Creative Strategies for the Disorganized Life…. That’s the name of a workshop I offered recently at a local workplace. I had given the employees a choice of several topics and this is the one that generated the most interest. It’s how many of us feel, isn’t it? We feel that our lives - and our minds - are disorganized, chaotic, too busy, overwhelmed. Some of us have been diagnosed with adult ADHD and struggle with organization and productivity. Many more of us suffer from OBLD - Overwhelmed by Life Disorder. Or, as I often call it, “too much $#!* to do” syndrome!
You’re not the only one. In his book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, Dr. Paul Hammerness reports that 43% of Americans categorize themselves as disorganized and 21% have missed vital work deadlines. Nearly half say disorganization causes them to work late at least twice each week. 48% report that their lives have become more stressful in the past five years. We all feel it at times - stressed, disorganized, out of control, frenzied.
The first stage of feeling overwhelmed is frenzy. We get caught up in our emotions and feel frantic to get things done. Maybe we’re running late… again…. and find ourselves lashing out at ourselves. “Why can’t I get it together?” “I’m so stupid!” “How did I get this far behind?” “Why can’t I be more like _______?” We blame ourselves - or others close to us - for the disorganized state of our life. As Dr. Hammerness suggests, the first thing we need to do when we are feeling overwhelmed is to “tame the frenzy.” We have to step back and calm those angry, anxious, frantic feelings so we can make good choices and move forward in a positive way.
The first step in taming the frenzy is to pay attention to your feelings. Dr. Hammerness notes that simply naming the emotion you are feeling enables your prefrontal cortex to become aware of the emotion and then begin to let it go. Try it sometime when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and stressed. What is the emotion underlying the frenzy? Is it anxiety about how you are doing or how you are being perceived? Anger at yourself or others for not “having it all together?” Sadness about how your life is going? Irritability? Disgust? Discouragement? What are you feeling? Be specific. Naming the emotion clarifies it and helps you release it and move forward with your life with less stress and move positivity.
Make it a practice to check in with your emotions on a regular basis. I do it as a part of my daily meditation practice. After a few calming breaths, I scan down my body, starting with the top of my head all the way down to my toes, to see how it’s feeling. Where am I holding tension in my body? Usually, it’s in my neck or between my shoulder blades. Are my shoulders tightened up until they are almost as high as my ears? I take a moment to simply notice where any tension. Then, I check in with my emotions. What is my general emotional state of the moment? Am I calm or feeling anxious? Worried? Sad? Discouraged? Excited about the day? Grateful for my life? It’s just a check in - not a judgement. It’s an acknowledgement that this is how I’m feeling today. No beating myself up about it or feeling like “I should be….” All those emotions are part of our emotional palette. It’s okay.
The second step to tame the frenzy is to begin to notice the moments when you are calm. Reflect on your experience of calm. Think about times when you don’t notice the frenzy and feel less stressed and relaxed. What does calm feel like to you? What does frenzy feel like? Find metaphors to describe them. Draw a picture of them. To me, frenzy feels like a tornado - out of control and destructive to everything in it’s path. Calm is a cool gentle breeze breathing life back into my soul. Become aware of your patterns of frenzy and calm. You may want to create a graph of your weekly patterns of stress and calm.
The third step is to “own” your role, to become aware of your responsibility and your ability to increase calm and decrease frenzy. Are you completely burned out - feeling almost always frenzied? Or is it more sporadic? When are you feeling most calm? If you could wake up tomorrow feeling calm, how would that feel? Look at your patterns of frenzy and calm and brainstorm some ways to reduce the frenzy.
The quickest way to de-stress is to move your body. Go for a walk, stretch, exercise, do some jumping jacks or march in place. Even five minutes of movement helps. Other ideas include short meditation breaks, talking to a friend, eating healthy, non-inflammatory foods, or taking a short “time-out” from the situation. Go outside. Look at a photo that makes you smile. Write down 3 things you are grateful for. Walk the dog. Breathe.
Think long term. You may need to explore those long buried sources of frenzy with a trusted friend or therapist. Work with a life or career coach to make organizational changes to simplify your life. Recognize that you do have the ability to tame the frenzy. And then try some experiments. What works for you? Think like a scientist and try out different strategies to tame the frenzy in your life. Test them out and see how they work.
So, take it one step at a time.
1) Name the feeling. 2) Identify the patterns of calm and frenzy. 3) Experiment with strategies to tame the frenzy.
What works for you? Send me a note and let me know!