As I have recently been sharing, the term “busy” is no longer a part of my everyday vocabulary. After years of wrestling with anxiety, competition, perfectionism, and overcommitment, I have realized that busyness is not a game to win or competition to engage in. The lie I continued to buy into was that my to do list defined me and busyness was a badge of honor. But while I’m over that game and strive to live a life full of intentionality, margin, and breathing room, there are still times when life gets a little too full or the temptation to compete with busyness grows. When those moments come, I have five little habits that I practice to help reduce stress, realign priorities, and lead with grace.
1 | Take a Time Out
Do you remember fighting with your sibling or friend as a kid and being told by a parent to breathe and count to ten? Oh, I got told this all the time! And as stubborn as I was (and still am), I did actually feel better after I took that deep breathe. This is one of the reasons why deep breathing, meditation and yoga have been linked to helping reduce stress levels, blood pressure, and a myriad of heart disease. Often times, we don’t actually breathe deep enough. We get uptight, our breath shortens, and we don’t allow enough oxygen to get to our brain to think concretely and critically. But by pausing and doing what your mama taught you – count to ten and take a deep breath – you’re not only giving yourself a break between reacting, you’re also slowing your body down, increasing blood flow, and retraining your body to breathe first.
2 | Write it Out
Often times called a “Brain Dump”, this is a pretty regular tip to combat stress and overwhelm. Previous to our move to Colorado, I was on staff at a church for seven years and my primary responsibility was handling the moving behind-the-scenes parts of our weekly worship services. Most of the time this was completely manageable, but twice a year (Easter and Christmas) we would have special services, creative elements, extra rehearsals, and additional people and moving parts involved in the services, all of which necessitated lots of communication and attention to detail. In the weeks leading up to Easter week and our Christmas Eve services, I would take out a huge piece of paper and write down everything that had been bouncing around in my head. Print music for band? Write it on the list. Order pizzas for rehearsal? It’s on there. Do a load of laundry because we are now to the “desperate” part of our wardrobe? Mark it down. Not only do you then get an extra boost of accomplishment for crossing something off the list, but I often found that what I had to do was a lot less than what I thought I had to do.
3 | Create a “Do Not Do” List
You can do anything. You just can’t do everything.
This was something I first heard one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequest, talk about. We often get so bogged down by the “shoulds” of life – each dinner “should” have four courses of fresh food, my home “should” look like it was professionally designed, life “should” be organized and scheduled every moment, my kids “should” be involved in more sports or activities, I “should” be volunteering or baking or cleaning or socializing more, we “should” be married with three kids by now…and the list goes on and on (when it comes to the list of what you’re body “should” look like, here is a great blog post about self-love and body confidence).
Instead, give yourself permission to not do some things.
During our hectic seasons of ministry life, we used to budget more money for food and would eat out more frequently as opposed to intently meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking every day. Maybe you’re in a place where you hate cleaning and are instead able to hire someone (providing work for another person) and have them clean your home, giving you more time to spend with your family. Maybe on your “do not do” list is that you do not cook from scratch so instead of bringing the family with the new baby a fully homecooked meal, you simply swing by the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken, fresh salad, and bakery cookies.
4 | Drink Some Water
So this suggestion aids in two ailments – one, typically we are perpetually dehydrated, especially first thing in the morning. Dehydration can make you fussy, give you headaches, and lower brain cognition, all of which can make you extra crabby and not think straight (at least it does for me!).
Additionally, sometimes we just need to step away from our work. Most experts recommend working in 25 minute sprints, followed by a five minute break where you move around and change your environment (staring at a computer screen for four hours straight is really not good). So when you start to feel stressed or unsettled, not only can getting some water and maybe a snack refuel you and physically alleviate some tension, but even the simple act of stepping away from the computer task, homework assignment, or stressful email dialogue can give your body the mental and physical break it desperately needs.
5 | Validate Other People’s Stress
One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Read: This does NOT mean place a huge significance or emphasis on someone else’s stress as way of validating their importance. However, I have found that often times when I am stressed, I want validation. I want someone to look me in the eyes, pat me on the head, and say “You’re right – you are so important and so committed and so capable”, justifying my emotions and self-worth. Guys, that never happens and if it did, it’d be weird. But often times when that justification doesn’t happen, the ugliness comes out and I feel the need to then justify (read: compete) my own self-worth, putting down the stress or busyness of those around me. I have found a great way to combat this is to, once again, pause and then validate the stress that my friend is feeling. Because the reality is that we all have times of stress, anxiousness, and overwhelm. And just because those seasons look different for you than they do for me does not make them any less important because those emotions are still very real for you.
// What practices do you have in place when the stress or busy becomes too much? How do you break busy?
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