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Say GOODBYE to SURVIVAL MODE
9 SIMPLE STRATEGIES TO STRESS LESS, SLEEP MORE, AND RESTORE YOUR PASSION FOR LIFE
By CRYSTAL PAINE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Crystal Paine
All rights reserved.
Stop Trying to Do It All
Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.
Goal: Streamline your life and cut schedule clutter so you can focus your time and energy on the things that matter most.
Strategy: Create a personal priorities list and use it as a springboard for culling your commitments and to-do list.
I had to make the call. And I was seriously dreading it.
I was supposed to meet some friends for a fun outing that afternoon. I had been looking forward to it. What mother who barely has time for herself wouldn't be ecstatic about doing something, anything exciting? The problem was, I was already fifteen minutes late. And I wasn't even close to getting out the door.
With my feet glued to the sticky kitchen floor, I scanned the perimeter of my messy house. The dishes. The towering pile of laundry mocking me from the bedroom corner for the past week. The dust. The carpet needing to be vacuumed. The bathroom screaming for a good scrubbing. I looked at my hopelessly long to-do list I had scribbled on a scrap of paper. I watched my three, half-dressed children under the age of five all seeming to need my attention at that very moment. I swallowed hard and felt a pair of invisible hands around my neck. My palms shook with the anxiety of way too much to do.
I wanted to run away from it all. I was exhausted. I was stressed to the max. I felt stuck. I desperately fought the urge to yell, throw something, and cry—all at the same time.
Picking up the phone and admitting that I was in such an overwhelmed state (and late yet again) seemed to cement the fact that I was failing as a wife, as a mom, and as a woman.
Sure, I loved God, my husband, Jesse, and my kids (Kathrynne, age four; Kaitlynn, age two; and Silas, a baby at the time). And yes, there were still times when I felt happy and fulfilled. But more and more, those stretches were a thing of the past—experiences and feelings that seemed unfamiliar and scarce.
I wasn't living. I was merely surviving. Scared of what might happen if I couldn't find a way out of this maze of misery, I prayed I'd find help. And soon.
THE SLOW AND STEADY DOWNWARD SPIRAL
How had things come to this? How could I not even manage to get out the door to meet friends for a fun afternoon without falling apart and feeling like a colossal wreck?
In retrospect, this wasn't something that happened overnight. Instead, it was a slow progression in an unhealthy direction. It started with a lot of major changes and crises in a short amount of time.
I had been married for six years—years that had been filled with a whirlwind of life events, some of which were very stressful: pinching pennies out of necessity while my husband finished college and went to law school, having three children in less than five years, starting four different home businesses (three of which flopped), moving four times. I felt life was spinning out of control.
I was working thirty to forty hours per week as a blogger and writer to try and keep our family afloat financially. My blog, MoneySavingMom.com, which I had started in 2007, was experiencing incredible growth. It was a great thing, but by the time my third child was born in 2009, I was in over my head. Around thirty to fifty thousand people were reading my blog every day, and I was a one-woman show, running the business without any help. I was getting up too early and staying up too late almost every day and night trying to meet all my business and writing deadlines. And I was still recovering from postpartum depression.
The lies started swooping in with a vengeance. "I'm going to be okay," I whispered to myself when I felt suffocated by responsibilities and to-dos. I told everyone who asked that I was "great" and "wonderful."
But deep down, I knew the truth. I was anything but fine. A chipper attitude and wide grin couldn't mask how overwhelmed I felt.
Running at full steam started taking a toll on me physically. Exhaustion-induced health issues began to surface. Every two to three weeks, I would be bedridden for a few days with a high fever, headache, and intense pain throughout my whole body.
As this sickness continued to hit every few weeks for four months, I became concerned. I knew what I was experiencing was not normal, and I wondered what was wrong with me. But I kept pushing myself, unwilling to admit I was the cause of my health issues.
FACADES AND GLIMPSES OF FREEDOM
In the midst of so much change and upheaval, my type-A personality me wanted to keep up the persona of perfection. I didn't stop the insanity. I didn't sit down and analyze what I could realistically handle. I didn't recognize my limits and set boundaries. Instead, I wore a plastic smile and continued to say yes.
"Sure, I'll take on that project."
"Sure, I'll meet that deadline."
"Sure, I'll bake those brownies."
"Sure, I'll look over your e-book and give you feedback."
"Sure, I'll meet you for lunch and help you figure out how to start a blog."
As time marched on and my rope grew thinner, I kept piling on more projects and responsibilities, ignoring all the warning signs.
But that cold spring day when I had to make the phone call telling my friends I was running behind and going to be dreadfully late, something snapped inside me. For the first time, I realized how badly my life was spiraling out of control—and that something needed to give. For my children. For my husband. And for my sanity.
I didn't make any outward changes yet, but my mind-set started changing. I stopped believing the lies that I could do it all, be it all, and have it all. I just wanted to be free again—free from the rat race, free from the burden of feeling that I had to say yes to everything, free from the pressure of trying to be perfect. I wanted to be free to enjoy life.
Though I had a long way to go to find total freedom, I had taken the first step.
THE WORDS THAT SPARKED THE ULTIMATE CHANGE
A few weeks later, after months of scrimping and saving, Jesse and I had enough to put an offer on a house we'd fallen in love with. Our offer was accepted, and a moving date was set for five weeks later.
I reveled in the joy for about a second, when the reality of the situation finally hit. What am I thinking? I can't add the responsibilities of moving to my plate! I was barely keeping my head above water as it was. There was no way I could find time to pack up the house in five weeks too.
I was also in the midst of helping launch an intensive training event for bloggers. Guess when this event was scheduled? Right during the time when my family was supposed to be moving!
My colleagues and I had spent months planning this blogging event, advertising it, finalizing details, securing speakers, and getting sponsors. We were excited about it and thrilled that we'd sold all the tickets in record time. The only problem was that we still had a lot more work ahead of us.
As I contemplated how on earth I was going to pull off the event and moving, all while juggling everything else going on in my life, I started to panic. In the past, when big projects were piled on my plate, I'd simply pushed harder, gotten less sleep, and powered through. This time I knew I didn't have enough steam in my engine to do that. Just considering it was completely overwhelming me.
Finally, I sat down with my husband and tearfully told him, "I can't do this anymore. I'm overwhelmed. I'm exhausted. Help!"
I was expecting a big hug or words of sympathy. And if I'm totally honest, I wanted a pat on the back for a job well done, you know, for my Superwoman efforts. I didn't receive the response I'd hoped for, but I got something better. Unfortunately, I didn't appreciate it at the time.
My husband looked at me sympathetically and then uttered some of the wisest words he's ever said to me. "Crystal, you know that you are the one who is bringing most of this on yourself."
Despite the truth and wisdom in his words, they were the last ones I wanted to hear. His statement only made me more frustrated at how stuck I felt. Instead of taking the epiphany to heart, however, I wallowed in a woe-is-me rant in my head. I felt sorry for myself and continued to blame everyone except the cause of my problems—me.
ME—THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION
I mulled over what my husband said later that evening. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I knew he was right. I didn't have to spend so many hours blogging. I didn't have to be on the event-planning team for the blogger event. I didn't have to say yes to every commitment and opportunity that came my way. Nobody and nothing was obligating me to do anything except me!
Finally, I had reached my tipping point. Relief washed over me, and I felt the weight of all the burdens I was shifting around release. I had more control over my life than I realized. I could stop the madness. I could eliminate the chaos. I could start setting boundaries. I could start saying no.
Yes, I was the problem. But I was also the solution.
In the days that followed, I made some drastic changes. I stepped down from the event-planning project. I said no to all business offers that came my way. I shut down almost all my social media channels. I stopped feeling obligated to other people. I started making sleep a priority. I hired more help with my business. I stopped trying to be Superwoman.
Sure, some people were disappointed in me—and weren't shy to voice their opinions—but I had never felt so at peace. I finally felt like I was living. Really living.
Within a month, my health had improved dramatically. In fact, the twice-a-month, high-fever sickness disappeared within six weeks and never came back again. Even in the craziness of moving, I felt calm, not frazzled or frantic.
You know what surprised me the most about my new stance? My relationship with my husband did a 180-degree turnaround. Truth be told, I had been so busy spinning my wheels that I hadn't realized how bad things had gotten in my marriage. No, we weren't fighting all the time, and no one was threatening to leave. However, as with many marriages where busyness takes center stage, our communication had diminished to a purely superficial level. How was your day, honey? Kathrynne drew a pretty picture today. That was a delicious dinner. Don't forget to pick up milk on your way home. You know, that sort of thing.
My marriage had completely lost its spark. My daily schedule was so packed that I was missing out on some of the most important things in life. Gone were the hours my husband and I had spent laughing and enjoying each other. Gone were the deep discussions about our dreams, goals, and desires. Gone were the simple but romantic times holding hands. Those precious moments had been replaced by work, deadlines, and conference calls. There was always business stuff to do, and in the process, my marriage and my family took a backseat.
My husband had been feeling neglected for months. He felt I was too busy for him. The only reason he didn't mention anything was because, well, I was too busy to listen.
Sadly, he was right.
During the previous two years of building my business, I'd forgotten how to breathe. I'd become a workaholic, and everyone except me seemed to know it was doing more harm than good.
AN IMPERFECT PROCESS
In the process of letting go, I admit, I've passed up a lot of great opportunities. But I'm okay with that. I've found God always provides the right projects at the right time that I can realistically manage and enjoy doing them.
Yes, there are moments when I want to dig out my Superwoman cape to impress others and hear them say how wonderful and accomplished I am. But when I remember how empty and exhausted it felt to try to do it all, I realize it's okay never to wear the cape again.
Now let me be clear: my life isn't perfect. There are times when I've gotten off-course and have temporarily taken too much upon myself. But when that happens, I have a trusted group of friends who help me get back on track. I've asked these people to keep me accountable for having margin and breathing room in my life and to call me out when they see me sliding down the slippery slope of heaping my plate too full. I also remind myself regularly how bad things were a few years ago, and that helps me to be quick to make changes lest things get out of hand again.
I'd rather do a few things well, have my priorities in order, and enjoy life than try to do two hundred things poorly and have a stressed-out, exhausted, passionless existence.
JUST SAY NO
Time doesn't expand limitlessly. When I say yes to one thing, I must say no to something else. For example, if I choose to make getting up early a priority, I have to say no to staying up late on a regular basis. It also means I have to routinely say no to worthwhile activities and events that would keep me out late. In order to say yes, I must learn to say no.
I don't like saying no. But if my struggles and health issues a few years ago taught me anything, it was this: If I want to live a productive, efficient, happy, peaceful, and disciplined life, I must learn to say no. And I must say it often.
If you want to stick with and accomplish your goals, you're going to have to get good at saying no. It's hard to do, especially if you're an overachiever like me. This is a foreign concept, I know. We are taught that we need to be "yes women." We worry what people will think of us if we don't attend everything we're invited to, respond to every call for volunteers, or be on every committee.
But how can we stress less, sleep more, and restore our passion for life while trying to balance a full set of spinning plates? We can't. Living with intention means saying no to the things that aren't important to us so we can say yes to what matters most. If you're used to saying yes to everything and everyone, making the change to choosing well is going to be a challenge in the beginning. But once you start doing it, the benefits you'll reap will be so worth it that I promise you'll begin to do it even more!
THE FOUR Cs TO CREATING MARGIN
Does any part of my story resonate with you? Can you relate to my breakdown? Or my unhealthy need to say yes to too many things? Do you feel like you're drowning? Merely surviving in life instead of thriving?
There are things you can do, starting today, that will help bring sanity, joy, and purpose back into your life. When you are stretched, frazzled, overwhelmed, and spent from following packed schedules, tackling never-ending to-do lists, and being pulled in every direction, you need margin. You need to eliminate certain things from your life that will give you breathing room.
I like how Dr. Richard Swenson describes margin in his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. He writes, "Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating."
Here are four ways to find that space. If you have an hour or so, treat each section below like an exercise to point you toward the margin you so desperately need. Plus, getting clarity now will be helpful as we move forward in this book. We'll keep hitting these themes.
Create a Personal Priorities List
Take thirty minutes, and sit down somewhere quiet. Use this time to craft a list of four to six personal priorities in the space provided or in your personal journal. You will use this list as a foundation to determine your schedule, responsibilities, and to-dos in the next chapter.
Ask yourself the following questions to figure out what you want to see on this list. What is most important to you? Family? Work? Health? Others? Where do you see yourself in twenty-five years? At the end of your life, what do you want to look back on and have accomplished? What's going to matter most to you?
Start writing down your ideas. As you do, you'll likely see patterns developing. Take note of these patterns to help you determine what really matters to you.
Remember, this is your personal priorities list, not someone else's list. Catch yourself every time you start to write things down based upon the opinions of others (e.g., "I should probably include being involved in the PTA because that's what the other moms would do.").
Excerpted from Say GOODBYE to SURVIVAL MODE by CRYSTAL PAINE. Copyright © 2014 Crystal Paine. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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