I’ve been meaning to follow up on my post about feeling overwhelmed with a mere summary of what I did and how it’s been working for me. The fact is that–when everything’s counted up–I am pretty close to overwhelmed and so it’s taken a while for me to get around to this. Note that this is the weekend between the winter quarter and the spring quarter of my C++ course and finally getting around to this during this break is not a coincidence. The C++ is a huge investment when viewed in light of my available free time.

What I did to address my sense of being “stretched too thin” was simple and–when I looked back at what I’d done–based on the core premise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: establishing “balancing thoughts” to the ones that trouble you.

On a simple steno pad, I listed on one side all of the things that were bothering me or weighing on me in any way. I broke up large problems into the smallest pieces possible. Turns out I had a whole two pages’ worth of things on my mind–and I probably could’ve broken some of those down even further.

The first thing I did was to go back through the list and cross out all of the items that stemmed from my outsized sense of anxiety and insecurity. Those are issues I’m already actively dealing with and I could put those items aside.

Then, I recopied the curated list over again. One by one, I addressed each item thoughtfully, writing a brief note on how to counter that worry. I found that either:

  1. I’d done as much as I could about that item and should let it go
  2. I hadn’t done as much as I could and made a brief note on how to address it
  3. I had no control over the item and should just accept it as it is

Interestingly, I found that many more things fell under category 1 than I would have ever guessed: I have a lot of balls in the air, but damn, I’m doing a good job juggling them–keeping a gentle pressure on them to get them to a resolved state. This alone made me feel much better. The items that fell in category 2 turned out to have either simple remedies (hire a gardener for that stupid, knee-deep lawn!) or such long-term remedies that I didn’t realize that I could get an adequate handle on them. Category 3 was the saddest, as there are some things I would rather be able to take a direct hand in that I simply can’t butt in on. These were things I had to accept and let go.

So I learned two things: one, that I’m much more on-the-ball than I give myself credit for and, two, I am stretched pretty thin: I’ve got a full-time job and a full-time family and a full-time self to take care of and even with the tireless efforts of my husband, there’s just not enough hours in the day. I had to come to terms with that, too.

Following this exercise, I immediately felt a wave of relief. And the feeling continues: every time I feel like things are falling apart, I think back to my list and realize that I’ve got everything much more in hand than I think. Once the list loses its power, I’ll probably sit down and repeat the exercise. It’s that effective.

In the meantime, I’m busy juggling balls and making plans and reminding myself that the sense of exhaustion and chaos is part reality but also part illusion.