In the spring of 2016, I was at my wits’ end - my father had been in the hospital, very ill, spent a stint (most unhappily) in rehab, and had finally consented to move into an assisted living arrangement. I was spending a lot of time burning 90 minutes each way on the interstate to help with things…from labeling everything in his new apartment to trying to figure out when and how we would sell his home. At the same time, we were dealing with other family illnesses, I was managing our son’s DI team, keeping my business going (including an unusual number of speaking engagements), and managing the house almost full-time due to my husband’s travel schedule. It’s not like I was handling all of this responsibility completely on my own, but it was a huge shift in terms of schedule, tasks, and emotions.
I told my family during a rare evening all together that I felt like Gumby, stretched in all directions with no end in sight. I’m guessing lots of you have been there.
I was also becoming incredibly forgetful and scattered - doing things like double-booking appointments, forgetting to get school fees turned in, and (gasp) routinely losing my keys. Some days I couldn’t focus or remember what had just been said to me. I started Googling to see if extreme stress can induce ADHD symptoms. As it turns out, stress can affect executive functions like task management and planning - and yet we tend to think of it the other way around (good time management and planning skills decreasing stress). I got through that spring, but it felt like just barely.
Contrast that whole situation with a year and a half later when we decided to move to a smaller house and stay in the same school zone. It's not a secret that moving is a stressful event. You may recall that our particular move was challenged by the fact that we found the perfect house before our original one had sold. So yes, we closed on a new house without having sold the one we were still living in. Not ideal, but that’s the way it worked out. We staged the first house, painted, coordinated repairs and yard cleanup, cleaned baseboards, washed windows, called for donation pickups, got ready for numerous open houses, vacuumed what seemed like enough dog hair to fill several mattresses - anyone who has put a house on the market knows the drill. All this while gradually preparing the new home, moving smaller items and furniture in a little at a time, purging more stuff, more painting - oh, and still running my business, handling family responsibilities, etc., etc., etc.
But this time, although the stress was once again extreme and I’m confident I was just as busy, I didn’t drop any balls (or none that I recall), and nothing was missed. I always knew where my keys were (even from one house to another), and Gumby didn’t even cross my mind until I started writing this.
What was the difference? There may be studies to answer the question, but anecdotally I would say it’s a combination of perception and fit. When life hands us challenges we’d rather ignore or avoid, our brains do everything possible to take a vacation. We perceive that the challenges are negative, that they won’t ultimately lead to a good result, and so we carry out our responsibilities with a constant, subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) inner resistance. Conversely, when we really want something, or want to accomplish something, our systems will put up with a lot. I wanted to move, and I knew that ultimately the choice to relocate would be a good fit for our family in many ways. Thus, I sucked it up and stayed focused on all of the moving parts no matter how crazy things got.
What you select for seemingly smaller tasks makes a difference, too. We all face things that must be done vs. things that could be done. In that second category, are you making the wise decisions? Do you choose things that reflect your values and who you are, or do you choose tasks and projects to please others or just because someone asked you? For example, did I really need to accept all of the speaking engagements that hectic spring of 2016? Or did I agree to them because I thought I should, or because I didn’t pause to be aware of the time it would cost me? Filling up your time with commitments that don’t mean much can double the stress - not to mention leave you feeling pretty depleted.
So with what are you wanting or facing this year, try examining the choices you DO have some control over in order to make your life flow a little more easily. Have you set some pretty lofty goals or started big projects? Or are you perhaps doing your own Gumby dance, dealing with difficulties that you have no alternative but to accept? What can you choose that makes it easier?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?