Too Much

  “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible” St. Francis of Assisi

My To-Do list keeps getting longer, and new requests seem to fly in from all directions, piling up on my desk and on my shoulders. Perhaps it’s a common scenario for teachers at this time of year, when the burden of the past semester becomes particularly heavy; this year, however, I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed. “Overwhelmed” is such a violent, aggressive  word, isn’t it? It feels like being run over by a truck or overcome by a tidal wave, and totally losing control over one’s body and emotions. If I look at the German translation, I find “überwältigt”, which indicates a similar feeling, though a far tamer word, “überfordert” (overburdened), is more commonly used in this context. Why? Are German speakers in better control of their schedule and emotions? The Italians and the French, on the other hand, use words similar to the English, such as “travolto” (run over) and “sopraffatto”  (overpowered) in Italian and “accablé (overcome, oppressed) and submergé (submerged) in French. Isn’t it interesting how language can not only be used as a tool to express our emotions but also influences them? I’ve tried to keep track of the sensations I experience as I wallow in the acute discomfort of this situation:  My sleep is affected, as I regularly wake up at 3 a.m. and mentally shuffle around the priorities on my long list of projects, which seem even less manageable in the silence of the night; My desk is in a state of chaos, as I “temporarily” lay important papers there until I have time to file them or deal with them. This physical clutter significantly increases my level of anxiety until I lock myself in my study and binge on accounts and paperwork, vowing that never again will I allow myself to reach such depths of agony and that from now on, each piece of paper will be attended to the moment it is received; Anxiety levels peak and I’m left not knowing which project to tackle first: worry distorts the glasses through which I see the world, so that I’m unable to discern priorities and everything feels like it needs to be done… IMMEDIATELY!  I live in constant fear of missing a deadline or forgetting something important; I procrastinate with useless or irrelevant tasks, like trying out a new recipe, binge-watching a series, or washing all the curtains. Procrastination, defined as the postponement to tomorrow of something which should be done today, may turn into a highly damaging behaviour and has several explanations, some of the principal ones being, in my opinion, fear of one’s own perceived incompetence and inability (or unwillingness) to expose oneself to the necessary degree of discomfort required to get the job done; I’m so overwhelmed that I shut down entirely, unable to heed my own advice of starting somewhere and just plodding along until the last chore is completed. This is the most dangerous phase, where even the simplest task seems to require superhuman energy and strength and takes ages to finish. This week I’m afraid I have no practical list of “Tips” to make short work of your To-Do list or to deal with the sense of being inundated by commitments. I think we each need to wade through our own swamp of obligations which the outside world attempts to impose upon us, or which we sometimes accept through our inability to say “No!” I took a bit of a break this past weekend, spending time with friends, catching up on sleep, and doing just the minimum amount of work. A fresh week starts today and I hope to face it with renewed energy and a more realistic view of just how much I can accomplish on any given day.  In addition to the urgent tasks clamouring for my attention, I plan to sprinkle in a few long walks, a deep breath or two, and several moments each day to reflect on everything I have accomplished, and then focus on the steps I can take today in order to fulfil those projects which still seem impossible.  May I ask how you deal with your personal “too much”?