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Tired of feeling like the whole world depends on you? If one more person asks you to help organize a fundraiser, build their website, or solve a family crisis (for the millionth time), will you snap like that IKEA bookshelf jammed into your way-too-small closet?
You are not alone. Many people are overextending themselves during this pandemic, trying to help as many other people as possible. But they are hitting their mental and physical limits.
If you have decided the cost of being everything to everyone is finally too much (in other words, you’re losing sleep, always resentful, and you nearly throttled the jerk who nabbed the last bag of flour right as you reached for it – how could he?!), then here are three ways to get your life back:
1. Celebrate what you are capable of
If you are on everyone’s speed dial, it means you are a trustworthy person who can be relied upon. We all have that one friend we wouldn’t trust to pick up our drycleaning, and – rejoice! — you are clearly not that person. You are capable. And that is a reason to celebrate.
Recently, my friend Alex broke down while on the phone with me. She just couldn’t handle it anymore. As the uber-rational and grounded middle child in a family of intense personalities, Alex was inundated with constant demands, many of which were time-consuming and costly. And it meant her phone rang 24/7 with SOS calls.
She was completely over always being the person in her family to figure things out, pick up the pieces, and clean up the messes. And she was angry – rightfully so.
But as Alex was fighting back tears on our call, I had to ask, “Would you rather be the one totally capable of handling things or would you rather be the one who is not at all capable of handling things, like your siblings?”
There was a pause, but not a long one.
“I would rather be the one who can handle things.”
“Ok then,” I said. “At least you prefer to be the person you are, even if your situation sucks right now.”
“You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” – Jack Canfield
2. Check your martyrdom at the door
Deep down, do you actually like being run ragged? Do you get off on telling your friends at dinner parties (remember those?) how you’re so exhausted from dealing with other people’s stuff?
There’s often a huge emotional payoff for being overworked and underappreciated. Overdoing it is the lifeblood of the martyr. They need to be the community’s superhero and the savior against all odds (who else can fix the Zoom call that keeps cutting in and out?). Being constantly in demand makes them feel valued, useful, and on purpose.
Of course, it is completely normal to want to feel those things. But a challenge arises when we define our self-worth by how others see us. The constant need for external validation leaves you running on a treadmill, unable to hit the stop button. In fact, you’ve become so used to putting yourself last, that you accept your mental and physical suffering as “normal.”
If this resonates, I’d encourage you to ask yourself, “Who am I really trying to please or impress?” Often we’re desperately trying to show our value to a parent or a loved one, even if that person is no longer in our lives.
3. Be willing to set new boundaries
Notice how I said “willing?” You’ve run yourself ragged tending to everyone else’s needs, and shutting down your familiar operation overnight will only add to your stress. Instead, be open to the fact that yes, you can do things differently. And then consider what it would be like to set some new boundaries.
My friend Alex certainly has a fear of disappointing people. What will her family say if she says “no” more often? Is it worth the potential fallout and drama, not to mention the guilt?
The next time her brother asks (yet again!) for her to care for his cranky cat, could she simply say, “That is not something I want to take on right now?”
It is much easier for Alex to resort back to her usual, “Sure, ok, I can do that,” followed by a deep sigh. But inevitably, each time Alex says “yes” to something she doesn’t want to do, she feels angry and resentful.
If Alex has really reached her breaking point and wants to be in control of her life again (and she has), that means saying carefully considered nos.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brené Brown
A gentle reminder: for the most part, you get to decide what you want to do and what you do not want to do. You are in charge of your calendar. Yes, there are times when you’re genuinely burdened by commitments (I’m looking at you with love, Sandwich Generation), but is everything you do truly mandatory?
A simple exercise to get perspective is writing all of your to-dos down on a piece of paper. The truth will start to reveal itself. Showing this list to a BFF can also be helpful. Often they will be more than happy to point out which of your “have-tos” are really just your overachiever mode kicking in.
Do your shoulders feel lighter yet? Can you imagine a reprieve from the deadweight you have accepted as your responsibility?
I hope so. It’s not all or nothing – you have the ability to lighten your load and still be of service to others. And I have this feeling that even if you do just half of what you normally do, you will still shine bright in the lives of many lucky people. You will still feel valued and appreciated, and enjoy it all the more now that you’ve had a full night’s sleep.
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