Managing Overload with Boundaries

overloadOverload Symptoms

Overload all to often flares up and disrupts life. For me, the symptoms include…

  • Productivity decline – Inability to focus. Jumping from task to task. Accomplishing little.
  • Short attention span – Nothing holds interest for long. Always seeking new and better.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Too many projects. Too much information. Too much to do.
  • Feeling disconnected – Feeling forgotten, unimportant and alone.
  • Always on guard – Unable to relax. Tasks, goals & projects steal attention from relationships.
  • Think & speak in absolutes – “I can’t… because…” or “I have to… because…” or “I need…”

Obsessiveness covers all of these symptoms by amplifying their affects and creating a constant need to keep going and doing and thinking. Simply put, overload robs me of contentment and peace. Can you relate?

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Creating Boundaries

Counteracting overload involves setting boundaries that then guide the creation of habits. Setting boundaries involves taking time to think by…

  1. Simplifying – Prioritize. Say “no” to good to be able to say “yes” to and go deeper with better and best.
  2. Seeking connection – Make face-to-face connections a priority over completing a “to do” list.
  3. Keeping truth in focus – This daily necessity not only helps with moral choices but with time and priority choices too by protecting the mind from the world.
  4. Stopping the flow – Stop reading for information & refuse to take in new information. Back off commitments and occasionally shut out the world. Allow thoughts to flow freely. Allow time to just be.
  5. Purging – What aren’t you reading that you can stop receiving? What can come off your schedule? What material items can you get rid of?
  6. Getting out – Find a change of scenery. Take a family vacation, short getaway or even just a day trip.

While creating boundaries, keep these two pervading rules constantly in mind:

Rule #1 – Relationships are the deciding factor. Choose relationship over tasks as much as possible.

Rule #2 – Limit overload by limiting information and commitments. Doing nothing means choosing overload.

When I consistently choose to live within boundaries, overload doesn’t exist. But, I also regularly need to reset my boundaries because overload always seems to creep back in somehow if I don’t give my boundaries regular attention.

So, I need to make setting and maintaining boundaries a habit, and I need to stay aware of the symptoms over overload in order to make necessary, regular adjustments.

DISCUSSION: What changes will you make to set information boundaries and protect your life from overload?

On a completely unrelated note, I also posted this week at my friend Dan Erickson’s blog Hip Diggs. If you are interested in landscaping, check out my post
Tips for Installing and Maintaining Landscaping.

On a related note, next month’s focus on balance will include more on the idea of creating boundaries along with taking a look at balance from a variety of perspectives.

Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

Everyone Has Limits

834002_53926801Stress is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s required for growth. But we weren’t designed for constant levels of high stress. We need rest; we need to ebb and flow. Not only does an ocean’s tide approach to stress allow our bodies the rest and relaxation they need, it also allows for the mental space necessary to process and deal with life in a healthy way.

Is stress constant in your life, or do you get regular relief from its pressure?

Everyone processes stress uniquely, and every person holds a different tolerance level for stress. Not only that, but how we handle stress and how much we can handle also varies contextually.

The Energizer Bunny

My husband and I provide perfect examples of this reality. I don’t handle chronic stress well and need lots of rest after a stressful event or situation. I also don’t do well with thinking quickly and making a lot of quick decisions, especially with people watching and waiting.

841712_81663505My husband is the opposite. He is energized being around other people and pushing through challenges, and he has an amazing ability to think quickly and act efficiently. In fact, he thrives under pressure.

We are also different in our down time. I need a lot of quiet & down time. He recharges very quickly, and his down time usually involves a lot of activity.

While my limits are quickly obvious, my husband seems to not have them at times. In fact, he’s earned the nickname “The Energizer Bunny” because he keeps going and going and going with uncanny consistency.

Recognizing Limits

It’s obvious to everyone nearby when I’ve reached my limit of stress, and I feel it internally well before it’s visible to others. I look fatigued, my digestion slows, and I get over-sensitive to sensory stimulation.

My husband’s limits are not so obvious. He works hard, sleeps deeply, and shows very few visible signs of stress. But when stress lasts too long, a limit well past that of most people, signs begin to show and include an increased obsession with work and falling asleep in 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes.

Are you like me who needs more ebb & flow or my husband who can handle bigger waves?

My husband struggles recognizing his limits because he, like many high-achievers, doesn’t like admitting he has them. I usually recognize the signs before he does, though he’s improved in this area over the years.

How to Recognize Limits

578724_45121810Regardless of whether limits come quickly or seem higher than most people’s, there are always signs indicating their existence. Learning to recognize those signs can prevent you from speeding down life’s highway at a reckless pace.

Which of the following 5 areas best help you recognize approaching limits?

  1. Sleep – What’s your optimal number of hours, and are you hitting it every night? How’s the quality of your sleep? Consistency in this area brings almost instantaneous overall improvement in the ability to handle stress in a healthy way.
  2. Energy – Is your energy level consistent throughout the day? Or, do you have periods where yawning increases & eyes grow unbearably heavy? Are you constantly reaching for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy boost? An inconsistent energy level is a caution light indicating limits are getting near.
  3. Thoughts – Do you struggle focusing? Do you zone out when others are talking? Are your thoughts constantly wandering to impossible scenarios of relief? Or, perhaps all you can do is think about work or whatever is causing stress. Has your concern turned into worry? Remember that thoughts determine reality, so understanding thoughts can help sense approaching limits.
  4. Leisure – When was the last time you took a day or even an afternoon off? Do you constantly bring work home? Even if you do take a day off, do you sneak in time for work? CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time in 2011 with most of them leaving 11 days unused. That means they only took 30% of their allotted vacation time mostly because they felt they had too much work to do. An avoidance of leisure is a sure indication of approaching stress limits.
  5. Relationships – Do you spend regular time with your spouse and kids/grandkids? What about dinner with your family regularly? Do you have any friends you hang out with outside of work? Strained relationships indicated stress limits are rapidly approaching or have been reached.

Taking time to assess these areas of life can make a tremendous difference in preventing the crash and burn that comes when limits are reached, exceeded and ignored. Don’t let a heart attack or adrenal burnout or worse force you to recognize and respect your limits. Choose to do so on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

DISCUSSION: What experiences or other perspectives can you share regarding limits?

Getting to the Root Cause of Stress

398165_2008If you were to take the time to map out all the reasons for stress in your life, you’ll likely discover one main root cause. Yes, stress really is that simple.

What is the root cause? Fear. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that when we’re overwhelmed by stressed, we’re really acting in fear.

Fear of failure, Fear of letting others down. Fear of being let down. Fear of sickness and death. Fear of being controlled. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of kids rebelling or getting hurt or failing or embarrassing you. Fear of missing opportunities. Fear of making wrong choices. Fear of loneliness. Fear of mediocrity.

Oh wait, those are MY fears. Those are what cause MY stress. But maybe you can relate?

Unable to Wait

1078872_44288931As I thought more about the fears causing my stress, I realized at the heart is my inability to control people and events. And nowhere is this reality more evident than in my inability to wait for God.

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers says there are three temptations that derail believers trying to wait for God to speak into their lives.

  1. The temptation to demand and immediate answer.
  2. The temptation to give up.
  3. The temptation to just “do something.”

When I think about the times I’ve given into these temptations, I realize they happen because I believe one of my fears is about to be realized. And in my refusal to wait, I’m usually just trying to save myself from that fear. At the same time, I’m allowing my feelings to control my decisions as well as rationalizing and justifying why I can stop the waiting.

The odd thing is that when I give in to these temptations, when I let fear get the best of me, I end up increasing my stress and allowing fear to gain more of a foothold.

How to Finally Overcome Stress

No fear in loveOne of the best stress relievers and probably one of the least pursued is quietness. We sometimes make stellar attempts at quietness on vacations only to return to chaotic lives. While times away have their place and value, it’s really a habit of quietness that addresses fears and derails stress.

As Sorge notes, we have to remember three important points about quietness. It’s does not mean silence, it’s not instant, and it’s easily lost. Quietness must become a habit in order for it to truly alleviate stress.

My own journey to a less stressful life reflects the truth of what Sorge says about quietness. In fact, as I learn to practice quietness, my fears lessen, which in turn reduces stress. Sure, life continues to generate stressful situations and seasons, but they are no longer flavored with fear.

Instead, I am experiencing “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) by seeking Him through:

  1. Reading Scripture: Simply reading the Word of God and letting it live and breathe within me on a regular basis.
  2. Praying Often: A regular conversation with my Creator transforms stress and overload into times of experiencing Him more.
  3. Seeking Input: Godly influence of those who’ve been where you are and are where you want to be is invaluable.
  4. Pursuing Health: Being physically healthy makes a tremendous difference in not letting fears take control.
  5. Simplifying: The simpler the life, the more likely quietness becomes a transformational habit.

As quietness increases and fears subside, as stress no longer rules and reigns, my inner atmosphere increases in peaceful consistency and reliability. And as this happens, I’m experiencing a transformation that only God could orchestrate.

DISCUSSION: How does fear impact your stress level? What are you doing to overcome that fear?

Join the Book club discussing Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge by leaving a comment below. You can also read more reflections on this book from Jason, Sarah, Dusty, TC, Glynn, and Joell.

GUEST POST INVITATION: For the month of April, my focus will be on guest posting. This will include some of my own guest posts, promotion of other’s blogs and guest post featured on Struggle to Victory. If you are interested in either writing a post for this blog or having me write a post for your blog, please contact me via email. There are still several slots available on the calendar.

2013 One Word 365

amplifyYear in Review

In 2013, I attempted a One Word 365 approach to goal setting. In previous years of traditional SMART goal setting, I achieved more than I would had I not written anything down, sure, but my goal reaching felt disconnected and unbalanced, kind of like having only part of my house clean.

So in 2013, my goal to amplify my life as a whole focused on taking what’s working well and making it better. (You can read more about it in Amplify, How to… Amplify and Vacation Reflections: Resolutions.) Not only did this change my approach in every area, amplifying became a part of what I do as daily habit.

Specifically, amplifying changed…

  • My writing life by increasing daily word count, focusing more in application and doing the actions on a consistent basis that make me a writer.
  • The way I teach. Instead of getting as much in as possible into a certain amount of time, I focus on a few important points and drive those home. We go deeper with a few rather than stay on the surface with many.
  • How I parent. I nag less & listen more. I pray for my kids as much or more than I talk to them about how and what (I think) they should be doing.
  • How I read. Instead of just getting from cover to cover, I reader slower and allow for healthy digestion of the material rather than wolfing down words and finding myself with nothing but indigestion.
  • My exercise routine. Instead of feeling like I need to be like others around me when it comes to exercise (especially biking & running), I focus on what works best for me, which means lots of variety and the goals of healthy and strong instead of skinny and competitive.

More progress than just that listed above existed in 2013, but these stand out as ones most linked to obedience to calling. These amplified areas of my life now fuel all the other areas, thus amplifying them as well.

What about you? Do you take a traditional approach to goal setting? If so, how do you feel about your success with that approach? Or, do you take a non-traditional approach such as One Word 365? If you do, what kind of success are you having? Please share successes, failures, wishes & dreams with regard to goal setting!

How to… Have the Best Summer Break Yet

After adopting our youngest son two years ago, we discovered the need to create more structure in our summers than we’d had previously. (Our oldest is very independent and keeps occupied easily.) The tips below are the result of what has worked well for us over the past two years and that look to make this third summer with him the best one yet!

  1. Know Your Priorities. Many parents save vacation time or adopt a modified work schedule for the summer months. Do this if at all possible. The challenge of summer break is only for a season, and parents whose kids are no longer at home stress the importance of making the most of every opportunity while the kids are still young as a top priority. If a changing work schedule isn’t an option, do what you can to make evenings and weekends as focused on family time as possible.
  2. Create Goals. Have goals to help motivate and focus you and your kids. Set reading goals summer, such as a certain number of books or completing a certain series. Set physical goals such as training for a 5k or exercising so many times a week. Set academic goals too, such as memorizing multiplication facts or completing a summer bridge workbook. Having goals gives kids a “go to” activity when boredom strikes. And, of course, have rewards for reaching goals too!
  3. Have Balanced Structure. Partly because my youngest needs structure and largely because I like sanity, we create a daily and weekly schedule. We allow for alone time, time together, and time out. We schedule TV and electronics time, and we schedule projects and activities such as cooking new foods, visiting interesting places, and playing with friends. We don’t schedule to the point of exhaustion but enough to avoid boredom.
  4. Be Flexible. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re not fanatics about it. We allow for the spontaneous and unexpected such as weather changes, friends calling and those joyful moments when the kids come up with something to do together all on their own. We keep a list of summer activities to help create our schedule but remain flexible.
  5. Set Boundaries. Many kids would play video games and watch television all summer if they could. To avoid this, schedule media time into the day. Also, even though kids are at home, I still have work to complete. So, the office door closed means I need some time to write without disruption. The office door open means they can sit and talk to me while I work.  Also, they stay in their rooms until 8AM every morning and let me have time to exercise, pray and do devotions until 10AM. Setting these types of boundaries goes a long way in maintaining balanced structure.
  6. Get Input. Toward the end of the school year and when school first gets out, my boys and I spend time creating a list of summer activities. They usually have terrific ideas, and giving input creates excitement for the summer ahead.
  7. Include Mental Stimulation.  Tell kids they need to do schoolwork all summer to keep from losing what they learned during the school year, and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. But include mentally stimulating activities such as summer camps and going to the library or museums, and kids get excited. Get creative, but find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds.

Whether parents are home with their kids or not for summer break, the above suggestions provide ways to help make this summer break the best one yet. Take time within the next couple of days to go through these suggestions and create a plan of action. Oh yeah, be sure to write down what you come up with. My kids love looking at the schedule and list of activities to find out what’s coming up.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you plan on trying? What suggestions can you add?

Additional Resource: The article Keep Your Summer Organized by Simple Mom has some terrific suggestions that go well with today’s post. Check them out and let Tsh at Simple Mom know how great her ideas are!

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How to… Not Need a Vacation After Your Vacation

The view from the balcony in St. Maarten.

Learning how to Plan for a Family Vacation Without Going Crazy, to Enjoy Traveling, and to Enjoy Family Vacations & Come Back Closer Than Ever all go a long way in making sure your next family vacation is the best vacation you’ve ever had. One theme that hopefully stands out in this series is making sure the time spent away is relaxing for everyone. Without that element, all the planning along with the best activities and locations will fail to produce a vacation that truly energizes and revives. If you come back from a vacation needing to recover from your vacation, did you really take a vacation more than in name only?

First, let’s take a look at WHY actually relaxing on vacations is so essential. Health Finds, a blog site providing News and Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle, provides some startling information about the benefits of vacations in the article Why Vacations Are So Important.

“A study published in the year 2000 in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine has shown that taking regular vacations is associated with a longer, healthier life. Vacations, along with sleep, exercise, and other leisure time activities, appear to be restorative and protective against the ill effects of psychological stress. Over 12,000 men enrolled in a heart health study were followed over nine years. The men who took vacations in most years were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause than those who forewent regular vacations. The vacationers were also 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease.”

Clearly, vacations are essential for a person’s physical health, but they also can provide tremendous mental benefit. In fact, in Why your brain needs vacation on CNN Health, Elizabeth Landau provides the following reasons for taking a vacation.

  • Visiting an unfamiliar environment can help give a new perspective on everyday life.
  • Traveling abroad helps with creativity through experiencing new cultures.
  • Vacations allow for the opportunity to be mindful, which involves seeing new things and breaking mindless routines
  • Mindful vacations can result in an “epiphany” and be a catalyst for permanent change.

So, to put special emphasis on the idea of truly relaxing while on vacation, the following tips are offered.

On the balcony with my e-book in St. Maarten.

  1. Schedule down time. So often, people schedule activity upon activity when on vacation resulting in fatigue that needs recovery time when they get home. Instead, schedule time to relax. Personally, my family and I schedule as much if not more time to relax than we do actual activities.
  2. Truly be on vacation. Simply put, don’t work. Turn off electronics, especially ones that relate to work, and leave projects at home. Shutting out work takes a deliberate decision. It will not happen otherwise.
  3. Clean your house. I hate the thought of returning to a messy house. So, my boys know that preparing for vacation includes cleaning the house. Knowing my house is clean allows me to relax more than I would otherwise.
  4. Get lots of R&R. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. For me and my oldest, that means reading a lot. My youngest son and my husband enjoy sports. For all of us, that means movies and games together. We also just sit and talk quite a bit, on the balcony if possible.
  5. Forget your routine. Allow yourself to sleep later and stay up later if you want. Give yourself permission to have an extra cup of coffee instead of heading out the door earlier. Eat lunch at 3pm if you want. Changing your routine is immensely relaxing and often enlightening.

Vacations provide a terrific setting for extra bonding with the family, for exploring new cultures and for learning history. Above all, they can be the perfect setting for true relaxation that does not come with everyday life for most people. Sure, relaxing looks different for every person, but everyone does need to schedule time to relax. For many, it just won’t happen otherwise.

How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?

Resources:

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