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It’s a new year and hopefully you’re feeling rested and energetic after enjoying a break during the holiday season. Before you know it, however, the old schedule and the many commitments will build back up. You’ll be tempted to say “yes”, and perhaps to too many things. You may also fail to say “yes” to yourself. That’s when we’re at risk of reaching maximum load.
You may see maximum load sign on older roads and bridges. They indicate the maximum weight a road can tolerate. Maximum load in our lives means doing all that we can tolerate…and no more. Bridges aren’t really designed to handle the maximum load continuously – only for short periods of time. The same applies to the human body and spirit. We can take on a lot, but we also need time off to relieve stress.
Signs that indicate that I’ve reached or exceeded my maximum load include:
- I haven’t had a manicure in weeks…or months.
- The top of my desk looks like a paper recycling center.
- I can’t remember the last time I had a date night with my husband. (When it’s really bad, I forget that I have a husband.)
- My daily “to do” list would be impossible to complete in a week.
- I’ve lost my enthusiasm for exercise.
- I’ve spent more time in the drive-through than the kitchen.
- The people whom I normally love in my life have become annoying, grumpy and hard to get along with. (Surely it could not be me.)
A few years ago, I missed all the warning signs, hit the maximum load, and kept going. A series of unrelated, coincidental events all hit in the space of a few months – a new job, the deaths of two friends, the serious illness of another, a life-threatening experience for my husband, a market crash, a hurricane, family events. Most of these were not within my control – sometimes life just hands us a maximum load. There were other events, however, that people offered to me that I failed to turn down.
Finally, I hit the wall. I walked into my office one day and stared at the wall. I said to myself “Susan, turn around and look at your computer. Go to work.” But I couldn’t move. I was just too tired, burned out, exhausted. If one more person asked me to do one more thing for them, solve one more problem, take on one more responsibility, I was going to scream….literally.
Instead I turned around and started writing down what I needed to do to get out of this pattern. I wrote:
- Exercise beginning today and three to four times a week.
- Schedule time in the morning to pray, mediate and journal.
- What in my schedule can I resign from/stop doing?
- What responsibilities can I delegate either temporarily or long term?
- What is coming up that I can say “no” to, even if it’s a “good thing”?
- Schedule a vacation or a break to look forward to.
- Spend time doing something out of my ordinary routine…best if it’s something that stimulates the senses in a different way. (Examples for me are outdoors activities, art exhibits, symphony.)
- Who in my support network do I need to spend more time with?
This plan always works for me and immediately relieves my stress. Before it gets to that point, try your best to read the signs of maximum load.