Before I broke busy in my own life, I proudly wore my busy badge of honor. Busyness made me feel productive and needed, and I overlooked the havoc it was wreaking in my life. Oh, there were warning signs, but I just kept assuring myself I could handle the stress and chaos.
But contrary to what many of us have been told, we can’t handle it all, nor should we. So how do we know when we are reaching our limits? We aren’t like our phones with flashing numbers that tell us we’ve reached our capacity. But there are signs our body gives us if we’re paying attention, signs that may look different for each of us.
Sign #1: An Inability to Control Your Emotions
An inability to control our emotions and constantly feeling anxious, irritable, depressed, and overwhelmed are all signs that something isn’t right. Out-of-control emotions often reflect the out-of-control demands we put on ourselves.
Sign #2: Lack of Self-Care
People who operate at overcapacity rarely have time for self-care. I’ve often justified skipping a shower and working in my jammies because I had too much to do. Or making Snickers and coffee my go-to meal because it was convenient, despite the fact that it made me a caffeine-crazed maniac.
I find it easier to escape online than to take action for my own health and happiness. I’ve spent years goofing off on Pinterest and admiring other people’s lives on Facebook instead of investing in my own life.
Taking care of yourself may seem selfish, but self-care is one of the most other-centered choices you can make in your life. That’s because you can’t live the life God created you for, with space to be aware of his leading, if you don’t take care of yourself.
Sign #3: Illness
There was a season when I simply could not get well. Constant illness can be a sign of many things, and of course, you should see your doctor if you’re struggling in this area. But illness can also be your body’s warning to you that you need to make changes in your life.
Sign #4: Chronic Lateness
I believe chronic lateness is caused by the tendency to say yes to too many activities and to too many people. It’s a crazy cycle of trying to be all things to all people. In the end, we can’t get anywhere on time or accomplish everything we say we will, and we end up disappointing everyone because the weight of it is all too much.
How many times have we known we didn’t have the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to put one more thing on our plates? If you’re noticing it is harder and harder to get anywhere on time and to accomplish things when you say you will accomplish them, it’s probably a sign that you are over capacity.
Sign #5: Self-Medicating and Excess
When the demands of life become too much, self-medicating is a very common response. Self-medicating might also take the form of obsessive exercise, too many hours on social media, or watching a lot of television instead of getting much-needed sleep. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking self-medicating is actually self-care — “I deserve that chocolate bar!”
But if we find that our habits are not renewing or restoring us, then we need to recognize those choices as a warning sign of busyness. We need to ask ourselves if escaping reality just seems like an easier choice than reducing our to-do list.
Sign #6: Neglecting Important Relationships
Do any of these sound familiar?
“You’re always busy. You never have time for us anymore.”
“Do you have to check your email now? We’re out to dinner.”
“This is the third time you’ve canceled our date.”
“Can you please pick me up on time today? It’s kind of embarrassing always being the last kid here.”
Do you feel as if you are habitually letting down the people closest to you: your spouse, children, close friends, family, and colleagues? It’s easy to feel guilty about these things. And once we start feeling just a twinge of guilt, it’s all over.
The onslaught of pressure and guilt we heap on ourselves outweighs any positive feedback anyone else gives us. When I begin neglecting my important relationships, I know I’m over capacity, and it’s time to cut back to save my relationships and to save my peace of mind.
Sign #7: Neglecting God
A huge sign that I am over capacity is when I start skipping church and prayer.
Staying connected to God is what keeps me operating within my capacity and what helps me understand that God made me with limitations on purpose. Having a limited capacity is not a flaw in my character. It is by glorious design and for an incredible purpose: to realize my need for him.
Neglecting God out of our own busyness, combined with any of the other signs— lack of self-care, chronic lateness, illness, self-medicating, and neglecting our important relationships — are all symptoms that we are off balance. These are not things to beat ourselves up over, but they are signs we should heed so we can start breaking busy.
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Alli is the Executive Director of Propel Women, a wife, and mom to 5 boys and lives just outside Nashville, TN. Check out Alli Worthington’s new book, Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy.