Ann’s been slammed at work. Actually, she’s always slammed at work, but these past few weeks have been increasingly worse. As a result, her relationship with her husband has been on the back-burner or actually off the stove, and while he tries to be patient, he’s been making noises about feeling ignored, about feeling frustrated with her constant workaholism. She tries to throw him a bone — dinner on Friday night, a short hike on a Sunday – but he knows and she knows it’s not enough. And even when they are together she’s irritable and anxious and not much fun to be with leading to snappy, stupid arguments in the car, at the restaurant.
And time for her — what’s that?
For many of us life is a non-stop juggling act — work, relationship for Ann – but for others it can be a pile-on of kids or elderly parents. You feel stretched, exhausted, always on the verge of burnout, periodically exploding. You’re not surfing your life, you’re drowning in it.
As demands build up, it’s easy to get tunnel-vision. You falsely believe that the problem is the situation — this week’s work demands, the kid’s jam-packed schedules, a mountain that you just need to cross — but like the bear in that children’s song, there’s always another mountain to cross. Like most things in life, the real problem isn’t the situation but your reaction to it. You’re constantly in reactive mode rather than in a proactive mode. You’re always trying to put out the latest fire, deal with the squeakiest wheel, but the fire is never put out, the wheel never ever really gets greased.
It’s time to shift your approach. Here are some tips to help you regain control:
#1. Step back
To offset the tunnel-vision, to put everything in a more realistic perspective, you need to step back. Start by setting aside an hour on Sunday night and look ahead to the upcoming week. What’s likely to come up? What’s on your plate this week?
Once in your in the middle of it all on Monday, things begin to blur; your anxiety causes to feel like everything is important. Take time on Sunday to fire up your rational brain and prioritize what’s coming up. Resist the feeling, the urge to say that everything is important. It’s not, though you may need to sort through and make hard choices. If it helps, talk it through with someone else.
If you’re a control freak, if you believe that you’re the only person who can do a good job, you have an ironclad recipe for burnout and resentment. It’s also likely old stuff fueled by your anxiety and a lack of trust. Time to break this pattern. Start slow, start with lower-priority stuff and hand things off — to coworkers, your partner. No, they may not do it the way you want, they may not do as good a job as you, but…too bad.
Again, it’s not about the situation. The psychological challenge here is learning to let go and find out that the terrible things your anxiety is telling you will happen, don’t. You’ll only discover this by taking the risk. Pat yourself on the back for doing so.
#4: Put problems to rest
You want to look at the big stuff but also that nagging stuff that yips at your brain like a chihuahua constantly yipping at your heels. Worried about how your grandmother’s been doing since she got out the hospital? Give her a quick call or send a short email.
The key here is not to dither, get lost in doing it Right, doing an overkill. Take action, get it done. If need be you can do more or mop up later.
#5. Address those big patterns
Here Ann has a conversation with her boss not about the latest work-fire, but about the amount of work that is getting dumped on her at work. Or she has a serious sit-down with her husband not about the argument in the car, but about his and her expectations about the relationship. These are what are driving all the rest and these need to be tackled and addressed.
#6. Build-in time for yourself
When folks say that they don’t have time to meditate or do yoga or go to the gym is when, counterintuitively, they probably need to do these things even more. Here you use your franticness as a sign that you need to absolutely make time for self-care. Here you may need to go back to #5.
#7. Sort out shoulds from wants
The driven life is often one based on shoulds — that nagging, self-critical voice in your head that has an endless list of things you should do. When you don’t do them, and especially if you are a control freak, you’re not only always driven, but also usually struggling with depression, anxiety and guilt. The way out is a stepping back from all those shoulds and begin to substitute some wants.
These can be small wants, like taking yourself for lunch rather than eating at your desk, but also bigger ones like having more individual time in your relationship or having a job that is still challenging but less crisis-oriented. Like delegation, it’s about changing the pattern, emotionally shifting gears, slowing that running on autopilot. Start by simply asking yourself in the moment, at the start of the day, the start of a week, What do I want?
#8. Create a vision for your life
Do you really want to keep doing this job? Is there another goal that you want to move towards? Is the relationship really giving you what you need? Does it need to be tweaked or dumped? Where do you want to be in a year, 5 years, 10 years?
Thinking bigger thoughts helps not only help break the tunnel-vision, it also offers you light at the end of that tunnel. It helps you sort out means and ends, take stock of your priorities.
This is your life. Are you running it the way you want? Are you ready to regain balance and make your life your own?