Have you experienced one or more of the following scenarios?
Scenario 1: It’s 6:00 a.m. I open one eye as I hear the dogs moving around downstairs. I become aware that my muscles still ache from the cleaning project I just had to get done. Next, I hear my kids stomping around to let me know "it’s time for breakfast." Then, even though I close both eyes again in hopes it really isn’t time to greet the new day, the alarm clock goes off. I drag myself out of bed knowing that in the next two hours a meal must be made, the house must be picked up, everyone needs to get to school on time, exercise needs to get checked off my list, and so on before I am ready to begin working. Of course, there are all those commitments that I made to friends, teachers, and colleagues that that loom in the back of my mind! The daily household routine that I refer to as "the road rally" has begun.
Scenario 2: I stroll into my office, pour myself a cup of coffee and casually flip on my computer. After settling into my comfortable chair, I hop onto the Internet and start my e-mail program. My heart begins to race as my inbox starts to overflow, a plethora of Facebook friends have sent me wonderful messages that I want to respond to, and then there are the orders, questions, and so forth that need to be addressed immediately. My workday has officially begun.
Scenario 3: My brother used to comment: "You are never happy unless you are riding around with your hair on fire!" My life has been filled with taking extra classes, holding multiple jobs, trying to be a full time volunteer and business owner, and then throwing in family, friends, and interests into the mix. I just can't seem to help myself, and I have the energy level necessary to believe that I actually can do everything all the time. My husband often asks me, "Really? Do you REALLY need to do all of this?" Lately, I've been trying to develop a series of satellite sites with theme specific content, blog about improving health and well being**, create new bingo games, expand my business, and a host of other things that create endless lists all over my desk! That doesn't even scratch the surface of all the "Mom, can you help me with...." issues that go on from day to day in my life.
If you have experienced something similar to one of these three scenarios, you undoubtedly have felt tired and stressed. The three scenarios represent three variations on the same theme: too much of a good thing can be overwhelming. Everyone experiences periods when one or more aspects of their lives seem to be overwhelming. However, feelings of stress and pressure may begin to accumulate if multiple parts of your life start moving at a fast and furious pace! In my own case, these three scenarios (plus other stressful events) have been present in my life for the past few weeks. When I recently stepped back and examined my own life, I determined that I am a prime candidate for the "too much of a good thing" syndrome.
How you respond to the simultaneous appearance of multiple stressors in your life depends on several factors. The first factor is the image that you try to present to others in response to a stressful situation. Can you acknowledge that something is difficult for you? Do you have a support network in place to help you through tough times? Conversely, is it your desire to behave as if no amount of stress bothers you? In general, people who need to present themselves as being able to handle any stressful situation that occurs in their lives without a hitch will respond to the stress psychosomatically (i.e., an ulcer) or in a way that is unintentional (e.g., getting into a car accident because they are not paying attention to what is happening around them).
A second factor in responding to multiple sources of stress is how you internally deal with stress. Are you able to deal with chaos, or do you have the need to only tackle one problem at a time? Do you feel it is acceptable to postpone things that are not critical at any moment, or must you complete every task in your life according to a rigid schedule. Let me analogize how you internally deal with stress to how you might respond to a large wave that is approaching you while you swim in the ocean. You could choose to fight the wave by swimming over it, or try to swim faster than the wave is moving toward shore so that you would escape being impacted by the wave. You might even choose to keep swimming as if nothing is about to happen. If you have ever tired any of these strategies, you know that the consequences of your actions will not be pleasant. You would probably end up lying on the beach with your mouth full of sand. However, if you take a deep breath and dive to the ocean floor, the wave will most likely wash over you with only a small amount of pull on your body. This strategy acknowledges that you can’t get out of the way and can’t ignore the situation. Your choice acknowledges the stressor’s presence and deals with it in a realistic manner. Further it is both an active and a positive response to a potentially problematic situation.
A third factor that impacts your response to stressful situations is how those around you respond to your statements and behavior. While you may receive some amount of empathy for a hectic home life, you should anticipate that the majority of the responses will be different from what you would like. Some people will tell you, "that’s what happens when you have children." Others will explain to you that all families go through periods which result in parental stress and exhaustion, but someday those periods will be fondly remembered. The third general type of response will be advice about how to minimize the stress or deal with the situation. Of course, there are as many different ways to parent children as there are children to parent. Consequently, you may interpret the advise as an irritating directive which cannot be followed rather than the helpful hint in which it was intended. The response that you will receive if you are "too successful" in business is more than likely going to be less empathic than if you appear to be overwhelmed by your home life. "Awe, gee, that’s too bad" may be a common response because others will wish that they had that type of "problem" to deal with.
There are a myriad of possible responses to feeling overwhelmed by the combination of stress and responsibility from several different areas of your life. The least desirable is to adopt an "I can handle it all" attitude. This is a very tiring approach to life. Eventually, any human being will become weary from living life at the pace of an Olympic runner. Trying to do too much too fast will not only result in mistakes but possibly accidents. It also often results in an ill advised decision to stop doing everything at once. Let me suggest that you step back for a moment and gain some perspective on your life. Now is the time to analyze the choices that you have made. Are you trying to do too much at once? Think about the priorities and values that you have about living life. What do they direct you to do? Is that what you are doing, or have you adopted the priorities that have been set for you by someone else? Now may be the time to focus your attention on your family or seize the opportunity to make your business a success. Is there something you are doing that can be postponed, or is it possible to delegate a time-consuming task to someone else. I often tell my clients that life is like a train. It doesn’t stop moving along the track just because you would like it to slow down. However, you do have the choice of what your destination will be, what line you will ride on, and whether you ride first class or coach.
When you begin to feel overwhelmed by your life, take a moment to step back. Examine the course that you are on and decide whether it is time to alter that course. Also, consider whether you are carrying extra baggage that can best be dealt with by someone else. It may be that you are on the course that you desire, have minimized excess baggage, and life’s stresses and strains continue to overwhelm you. In that case, it is important to carve out a small portion of time each week that is devoted solely to caring for yourself. I practice yoga everyday and find it is invaluable in helping me cope with the life I choose to live. There are a wide variety of things you can choose to do to take care of yourself. Take a long bath. Set aside one hour each week to read a book or the Sunday paper. Begin a workout program that helps you to better tolerate the stress. Have lunch with a friend. Take your children to the park and watch them play with other children. The possibilities are endless. In the midst of a hectic life, it is important to occasionally take a deep breath and remind yourself that there is a reason why you are working so hard. The most important thing to remember is that when your life is at an end, you will want to be satisfied with how you have spent the time that you have been given. In my case, I hope to be able to look back and feel that I have not wasted a single minute of my life. It is my goal to live the fullest and richest life that I possibly can. Take a moment to consider your life course, and what you would like to have accomplished by the end of your time here on Earth. However, you must also take steps today so that you live life at a tolerable pace and minimize your risk of suffering from the "too much of a good thing syndrome."
Celebrate Life today and everyday!
Susan C Rempel, Ph.D.
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