Avoid ‘The Big Overwhelm,’ relish in down time

Published 1:53 pm Saturday, October 28, 2017

My BF texted the other day to ask how I was. “Crazy busy”, I responded.

She immediately called. “Uh oh,” she said. “Here comes the Big O.”

Unfortunately, she doesn’t mean orgasm. She means the “Big Overwhelm,” a term she uses to describe a state I’m in far too often.

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My enthusiasm almost always outweighs my energy. My default setting is overcommited. I want to swoop in and save the day, fix things, offer emotional support.

If you ask me for something, I’m probably going to agree to it. It makes me feel needed, important, validated. Go ahead and stamp people pleaser on my forehead.

Just like each of you, I take on far too many things. It almost always ends in my overextending myself, in a nervous system that can’t decelerate.

This invariably ends in the Big O, in insomnia and cuss words and inconsolable sobbing. It’s a predictable and dramatic fall to pieces, leaving David (my husband) to mop me up off the floor.

I am not alone in being too busy. Americans are the most stressed and overworked people in the world, and it is often through choice.

According to the Glassdoor Employee Satisfaction Survey, only a quarter of us take off all the time we are due, and 15 percent of Americans report taking no time off through their work year.

And of those who do take a vacation, 61 percent report doing work while on holiday. Sound familiar?

Why do we feel a need to be so busy? Why do we voluntarily take on so many obligations, volunteer to fill each minute of every day? Why do we feel anxious or guilty in taking down time? And how the hell do we break this demanding cycle?

Busy is a gamble against empty. We are existentially afraid that if we get really quiet, we won’t like what we find.

If our time is in demand, then our lives couldn’t possibly be inconsequential. We equate value with productivity.

But this desire to feel significant is what the Buddha called a hungry ghost, a desire that will never be satisfied. It’s like drinking salt water to slake your thirst. Busy is a hungry ghost that cannot be sated. Busy is a poor substitute for a true and deep existence.

And, though it might take weeks or it might take years, it will consistently end in the Big O.

Being idle is crucial to a connected existence. The best investment of our time on this tilting planet is to spend it being in the moment. Being alone with our thoughts. Having fun with our people. Hugging and crying with strangers as we make sense of this chaotic world.

If busy is a distraction, then being idle is the hard work of real living.

Arianna Huffington’s book “Thrive” is an amazing treatise on redefining success. It includes a quote from Iain Thomas:

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’”

It starts with recognizing how you spend your time.

It’s human nature to overestimate the time spent on things we don’t want to do and underestimate the free time we have for things we enjoy doing.

When I tracked everything I do each week, I was startled to see how much free time I was squandering. I was returning emails in the school pick-up line instead of chilling out with an audible or simply meditating. I was plowing through two newspapers while eating. Since there seems to be some sort of bad news every day, this was upsetting my digestive system and I was missing out on one of the truest loves of my life: food. I canceled the Herald-Leader and vowed to read The Winchester Sun only when I was done making love to my meal.

No more multi-tasking; it’s the enemy of mindfulness.

I was checking social media way too frequently, so I moved my phone charger into a room further away from my “nest” where I read, write, meditate and snuggle Cat Stevens. Once I’m on the couch, I am far less likely to get up for anything except filling my belly or emptying my bladder.

And most importantly? When people now ask how I am, I’m trying to mindfully respond, “Great! How about you?” instead of that easy-out, “Crazy busy.”

As we enter the holiday season, I want to be present to the moments that matter and avoid the Big O.

So if you need me, sorry. I’m probably too busy to be busy.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. She wants everyone to make friends with meditation, eat real food, move their bodies and hit the pillow a little earlier. When she’s not standing on her head, she enjoys being a wife, mother, dancer, reader, flower sniffer, guitar player and wine drinker. Send her a shout out at erin@theOMplace.net or play along at www.theOMplaceChannel.com.