileage. But what if you were to drive your car around all day every day and never take it in for servicing? No oil changes, no new brake pads, no checking the tire pressure. Nothing.
I know some of you are just cringing at that thought.
You know what happens next, right? Something’s gonna give when you least expect it. You’ll be driving down the freeway conducting your conference call over Bluetooth, when all of a sudden smoke will start emitting from under your hood.
You’ll have to turn on your hazard lights and pull off onto the shoulder immediately. You’re going to need roadside assistance, maybe even a tow truck. And who knows how long it will be before you get your car working again?
Or maybe you’ll be picking your kids up from school, in a rush to make it to their ballet classes, and your ignition won’t turn over. You’ll be stuck. You won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything.
Learning to heed the warnings
Friends, our bodies are just like our cars. There is only so much they can handle before they stop running properly. There is only so much we can take on before we burn out. And the road to recovering from burnout is not a short one. There are all kinds of physical, mental, and emotional struggles that we need to work through to get back on track after burning out.
I’ve reached this point. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve reached it more than once. In the past year. Having a fourth child was like a flashing light on my dashboard telling me that I seriously needed to slow down and get things checked out, but I’m really blind sometimes. I needed to have several breakdowns before I got the point—I was pushing too hard. Trying to do too much. And I felt like I was failing at all of it.
So I slowed down. I had to, there was no other option. My husband and I gave up almost all of our commitments over the past year, including some that we cherished dearly. Even that wasn’t enough. We reached the point where we felt God leading us to take a break from ALL of our family’s optional activities for a full year and just REST.
As this year’s busyness begins to wind down, I feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders and each day my excitement grows for this restful year ahead of us. Continually saying ‘no’ to each new opportunity that arises will be a struggle, but this vehicle needs a break, and I’m finally heeding the warnings.
The easiest way to relieve stress and be less busy
How about you? Are you feeling stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed? Do you feel like the joy has disappeared from your life? Or that you are constantly messing things up?
The answer could be simple. You could very likely just be doing way. Too. Much.
And you don’t have to. I know that sometimes it feels like you do, because everyone else is, or everyone expects you to and you don’t want to let them down. I know, I know, I know. Trust me. I’ve been there, I am there, I’ll probably always be there.
But we can not keeping giving and giving of ourselves if we do not learn to say no and to take care of ourselves. If we do not rest, we can not run the race set out before us.
We must learn how to say NO ruthlessly, at least for a season. Practice saying no more, until you find the level of activity that reduces your stress and exhaustion. The one that actually allows you to get a decent amount of sleep at night and spend some quality time with your family. The one that allows you to not be angry and stressed all of the time.
This is the fastest way to relieve stress and to cut down on the busyness and fatigue that have taken over your life: learn to take on much less than you think you can by saying no more.
Your body—and your family—will thank you.
Need help slowing down? Grab a PDF copy of my free e-course, 11 Signs You’re Doing Too Much, and the accompanying worksheet below.
Sophie Agbonkhese is a writer, homeschooling mother of four, and a recovering overachiever (who occasionally relapses). She is the founder of My Cup Runs Over, a site dedicated to helping busy women simplify and enrich their lives. When she’s not writing or debugging websites, Sophie spends her time reading, dancing, bullet journaling, reading, gardening, listening to audiobooks, and striving fruitlessly to have a clean house for at least five minutes.
Saturday 28th of July 2018
Yup! Well said. Western culture TOTALLY tries to overfill our days. When I think of what my ancestors might have been doing maybe 100-200 years ago, their days would have been filled with menial tasks that I have machines to do. But, contrary to being 'time-saving', our washing machines, driers and dishwashers actually just push us to get more done, make the most of every minute, time manage our days expertly. While I'm a big advocate for good organisation and time management, I do often wonder, like you, whether we just need to teach ourselves to sit, rest, have unstructured time.
Like you, I've been dropping a couple of commitments recently. It's not really enough, but it's made a big difference. You've been very brave to drop everything for a year! I admire that.
Sunday 29th of July 2018
Thank you! It's funny because, at the time, it didn't feel brave. It felt like giving up to some extent. But as I've spoken to more and more people about it and heard over again why they would love to do that, but can't, I've realized that there really are a lot of unseen social constructs 'forcing' us into our busyness, and it does take some measure of courage to just say "Enough" to all that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lucy!
Thursday 19th of July 2018
Sophie, this was wonderfully written! It's so easy to get caught up with being on the go and forget to do less so we can have more balance, joy and contentment in life. Thanks for sharing!
Thursday 19th of July 2018
Thank you! I really think we need to learn how to slow down and rest.
Thursday 19th of July 2018
I think our entire American society is set up to do too much, to crowd every moment. No wonder we are exhausted!
Thursday 19th of July 2018
You are right about that! We have to live counter-culturally and stop worrying about how people will judge us if we want to experience true rest.