How to un-overwhelm yourself

Every year, it happens.

I get the school calendar, Wednesday night church activities dates, tennis practices and matches, band rehearsals and parades – to say nothing of my own schedules and activities. I hear the gloriously open boxes on the calendar start to whine and complain (or maybe it’s my own whining) as they fill up.

It’s a love/hate thing. After the summer, I’m looking forward to more structure and earlier bedtimes. I love to see my kids enjoying their pastimes and becoming better at what they love. Yet I know they are all homebodies. Being home and enjoying time together is their favorite thing. It’s always a challenge to know when to love them best by saying no.

I have to say right off the bat that I am in no way an expert on this. It’s something I’m learning – even now. But what I have learned might be helpful as you see the looming schedules of the fall closing in.

So here’s my process.

What is out of my control?

  • The school schedule. Band rehearsals are predetermined and set, as is the tennis schedule – those choices were previously thought through and made prior to this.
  • The stage of life we’re in. That is something I do not have one bit of control over. When we were in the preschool/elementary stage, there was ballet and soccer and art classes and other things. We’re solidly in the parenting teens and wow, it’s hard and busy in a whole different way.
  • Life. God still holds all of it together, but he doesn’t ask my opinion before things happen. Things like pandemics, semis crashing into pick-up trucks, teenagers choices… to name a few. He always works in and through everything regardless. But not one bit of it is in my control.

What do I control?

Technically, I control the school activities I mentioned previously. Knowing the lightning fast ascent to Mt. Overwelm, we’ve tried to keep things to one or two activities at a time per kid.

For the oldest, that looks like remembering when her theatre and band commitments will come into play with family activities – which we completely failed a couple years ago when we signed her up for drivers training in the middle of play practice. She was not pleased with us.

For the middle one, it’s helping him figure out that doing one sport is completely doable and to encourage him to continue pursing his interests.

For the youngest? Well, it would involve him actually wanting to do something other than playing with legos and drawing and listening to audio books.

The bottomline? I control just about everything else.

How do you choose?

Think through your priorities. What’s important? What parts of your life rank above the others?

People much more intelligent and educated than me have written many many words on priorities and how to set them. The general idea is that you need a ranked scale of what’s important to you. What parts of you are of greater importance than the others? When push comes to shove, which ball will you let fall to the ground in exchange of another more important one that must be kept up in the air? And why?

For me as a mom and writer, I’m always busy with something, but I’ve told the kids it does not matter how many things I’m doing (unless it means burning dinner lol) I will drop it and do whatever you need me to do. You are far more important to me.

Likewise, when there are opportunities like writers conferences or writers retreats, I have no problem setting that time aside. It shows them (especially my girl) that making space for your interests is wise and healthy – it just needs to be done with thought and balance.

Helping the kids see the priorities is hard. Most of this process is so ingrained in my mind that it feels strange to verbalize it – plus teenagers usually tend to roll their eyes should you try. But I figure if they see us make decisions and see how it works, they will eventually get the idea. Actions speak louder than words so when they get older (and less sassy) they might remember and ask you for your thoughts or something like that.

Emotional Overwhelm

Remember when March 2020 cleared our schedules? There was literally not one thing to do. No theatre rehearsals, no sports, no school, no church activities, no small group, nothing, zip, nada. Except watching the news obsessively to stay up on the political nightmare or getting the latest version of Zoom downloaded on crummy internet, there was nothing on the calendar.

It’s not like we were fine then, right?! We were emotionally overwhelmed and wrung out. The fear. The panic. The uncertainty. The ping-pong news stories that completely contradicted each other, that left you wondering if you somehow slipped into a dystopian novel by accident.

My point is: empty calendar boxes aren’t the fix to overwhelm.

Practical Things

It is crucial to figure out why you’re overwhelmed and how you got there. Emily P. Freeman has a podcast called The Next Right Thing (and a book & journal by the same name) and though it can feel a bit salesy at times, she has an incredibly calming voice. She walks through how to figure out priorities in different seasons. I highly recommend it. Especially the one where she reads Psalm 23 aloud.

I hope you clicked on that link to Psalm 23. Her voice is so peaceful and listening to her read David’s incredible ancient words brings me to my last little bit.

Find and do the things that make you feel peaceful.

I guessing you’ve heard of the word “shalom” – the Hebrew word for peace. It’s not a feeling or fleeting sensation. It’s a state of mind. Wholeness. Completeness. The idea that no matter what happens in this world, my soul is whole and complete and at rest because its destiny is certain. Horatio Gates Spafford wrote When Peace, Like a River (It is Well With My Soul). The link has the lyrics and the history behind the hymn. It is completely heartbreaking.

Currently two books are next to my Bible on my nightstand: Ed Cyzewski’s Flee Be Silent Pray and Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. Both are water for my weary soul.

And also a counselor. Find one. It’s like going to the gym. You know you desperately need it, but somehow it’s far less important than the tyranny of the urgent that takes your days by storm. After reading Flee Be Silent Pray, I found what I really needed was a combination of a spiritual formation director and counselor.

I will leave you with the thought I hold to daily: when it doesn’t feel like God is good, know he still is. When it is hard to read anything in the Bible, remember he’s not tapping his foot and throwing up his hands because you’re struggling. (oh how I’m writing these words to my own soul…)

Remember what is true and cry out to him – even if all you can do is scream.

He’s still listening and he loves you.

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