Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

A bad word


I really should…

I don’t want to but I should…

The way it works for me is this:

“I really want to sit down and do some writing. But before I do, I should wash the dishes, and put a load of washing on. And I really should ring that person, pay those bills, organise that drawer.”

By the time I get through my shoulds I have no energy left to write, and no idea what it was that I wanted to write about.

You’ll notice that the list of shoulds is full of worthy and worthwhile activities. They are all good things to do. You don’t usually think, “I should lie on the couch all afternoon and watch movies.” That’s a whole different type of procrastination. No, the shoulds are all good things that really should be done.

When I was trying to do everything just because I should I was trying to do too much. I had things on my list that were not suited to me and that didn’t fit into my schedule. It was too hard.

I had an escape when things were too hard. I have used it since my childhood. When I couldn’t cope with my list of things to do, when life became overwhelming, when it was all too much, I would get sick.

I wouldn’t fake being sick. I wasn’t trying to please anyone except the internal task master in my head. No, I would actually become sick – temperature, sore throat, runny nose, swollen glands, I need to stay in bed for a couple of days, I’m sick kind of sick.

Let me tell you, this is not a good strategy. It is bad for your body for starters. It’s a bit like jumping out of a 10th storey window just to get away from the jobs on your desk. And what if things become overwhelming because you are at the start of an exciting project – something you really want to do? You shoot yourself in the foot over and over again.

I realised in my twenties that something had to change. Actually, I was being interviewed for a volunteer position at church and a wise lady asked me, “What do you do when the wheels really fall off?”

That’s when I realised what my strategy was. I replied, “That’s easy, I get sick.”

And she told me in no uncertain terms that getting sick wasn’t a reasonable strategy. I needed to find another one.

I guess that was the start of my learning to say no journey.

I used to use the word should as a catch all and it was derailing all the important but non-urgent things that I really wanted to do.

In the end my husband, Moz, gave me a way to work around it.

Should became a bad word, a word that I was no longer allowed to use. I had to think about a replacement word. I had to think about why I was stressing about the task. Why it had got onto the should list in the first place. What was it that I actually thought about the task.

“I should do the washing up first,” could turn into “If I get the washing up done, my house will look cleaner and I’ll be able to concentrate better.”

“I should ring that person,” might become “I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t contacted that person in ages.”

The first task would stay on the to do list, the second would move towards the bottom of the list.

Sometimes, I would find, when I really got down to it, that the task was only on the list because I was afraid my pride would be hurt if someone worked out that I wasn’t doing it. That’s not a good enough reason to do anything. If the reason is “I should give money to that charity because my friend who is on the board would not like me if I didn’t,” or “I have to go to that concert because everyone else is going,” that task needs to leave the list immediately.

I have found that the simple strategy of replacing the word should with another word or phrase has helped me to keep my to do list shorter and to reduce the stress in my life. Maybe you can try it.

How about you? Do you have simple strategies that help with the overwhelm of life? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42