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S.O.S. – Systems Overload – Stressed Out!

S.O.S. – Systems Overload – Stressed Out!

The first weeks of my new year were not gentle, beginning with the disruption and chaos of a complete electrical rewiring of my house. (See The Role of Kvetching/Complaining in Resilience.)

Even more than coping with so many external stressors – noise, dust, internet disconnections – my internal systems for coping were on overload. Hard to calm down my nervous system. (And I know to practice the tools I teach: Hand on the Heart, Soles of the Feet, Self-Compassion Break.)

With the help of good friends graciously listening to all of the kvetching/complaining (which is the exercise I recommended in that post) I finally came to see – I hadn’t taken any time at all to prepare for the transition into 2019. Not even a new paper calendar to track appointments and deadlines. No external systems – no new computer files, no new paper files, no new contacts on my phone – no auxiliary brain – to store and retrieve the appointment reminders, the email requests, the tax data that needing landing and storing. I was drowning in a deluge of details – the “administrivia” that can turn the most commonplace of tasks from tedium into overwhelm.

Without any auxiliary brain at the ready, without the new external storage systems ready to function as that auxiliary brain, my own real brain went on overload. My higher brain was so busy chasing all the details it wasn’t available to do its more basic function of managing the reactivity of my nervous system; I went more easily, more quickly, into stress.

I needed places to “offload” the deluge of details that comes with any major transition, including the transition into a new year, so I wouldn’t drown in trying to remember every appointment, every deadline, every scheduled workout, nor get aggravated with myself when I couldn’t.

There are some excellent suggestions about how to do this offloading in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitan.

My suggestions, learned from my experiences sorting out this most recent systems overload:

1. Identify the overall categories – clinical practice, writing, friends, finances – and methodically chunk them down – clinical practice: appointments, attendance, notes, fees, insurance receipts, etc. Make everything seem manageable by “smallifying” it.

2. Create the “to do” list in the form of a “could be done to create order and harmony” list. Possibilities to celebrate rather than any failure to perform that nags at you. The tasks don’t become the taskmaster or turn you into a resentful grouch.

3. Schedule time to do each chunk – brief amounts of time. 10 minutes, 15 minutes. To get that motivating hit of dopamine – good job! without generating more overwhelm.

4. Identify logjams. Sometimes I had to move files from one cabinet to another to make room for the new files. That meant moving old files to the garage. That meant clearing a path to get to that old file cabinet in the garage. That meant finding a new place to store the bike, and so on. Pick one logjam to unravel and count the time unraveling as accomplishing an important task in structuring storage, too.

5. With every mini-step, take a moment to take in that you’re clearing the logjams and creating more order, more structure. You’re developing a functional auxiliary brain. You’re learning how to do that, and you’re learning that you can. More satisfaction, less stress.

Organizing is what you do before you do something so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.
-A.A. Milne

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