By: Alli Worthington
My granddaddy used to say, “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That’s some good Southern preacher wisdom right there.
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 telling myself I was a strong, confident woman, who 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. For some, the warning signs may be emotional. For others, they might be physical, relational, or spiritual. But rest assured, if you are over capacity, you will soon find out— the hard way.
Sign #1: An Inability to Control Your Emotions
I was talking about reaching our limits with a friend recently. She shared that she can always tell when she’s over capacity because she can no longer control her emotions. She told me this story:
I was scheduled to meet a group of friends for coffee. I love these women. They are my ‘people.’ But as I thought through the other things I should be doing that day, I realized I was beginning to dread it all. I went from looking forward to a relaxing morning with my girlfriends to feeling anxious about the whole thing.
By the time I got to my car, I found myself feeling irritated with my friend who had set it all up. Didn’t she realize how busy I was, how much I had on my plate? A real friend would have realized that the last thing I needed was one more thing to do.
About halfway there, I had worked myself into an anxious, angry mess. I texted my friend and told her I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I turned my car around and cried all the way home. I pulled into my garage and sat in the darkness, completely depressed. I convinced myself that if I could just get past this season of busyness, I’d be able to pull myself together. I’d be okay.
I have thought that same thing so many times. 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. If we already have a full plate of obligations and crazy commitments, the last thing most of us want to do is spend time planning healthy meals, working out, or taking care of our physical health or appearance. That just sounds like more work.
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: 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 second time you’ve canceled our plans.”
- “Mom, 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 husband, 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 amount 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 #4: Neglecting God
In the Bible, we often see that Jesus is busy doing the work his Father sent him to do, living out his calling every day. But despite his full schedule, Jesus is undeterred from daily reconnecting with God. He leaves cities with people unhealed and potential work undone all so he can spend time with 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.
I learned the hard way that we have to start breaking busy before the busy breaks us. And that means letting our lives be about what we are meant to do, what God created us to do, and not just what we think we “should” do.
Alli Worthington and her husband, Mark, live outside of Nashville with their five sons, rescued dog and a cat who adopted them and now lives on the porch. Alli is a writer, speaker and serves as the Executive Director of Propel Women. Alli’s new book, Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy, helps women break the cycle of busyness that leaves them drained and frazzled. Her book helps women live out their calling and find their confident calm in a world that really is crazy. You can connect with Alli on Twitter @Alli , Instagram @AlliWorthington , and on her blog AlliWorthington.com.
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