Oh, ouch, that title sounds harsh. And if you are suffering from overwhelm, my condolences. It is hard. And it feels terrible: those crushing feelings of resentment, the thoughts that nobody understands you and how hard you are trying. And worst of all, the fear. Fear that you won’t get everything done. Fear that you will disappoint people. Which leads to the ultimate fear: if you disappoint people, they won’t love you anymore. And you’ll end up sad and lonely.
I recognize these feelings intimately because I’ve been there. And I still go there more often than I’d like.
But here’s what I’m come to understand over the last few years: if I feel this way, I have nobody but myself to blame. Because, I’ve said yes to too many commitments, agreed to take on too many projects, said I’d love to attend, or sure, let’s do dinner, to too many social events.
As a writing and creativity coach, part of my job is to help people pull the plug on overwhelm so that they have time to do the things they love. Like, for instance, writing. In coaching clients, I can’t help but realize patterns in them and others (like, oh, say, myself) that contribute to overwhelm.
What brought this all up for me was an experience in a community I’m a part of. Our leader, a gentle, lovely, committed soul, lost it at a meeting. Went from gentle and lovely to angry and resentful in seconds, and quit on the spot, stunning everybody in the room. Come to find out, she was suffering from a classic case of overwhelm which, untended, went into a volcanic eruption. As overwhelm does. This experience has me looking at my own life, and where in it I’m allowing overwhelm to creep in. And it’s a good reminder for my clients as well.
Because, let me tell you straight out, overwhelm is not conducive to writing. It just isn’t. How to not get into overwhelm? Here are some ideas:
Say no. I know I have a bad habit of scheduling too many things in one time span. Because I’m trying to please people and fit everyone who wants a slice of my time in, I’ll schedule a phone meeting, another phone meeting and an in-person meeting back to back. Now, bear in mind that likely at least two of these meetings are going to require my intense focus. For me, its too much. (Others might absolutely thrive on such a schedule.) And I’ll end up canceling or rescheduling one or more. Which is what I did last week. It would be so much easier if I just spaced appointments out to begin with. So it is up to me to be aware of this and say no.
Know what works for you. My example above of crowding my schedule is an example. I know it doesn’t work for me. So its up to me to schedule accordingly. That I so often don’t is testament to how hard it is to get off the people-pleasing roulette. You may thrive on a crowded calendar and feel it boosts your creative mojo. Then crowd away! The key is figuring out what works for you — and then doing it.
Delegate or let things go. Yeah, I know. You know that. So do I. For the entrepreneur it is all about delegating. Hiring people and then passing off work to them. But for most writers who are struggling to find time for their passion after work and family, it is likely going to be more about letting go. As in, letting the garden go weedy. Letting the house go messy. Ordering take-out. Your family will survive. Trust me.
Remember that overwhelm affects others. When the above-cited woman blew her top, it affected everybody in the organization, who had to scramble to do damage control and take on all her projects. It threatened the integrity of the community. How much easier it would have been if she’d just delegated some of these things in the first place.
Don’t take it personally. When I think of how I feel when I’m in overwhelm, I feel put upon. Martyred. Like I’m doing so much and nobody appreciates me. Resentful. And I’m full on taking it all personally. But, don’t. Just don’t. Hate to say it, but it’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture at work here. And if you want to get to your writing, you can’t harbor resentment and defensiveness. It bottles up the creative flow.
How do you deal with overwhelm? How do you manage to stay out of it?
Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior (Vagabondage Press, February 2013), and articles published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, The Oregonian and Pology, to name only a few, and her short fiction has been published in Somerset Studios, The Trunk and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in 2003, and has been teaching and coaching writers ever since, both privately and as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Write program. She’s been blogging about writing, creativity, and motivation at charlotterainsdixon.com since 2007. She is repped by Erin Niumata at FolioLiterary. Visit her website at charlotterainsdixon.com and her travel site at letsgowrite.com.