Whether you are a practicing professional in the behavioral sciences or studying to take the licensure exam, it is easy to become overwhelmed with a crowded schedule. A busy work and life load is manageable to an extent, but what do you do when you become spread too thin?
Here are five rules to follow when you are spreading yourself too thin.
Do you feel like you just can’t do any more? Feeling like you’re spread too thin can mean you are burnt out.
You may be burnt out if you wake up with a feeling of dread and/or nausea, you act out of character perhaps with a shorter temper than normal, daydreaming takes up most of your day, you cannot think of anything to look forward to, or friends and family notice that you are “off.”
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or simply feel like you are “at the end of your rope,” it’s time to take a break. Furthermore, if you identify with multiple symptoms of burnout, perhaps it’s time to seek professional help because chronic burnout can affect your physical and emotional health.
Overcrowded schedules are not always crowded with bad things. Much of the time, we have just said yes to too much, whether they be fun things or not. Even though the commitments that crowd your schedule may have been something you wanted to commit to, they could be robbing you of a better “yes” down the road.
When faced with adding something to your schedule, ask yourself “what would my current ‘no’ say ‘yes’ to in the future?” For example, say Thursday is my one night a week where I have nothing going on. This is the only night I have free of studying, work, or other commitments. A co-worker of mine asks if I want to play on her intramural soccer team every Thursday. This co-worker is my friend, I love playing soccer, and I am free on Thursdays. But, if I say yes to weekly intramural soccer, that means I have no room or buffer in my schedule to rest or catch up on things. If I say no to playing intramural soccer, what am I saying yes to in the future? I am saying yes to a night of rest every week that frees me up to do whatever I need to do, whether it be calling up with a family member I haven’t seen in a while, keep up on house work or work in general, catch up on a television series I love with a close friend, or whatever else might come up.
Today, many have the mentality that if you aren’t constantly “busy” then your life lacks importance or you are being unproductive. However, rest is something everybody needs and is not something we need permission to do. In fact, rest enhances your ability to be productive. To ensure you maintain a balance of work and rest, know what you need to be doing and when in your weekly schedule. List out your priorities such as work, studying, and rest. Pencil those in your agenda first and then fill in everything else.
When it comes down to living out this schedule, be sure to protect the time you have set aside as top priority. For example, say you have an evening planned to rest by reading a good book alone. Your friend, whom you see often, calls you up to see if you want to hang out because she knows you are free tonight. You don’t feel up to it, but you might feel guilty saying no to her because you’re not doing much otherwise. Remember that it is okay to prioritize your self-care and it is necessary protect the time you have set aside for it. Perhaps gently decline your friend’s offer and make plans to do something fun together a different time.
When your car is low on gas, it eventually stops running if you don’t fill it up. Similarly, people need to fill up their tank before they run out of energy.
What activities make you feel alive? What makes you feel depleted? Write down three things that fill you and three things that drain you. Perhaps being outside, reading a good book, or hanging out with close friends gives you energy. Maybe work, studying, or being inside all day drains your energy. Knowing your “fillers” and “drainers” is the first step to keeping a full tank that is ready to be productive. The more “drainers” you have in your schedule, the more “fillers” you will need to incorporate.
Are you experiencing anxiety and depression from being spread too thin? Remember that it is a strength, not a weakness, to get help. You do not need to wait until you are in extreme turmoil to seek help. Self-care is self-maintenance.