When it all gets too much
We all lead busy lives, rushing from one thing to another. Aside from work, there are deadlines to meet, family to care for, food to cook, laundry to do, emails to reply to, weeding, repairing, shopping and socialising and so on in a never ending spiral. So, it’s a small wonder we ever find time for our art and creativity. We get to that stage where we think we are going to do one thing and then something else crops up and the first thing slips our mind and suddenly it all feels too much. We all do it, we all experience that overwhelm when there is too much to do and too little time. So how do we cope? On our podcast this week Izzy and I discussed this topic and I think it was indicative of how overwhelmed at least one of us was, that the conversation jumped about a bit and became a lot about food. Which of course is important, but I’ll come back to that later! But I thought I would share some of my personal ways of coping with overwhelm.
I always know I have reached the point of overwhelm when I forget something important. It’s I my diary, I know need to be somewhere or do something and then I completely forget. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, but when I get to that point, after I have had a bit of a rant about how stupid I am, apologised to whomever it is I’ve let down, I sit down and write down everything I think I need to do in one long list. I then remove anything that doesn’t need to be done. These might be things I would like to do but might not be necessary, or things that I need to do but not immediately. In never ceases to amaze me how much we can let go when it’s written down in black and white. Put them on a different list if you like but cross them off your priority list. Next, I look at what is left and rank them in order of priority and do them one at a time. I don’t attempt to multitask, just one thing, tick it off and then do the next. It works for me and who doesn’t like to see things ticked off a list!
Another sign that life is overwhelming is when I find I’m not eating well. I’m skipping meals and reaching for biscuits; I can’t be bothered to cook and I’m all to ready to get in a takeaway meal. This is a sure sign that it’s time to stop and rethink. Because it needn’t be time consuming to eat well and feeding our bodies good food is the best way to keep both our minds and bodies healthy and nourished, which in turn means we can deal with overwhelm. I think it helps that I have always loved to prepare and cook food from scratch and having brought up four sons who ate me out of house and home that was probably a good thing. But I have always been interested in the food that is best for my body too ever since I first had to make myself a meal. My diet includes plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses, a moderate amount of eggs, dairy and fish. I rarely eat meat but if I do I would rather it was a small amount of good quality, ethically reared meat. But I’m not evangelical about it because that can be just as stressful. A little bit of what you fancy now and then is definitely beneficial, and I enjoy an ice cream or slice of cake just like anyone else. I don’t say no to a pizza or fish and chips occasionally, but they are an occasional treat, not part of my daily diet. And that for me is an important part of self-care. I have always believed that we are what we eat so I’m finding increasingly interesting that food has been become such an important topic in recent years and I find recent research on the gut biome and the role of ultra processed foods in our diets fascinating. If you would like to find out more I have added some links to some good reading and listening on the topic of food, but meanwhile if you would like a quick, easy, tasty and nourishing midweek meal this is what I had for supper last night prepped and ready in under half an hour:
Peanut and Vegetable Noodles (for 2)
3-4 small carrots*
A yellow pepper*
Small pack of mange tout (about 150g)*
2 spring onions
Heaped tablespoon good peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chilli infused oil ( or a plain oil and chopped chilli to taste)
40g roast peanuts
2 nests of noodles of your choice – I used Pad Thai rice noodles
*substitute alternative vegetables if you wish but aim for a mixture of colours. Eat the rainbow!
Preparation (about 20 minutes) Prepare the carrots, pepper and mange tout and cut into thin slices. Prepare and chop the spring onion and juice the lime. Mix the peanut butter with a tablespoon of boiling water until smooth, then add the soy sauce, honey, lime juice and chilli oil mixing well. Chop the peanuts
To Cook (8 minutes) Put a pan of water to boil for your noodles. In a large saucepan or wok, heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil and stir fry the carrots and pepper for 4-5 minutes. Add the mange tout and spring onion and fry for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the peanut sauce until heated through and then remove from the heat and add the chopped peanuts. While the veg are cooking, cook the noodles according to the pack instructions. (Mine took 4 minutes in boiling water). Serve and enjoy!
My third thing which helps me deal with everything when life becomes overwhelming is getting outside. I have a dog, so this is non-negotiable whatever the weather. I get out of bed in the morning, throw on some old clothes and get out for a walk with him before breakfast. But even when he is in kennels, or if I am away teaching, I get out and walk at least once but often several times a day. The combination of moving outside in the fresh air is what keeps me sane, and probably contributes to the fact that I very rarely feel overwhelmed. And when I feel I don’t have time for a walk, that is probably when I need more than ever to throw on my coat and get outside. It’s also why I have an allotment, so I can be outside, move my body and as a bonus, grow vegetables to feed me. If you click the link below you will find a couple of my favourite pumpkin recipes too.
Maybe though, we should also ask ourselves why have we let things become overwhelming in the first place. Obviously, we cannot always avoid having too much to do but something I have often recognised in myself is the tendency to say yes to things before thinking it through. Maybe we should learn to think twice before taking on too much and overcommitting. But it is also useful to learn that feelings of overwhelm can sometimes be a symptom of something else out of kilter in our lives. Time to step back, step out and go for that walk!
What are your favourite tips for avoiding or dealing with overwhelm?
Some interesting links on food: