I recently got back from a family holiday in France. Because I wanted to be "on vacation" I'd decided to get a head start on my work so it wouldn't be hanging over my head while I was away. Sound familiar? We all do this, right?
Naturally, I made a list.
My list included what I needed to do for my business as well as all the personal issues. Things like paying the mortgage, the electric and cable bills, getting cash for traveling, stopping the mail, etc.
I wrote my list about two weeks before we left and almost immediately became stressed out.
My internal dialog whirred with, "I have so much to do. I have to hurry to get it all done. The clock's ticking. I'm running out of time." My chest started contracting and it was hard to breathe. I'm sure my blood pressure spiked too.
For the first time since I started writing a weekly blog 18 months ago, I had writer's block. I literally sat down to start an article and my mind was a complete blank. I had no creativity, no ideas, nothing sounded interesting or compelling.
I just sat there and stared at my computer as the panic rose and the chant continued. "You can't do this. You have too much to do. You have to get this piece written. Your list is waiting..." And nothing.
I finally got up and walked away.
Later that night I confessed to my husband that I had writer's block. But then I also began to recognize my other symptoms. Stress was causing my mind to short circuit in this panicky thinking. I also felt incredibly uncomfortable in my body.
That's when I remembered -- this is how I used to feel a lot.
I'd forgotten because a few years ago I made a radical shift in my schedule and opted to slow my work life down to feel more sane, whole and loving.
This awful feeling of stress, angst and physical discomfort was how I'd felt for years. It had actually become my norm. There was too much to do and not enough time. I'd run around crazed, in a blurred rush, trying frantically to multi-task and get everything done.
With my list and the time crunch of my impending trip, I'd fallen right back into that place.
That's when I made a decision because I hated feeling this way.
My list had projected me straight into the future. All I had to do was come back to right now, this moment.
And how did I do that?
That's when I had another a-ha.
I couldn't write because I was stressed. My brain was already onto the next thing on my to-do list when I hadn't even started the first task, writing. As I allowed myself to relax and breathe, that creative flow began to re-awaken itself and the next day I was able to complete my piece.
If you can relate to being stressed out and unable to turn off the list in your mind, see if these strategies help:
1. One Thing at a Time
For all that we love the notion of multi-tasking, (especially as women) we can really only do one thing effectively and well at a time. Choose to be present and focused JUST on the activity at hand - be it writing, talking on the phone or cooking dinner.
2. Prioritize the List and Delegate
Does everything really need to get done now? Can someone else do some of it for you? Can any of it wait until later?
This was my big key. I had to relax into knowing that everything was fine, everything was going to get done and if it didn't, oh well. Once I relaxed, I knocked off all the stuff on my list no problem and without all the chaos and drama I'd kicked up previously.
Take nice deep breaths into your body and feel the tension dissolve. Breathing oxygenates the body, clears the mind and re-focuses us right back to now.
Try these and see if your list suddenly becomes manageable and less overwhelming. We always have the choice to fall into stress or to stay present. When we choose presence, we are often surprised at how calm and clear we feel and how effective we can be. Before you realize it, everything's done!
Shakti Sutriasa is the Founder of DecideDifferently.com, a personal development company offering coaching, counseling and workshops. Her unique approach combines modern psychology and spirituality to support people seeking positive change and self-transformation. Shakti is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has an MA in Education. Learn more at DecideDifferently.com