Sometimes, the whole enterprise we call life can overwhelm us and, when life becomes too chaotic and demanding, it can also cause anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some ways to simplify your life.
Ever feel like shouting: “stop the world, I want to get off!”? In recent years, I’ve had many people share that very sentiment with me. Ours is a fast-moving, complex, crowded, and often chaotic environment. A lot of the stress we’re under seems unavoidable. Most of us have to work a lot harder and much longer than we’d like, often at high-paced and high-pressure jobs, just to keep up with the demands and expenses of daily living. Then there are all those extra duties that come with managing a household or raising a family.
Fortunately, there are several tried and true steps anyone can take that have the potential to simplify (and in the process, enrich) their life. Here are five measures to consider:
Not everything in our lives is of equal importance. It’s incumbent upon us (especially for our mental health’s sake) to separate the things that really matter from the relatively insignificant — to distinguish the truly essential from the non-essential. In his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff , Richard Carlson put it beautifully:
“When you take time, often, to reflect on the miracle of life — the miracle that you are even able to read this book — the gift of sight, of love, and all the rest, it can help to remind you that many of the things that you think of as “big stuff” are really just “small stuff” that you are turning into big stuff.”
So take some time to reflect on what’s really important. Make a “top 20” list of your have-to-do’s, then scratch off the bottom half of the list. If something didn’t make it into the top 10, it probably didn’t really belong on the list after all.
Most of us have lots of stuff, much of which we really don’t need. More is not necessarily better. And besides, sometimes it can get downright oppressive preserving, maintaining, and updating the things that we own. Having more always means more to take care of and more to be mindful about. This is especially true when it comes to those technological wonders that promise to make our lives better (and which we so easily become dependent upon). Keep in mind the kind of tizzy you were thrown into when one of the little buggers failed (like that time you dropped your smart phone in the bathtub). Folks who’ve managed to “right-size” their lives will tell you: simpler is almost always better, especially in the long run. Sometimes, when it comes to cultivating a richer, fuller life, less is really more.
Budget and Balance
Budget and balance everything — from work, to play, to family, friends, exercise, entertainment, etc., and not just your finances (although sticking to a financial budget is a big stress reliever, too!). The adage that there’s a time and a place for everything couldn’t be truer than in our helter-skelter world. Most people will tell you that finding enough time for everything is a problem in itself. A big casualty of time constraints is the reflective space we all need to keep the creative juices flowing. (For more on time management see “Creativity and the Pressure Cooker of Time Management”.) But to make time, sometimes you simply have to take time. My wife recently told me she was “too busy” seeing clients to get all of her billing done in a timely manner. But when she made the decision to carve out an hour of her day just to keep up with accounts, she quickly found herself working a little less hard and reaping a greater reward for the labor she did expend.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything yourself. Many times we carry excessive burdens upon ourselves. Most of the time, duties can be spread around. This is specially true when it comes to household responsibilities, where “divide and conquer” should be the rule. Of course, getting children to pitch in is often a challenge in itself. Many parents make the mistake of thinking if they don’t do something, it won’t get done. But it’s precisely because they’re willing to take on the responsibilities of others that the “slackers” (children as well as spouses) in the household are “enabled” to shirk their own duties. It’s probably a good idea to pick your battles pretty carefully in this regard. Remember the importance of prioritizing and hold folks most accountable for the things that really have to be done while being prepared to let the relatively non-essential stuff go.
Say “No” More often
Sometimes, there’s simply no sweeter sounding, more empowering word than this two-letter wonder. Too bad so many people feel guilty (and that guilt is most often unwarranted) whenever they say it. Some people even feel guilty when they just think about saying no. But “no” is not generally about rejection, abandonment, selfishness, etc. but rather about setting limits and asserting one’s right to self-care. Some of our biggest stresses come from the ways in which we have over-committed ourselves. And while we’re busy making plans to do this and to do that, life passes us by. As Carlson again reminds us: “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.” So before we say “yes” to something, we need to carefully reflect on the degree to which the commitment we’re about to make might further stress, complicate, and ultimately, diminish the quality of our lives.
Most of us lead lives that are both complicated and demanding enough that just the right combination of factors coming together at what appears the most inopportune time can easily overwhelm us. That’s why it’s important to be proactive in the effort to simplify. Some find it helpful to observe the K-I-S-S rule — Keep It Simple, Stupid! — and to mentally repeat that mantra several times during the day, especially when stresses mount. There’s a particular kind of beauty and serenity in simplicity. In our complex and convoluted world, perhaps there’s no greater gift we can bring to life than the peace and joy that comes with keeping it simple.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by