I had been enjoying the slow month of July at work. Several projects and deliverables would be on my plate shortly, but I had no deadlines on my calendar yet and a minimal sense of urgency. In the past, empty time has been anxiety inducing: What am I doing wrong? What could I be doing right now? How can I be at work and not have anything going on? I don’t deserve to get paid for this. And on and on. Clearly an area for some growing.
And I’ve grown—less often now do I feel the need to put every single second of my time to good, “productive” use. Resting is okay. Being still is good. And if there’s not a whole lot going on, well then, enjoy it. Because the busy-ness of non-profit land will surely pick up soon enough. So I was enjoying the slow month of July.
Then we had a team meeting on Wednesday. “Have you started thinking about this?” “Have you started planning that?” “Have you thought about your plan to present this?” This that this that. I felt bombarded with questions that I felt unprepared to answer. In practicing honesty, I said nope, haven’t given it too much thought yet, but here’s what I have right now, and I’ll start to write up more concrete plans. Objectively, it was a positive meeting. Starting to put things on the books.
I left the meeting overwhelmed. Anxious, self-denigrating thoughts spiraled about my head. I should have been working on this already, I should have I should have I should have this I should have that. A common loop for me to ruminate on is the notion that if someone has to ask me to do something, or suggest that I start something, I am the problem, I should have already known, the other person shouldn’t have had to ask or suggest. It’s an old loop, but there it is, even when it no longer serves me.
It spiraled. It snowballed. It went from my boss saying, “You can start to think about x, y, z,” to me panicking that I can’t do anything right, this is the wrong job for me, this job was all a mistake, I am a mistake, I can’t do anything right, my boss hates me, everyone hates me, I’m a self-absorbed narcissist, I have no consideration for anyone else in the world…. hold up!
I’ve said this before: developing awareness is frustrating because I can see the habits, I can see the thoughts, I can observe my tendencies… and then sometimes can’t do anything about it.
So I watched. I observed. I took good care of myself. I stayed as present as possible. I acknowledged: I got overwhelmed on Wednesday. Feeling overwhelmed seemed to send me off on my spiral.
I brought it back to a framework I find helpful: sensitivity.
I gently reminded myself that this is basically in the definition of high sensitivity: “getting rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time” and “easily overwhelmed.”
Some validation for my rattled frazzled Wednesday self: You’re highly sensitive. It’s in your wiring. Of course you became worked up! Of course your mind spiraled down the habitual rabbit hole, that’s the place it has gone to so many times in the past.
I’m working on re-wiring, telling myself new stories, reframing situations with what I know now: And hey there, Self, you were overwhelmed. It happens. And it’s okay. The important thing is knowing that the overwhelming sense will pass (for now) and you have the skills you need to meet each deadline and produce each deliverable that are now slowly filling your calendar and sitting on your plate.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. You are you and you are okay exactly as you are. Know this is “overwhelmed,” know this is “rattled” and “frazzled” and know that your brain is going down paths of thought that it has done so many times before.
You can work to change your pathways, you can slowly notice new truths. You are doing both of these, every day.
It’s okay. Breathe. Make your daily to-do list, and breathe.