catching your breath self-care Self-help stress management

How to Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed? Hint: The busier you are, the MORE you need some commitment-free time.

Have you heard the saying, “The bow kept forever taut will break”? In Christian tradition, God rested on the 7th day, universities have a tradition of offering sabbaticals, and studies have shown that children who are allowed to daydream develop a higher IQ. We need time to be idle. Taking time to do nothing lets problems incubate and allows for creativity to flow.

Instead, I was committed in the daytime, evenings, and weekends and even though I was enjoying myself – it was simply too much and was making me unhappy. I felt disconnected from myself and my needs, and half the time I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. Basically (and this is something I’m sure everyone can relate to!) I got into a state of overwhelm. And once we feel overwhelmed we don’t think straight because we don’t have enough perspective to pull back and take care of ourselves.

To really get the perspective we need and to find the inner conviction to do something differently, we need space for reflection and solitude.

I have to confess that it took me almost a year to actually DO something about it. Because I wasn’t willing to let go of stuff that I enjoyed and wanted to do. And in the meantime, I was getting more and more tired, frustrated and overwhelmed. Well, life does keep teaching us the same lessons until we’re ready to learn them…

So, how did I shift things? There was no big “Aha!” moment, but there was a clear decision point (after reading a book called The Soul of Gardening). I simply decided that Sunday would be an obligation-free day: no obligations to myself or anyone else. I decided to create a day where I didn’t HAVE to do anything!

It just FELT like the right thing to do. And since then, some Sundays I have done absolutely nothing – slept in, read in front of the fire, playing video games with my kids. And other Sundays I have spent hours visiting my grandma. The point is that I check in with myself and ONLY do what I truly feel like on that day. Also, whatever I may THINK (in advance) I will do on Sunday, I wholeheartedly have permission to change my mind! No obligations.

Don’t wear yourself out, create regular ‘you’ time!

But it hasn’t been easy. In order to make my obligation-free day happen I have had to say no – a lot. At first, it felt weird. I’ve turned down things I would have enjoyed – and really had to stand my ground. I’ve said no to myself and to others. And sometimes that has been quite uncomfortable. BUT, there has been an added benefit: I feel WONDERFUL.

I feel clearer about what’s truly important to me (and have the energy to act on it!). I feel restored. I’m more tolerant and find it easier to relax and get to sleep. PLUS, my obligation-free day has given me the clarity to say “No” to things that add to my overwhelm in OTHER areas of my life too.

Although it’s been hard, I have now not only proven to myself that it’s possible to do less, but that it’s possible to do less – and be happier!

You may not be able to create a whole DAY as yours, but you could carve out a morning or afternoon once a week – or even one day, once or twice a month. This is time for you to do whatever you please with no obligations to anyone. Imagine a time completely free of commitments and obligations. Imagine waking up and asking yourself, what do I FEEL like doing today? No guilt, no pressure and no-one other than you to take care of…

Reduce Overwhelm with Obligation Free Me-Time AND Get Perspective on Your Life Too!

  • Ask, “When and how much time could I carve out of my life on a regular basis if I really tried?” Then, “What could get in the way?” and finally, “What am I willing to commit to on a regular basis?”
  • And to help you enjoy your obligation-free time-slot ask: “What would ADD to my peace and happiness today?” and “What do I really FEEL like doing (or not doing) right now?”

Tip: This time for YOU doesn’t have to be followed religiously – you may have a prior commitment or something may come up. But commit to yourself for a specific regular time slot as a general rule, knowing that every rule has occasional exceptions! I’m willing to bet that once you’ve been doing it for a while, you won’t want to stop…

In Summary: The busier you are, the MORE you need some commitment-free time.

There is no “magic bullet”, but by giving yourself precious time to follow your heart, relax and focus on YOU, your brain gets to decompress. And obligation-free time allows your life to slow to a pace that gives you insight – where you can really see what’s going on – AND reclaim some energy so you can do something about it!

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do. The fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.” – Mary Little

By Steve Austin

Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.