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  • Overwhelmed? You Can Cope if You Just Do the One Next Thing.

    man with face in his hands with the words stress overwritten several times

    Sometimes life comes at you with both barrels. It’s not fair, but it happens to everyone. I’m not gonna sugar coat it… it sucks. It sucks big time. Your already lengthy to do list can grow to an insane level. So, in addition to the mental and emotional stress of whatever’s happening you’ve probably now got a major time and/or money crunch, too. It’s enough to drive you crazy. Especially if you don’t have a plan for dealing with it.

    When life is completely hammering you it can be easy to get overwhelmed. I’m not gonna lie, it’s difficult to not be overwhelmed. It’s difficult to not want to start all the projects to feel like you’ve got some kinda handle on the situation. The truth is, however, that handle is merely an illusion which only gives you a false sense of security, safety, and/or order in your life.

    The First Thing

    It’s taken me until recently to realize that when there’s too much to do, too many emotions to deal with, and/or too many mental stressors, you need to stop what you’re doing, then start with the first thing.

    What’s the first thing? Well that depends on what life’s throwing at you, but generally it’s going to be the biggest, most difficult thing or the thing that has the earliest deadline. To get you started, here are a few real life examples from my own life over the years (some generalized, some specific):

    • Is there a deadline? Take care of the thing attached to the earliest deadline first.
    • Is there a basic condition that must be met before anything can move forward? Tackle that first. Is there more than one? Tackle the most important one first. For instance, do you need a new wheelchair ramp and a bathroom remodel? Find someone to build the ramp first. It won’t matter if someone can get into the bathroom if they can’t get into the house. Besides, as distasteful as it may be, there are portable commodes and sponge baths to get you through until the bathroom is remodeled.
    • Learn what the diagnosis really means, including prognosis for getting better or living a “normal” life.
    • Get the basic adaptive equipment that’s necessary for basic functioning in order to return home.
    • What’s the one repair that must be made to make your home safe or livable? Or the one that has to be completed in order for others to be completed?
    • What’s the one repair that will make your car safe? Take care of that one first.
    • Get rid of the allergen(s) that are currently in your home, or find a way to contain them if throwing them out isn’t feasible or practical. For example, throw out all food and/or skin care products containing your newly identified allergen or, in the case of a dust mite allergy, get mattress/ pillow covers.
    • Get counseling – somethings you can’t or shouldn’t deal with on your own. If your insurance covers it, or you can at all afford it, finding a professional to talk to about the overwhelming things happening can literally save your sanity.
    • If you’re a reader, educate yourself with articles and books. One at a time, of course. Start with one that’s written by someone going through something similar or that answers your basic questions or offers basic advice about the situation.

    Remember, you can only do one thing at a time. So, if there’s no obvious first choice choose the biggest task, or the one that seems like it’s the most important, and start on that.

    Remember, you’re not an island. Are there family or friends who can or should be stepping up? Ask them for help with specific tasks. Ask for guidance from professionals. For instance, if life’s hurling a lot of medical crap your way you can always ask one of the doctors or nurses involved in the patient’s care which thing is the most important to start with.

    This might be a good time to make a quick list of the resources in your life. Who do you know that can do any of the things you might need doing? Who do you know who might know someone who can help you with one or more tasks? For instance: Who’s got repair knowledge or talent? Who can play chauffeur? Who’s great at research? Who’s got a way with talking to people and getting things handled over the telephone? Who can house or pet sit? Who’s the voice of reason in your life? (They can help talk you off the ledge and figure out what the next thing should be.)

    Pro Tip: For the love of all that’s holy do NOT make assumptions about someone’s ability or willingness to help you do things, or to do things outright. You’re going to make your life so much more difficult than it already is if you start taking over things that others are more suited to do or (heaven forbid) have already volunteered to do because you think they’re too busy. That’ll just piss them off and assure that you’ll have the most miserable experience possible. But if misery is your bag, go ahead and knock yourself out.

    Other Adjustments May be Necessary

    When life feels like a non-stop game of paintball where the team of life has 10x more players than your team, you not only have to do the first thing, you will probably have to make some adjustments. You don’t have to like them; in fact, you probably won’t like them. But when you’ve got too many things to stuff into an already full life, something’s gonna give. As sucky as it is, it’s better if those adjustments come from you in a conscious manner vs things randomly falling apart or spinning out of control. May I suggest you consider some of these general adjustments:

    • I know you want the best for yourself and your family but when time and money are in short supply, good enough is good enough. Things can be upgraded later.
    • Temporarily cut out unnecessary expenses or activities if money or time are being hit hard.
    • Learn to compromise and/or get creative. If you’re anything like me, healthy meals are the first to fall apart when time and/or money is in short supply. Because of that, my example is food related, but compromise and creativity will be needed in many areas of life when life’s coming at you at warp speed. Example: If you have to make long drives every weekend for family, medical, or family medical issues healthy meals can become a major issue. You won’t have time to cook great meals at home, eating several meals out every weekend gets really expensive really fast, and the easiest foods to bring in the car with you aren’t necessarily the healthiest. You’re going to have to make some choices… Do you eat as healthy as you can (or can afford to) and just let the rest go; do you go the uber natural route and pack a bunch of fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts to eat in the car; do you look up new recipes for healthy portable food; or do you throw your hands in the air and just wing it? PS I don’t recommend the last one.
    • Learn this phrase: “For now.” As in, we have to wait on the bathroom remodel for now, while we build the wheelchair ramp and find out what the home evaluator recommends for the bathroom.

    The Next Thing

    Once you’ve done the first thing, you’ll need to do the next thing. What’s the next thing? Simple. It’s the ONE thing you need to do next to move forward.

    But… what about all the things in all the areas of your life? How do you choose just one? You don’t. You need to do this with your job, home upkeep, elderly parents, sick friend, car maintenance/repair, kids activities, etc. Maybe today you need to work extra long to get a major project done for work so you won’t be able to visit your friend in the hospital. So, you text your sick friend a funny gif/ heartwarming message (whichever they’ll appreciate more) and let them know that you’re thinking of them and you’ll be in to see them tomorrow. Then you call to schedule your car’s overdue oil change for the day after that and text another parent who has a kid in the same activity as yours to see if they can pick your kid up after practice.

    The thing to remember is this: You don’t have to get everything done at once. In fact, you literally can’t do everything at once. Hell, you can’t even do everything spread out over time. Trying to do everything is a really good way to find out what a nervous breakdown feels like.

    You have to live your life taking care of the most pressing issues and letting the rest go. Pressed for time but running out of socks and underwear? Just because you usually do all the laundry in one day, doesn’t mean you can continue to do that right now. You’ll have to face up to the fact that that’s not going to happen while life’s hammering you. Instead, do 1 load of laundry containing as many needed clothing items as possible today, and plan to do another load another day. Pick the day if you can. Maybe you break up the chore so that you put the clothes in the washer in the morning and move them to the dryer when you get home after work. Figure out your work arounds.

    If you feel yourself getting frazzled trying to figure out what to do next, take a deep breath (or 2 or 3). Then… pick a big task, an item with with a deadline, one that’s an adequate stop gap, or that will advance your progress toward an end goal. If you’re having difficulty deciding, go back to step one and decide what your next first step is. Then just keep reusing that criteria.

    I know how hard it is. I’ve been there many times in the past, and I’m sure I’ll be there many more times in the future. You’ll never navigate it perfectly so make peace with that now. Just remember: no matter what you can’t do, there is always one thing you can do… the next thing.