5 Questions I Ask Myself When I am Overwhelmed and Stressed

The Unstressed was my chosen domain when I started blogging in 2011. It is more of an aspiration than my state of mind. When I started this blog, I just wanted to keep track of my thoughts and activities. Sometimes I find myself pondering how my month went and I felt I wasted some of my time not accomplishing anything. Through writing, I was able to compose my thoughts, relive memories and express my ideas. Writing helped me become a little introspective and perceptive of what is going on in my life. At times, it relaxes me. When I write, I can clearly see what is important in my life.

In many challenging situations, I try to look unfazed but deep inside, I am panicking. In a conversation with a cousin on how we were supposed to do our tasks in one project we were doing, I told her that we should not look like we are out of control. Yes, we can fake it until we make it. Eventually (oftentimes it is the case), the universe will conspire to make it happen. For us who believe in God, it is about faith. God got us through it and will continue to do so in the future. But along the way, butterflies fluttered in my stomach, food became my comfort and midnight oils were burned. When the situation is over, I would thank high heavens and breathe a sigh of relief.

I have been into many stressful situations before. I have worked as an Information Technology specialist and I always raged against machines, deadlines, people and situations within and beyond my control. Servers stopped working. Data was inaccessible. Drive corrupted. I waited reports handling millions of transactions on a Pentium II machine. (Yes, I am that old, children.)

I was in stressful family situations. My mother got into an accident. My mother had a heart attack. My father had cancer. He was bedridden for 5 months. I am an only child, single and childless. In a span of five years, I lost both my parents and I also quit my job. It could have been a miserable life but it was not. I get to appreciate life better. The experience was a reminder how finite our time on earth is.

Losing both parents may be the worst thing that happened to me. I could say that I have been through the worst so nothing could ever frighten me anymore but I could not. I still get overwhelmed with deadlines to meet, cry over a friend’s death, lament over situations under and/or beyond my control and I still panic over projects I get myself into. I worry over the simple things but, in many cases, I do not let the worries show. For some reason, that works for me.

It is difficult to mask my worries but I do this by processing them in my head. I know when I am overwhelmed with tasks when I no longer have the motivation to act on the tasks. When I become a pessimist and no longer think that my effort would accomplish anything, I am overwhelmed. I often sleep on it. I would not let worry allow me to lose sleep. If there is one thing that I must gain from the experience, it is rest. They say that during quiet times, you can hear yourself. In these moments, I ask a few questions.

1. What is the worst thing that can happen if I will not do this?
As a freelancer, I manage my own time. I am supposed to be in control of my schedule and activities. As much as I would like to just do the things that make me happy, I have bills to pay. Most of the things that make me happy do not pay the bills. I am still working towards earning from the things I like doing. For the moment, I earn from things I know how to do but not exactly what I want to do. I accept projects because I see them as opportunities that might lead to what I want in life. Who knows? What I will learn, who I will meet and what I can contribute if I accept a project will lead to something I might actually like doing. However, there are just times that these projects come in succession and I can see the work I need the put in to accomplish them. Then I get overwhelmed.

When I am overwhelmed, I ask myself: What is the worst thing that can happen if I will not do this? What happens when I do this tomorrow instead of today? Can I negotiate to extend the deadline?

I get overwhelmed because I want things done the soonest. I get overwhelmed when I accept tasks that challenge my own personality. I am an introvert. When I accept tasks that require me to meet people for the first time, I get nervous. But I accept the task anyway. I believe in showing up and trying something I am afraid to do. When I see that the worst thing that can happen does not involve death or going in to prison, I should not worry. I can sleep on it and take things one step at a time.

2. What do I really want in life?
I have realized early on in life that money and social status do not make me happy. Spending time with people I love makes me happy. So I make time to be with family, travel with friends and family, plan activities that enable me to be with family or just simply being there when they need me even when all I can offer is my presence. Pursuing some creative activities make me happy. I make time to do some art, shoot photos, travel, write and organize my home. Of course, there are times that work gets in the way. I compromise. I make up for lost time. I know what it is like to lose loved ones. I realized how short our life on earth is. I may take steps in prolonging my life by looking after my health but nothing is certain. The only thing I am certain is the present moment so I make the most out of short time I have on earth.

It may sound selfish and narcissistic to focus on my own happiness. But that is me. Other people may have different goals. Others want to lead a life of service. Some want fame and fortune. I want happiness and if my task at hand would lead me to happiness, I would go for it. I easily dropped tasks in the past that did not make me happy. I will not do things when my heart is not committed to the task. I seldom cross that gray line. I do my best in many things that I do. I always invest my best work into the process. If I lack the motivation to do my best, there must be something wrong with that task.

3. Will this task lead me to where I want to be in the future?
Right now, happiness for me is spending time with people I love and pursuing activities that I enjoy. If the thing that worries me does not lead to happiness, then I let it go. Sometimes in pursuit of these activities, I need budget for them. I do not have a fat bank account. I need to work in order to be able to have the resources to do the things I want to do. When I feel that work has become stressful, I pause. Maybe I can pursue the activity some other time. I make adjustments. I weigh things. If the pursuit of what I wanted takes a toll at my health, I need to stop somewhere. When health is affected, everything else takes a back seat.

4. How bad do I want it?
A friend often said, “People change.” I change. Otherwise, we do not grow. The things that bring me happiness before may not bring me the same happiness in the future. One day, when my body can no longer sustain long travels (which I hope will not happen. ha!), I may change my definition of happiness. It always helps me if I reflect on my motivation to do the task. Why do I need to do this task? Sometimes, I ask myself if I need money that bad. Can I live with less? Can I live with fewer worries and with fewer amounts in my pocket? If I can, then I know that I should not say yes to the same project next time. As much as possible I avoid money as a motivator because it does not give me what I need. I try to accept projects that give value to what I do. I like doing projects that enhance my skills and utilize my talent. If I feel I will learn something from it, I accept the project. When the process and outcome of the project do not meet my expectations or if I do not feel right doing it again, I make a mental note not to accept such a project next time. No amount of money can push me to do things I know I am not comfortable doing. I try things once and if I do not like doing them again, I don’t. I love the idea of working hard to reach my dreams but I know can also work smart. If I can skip the things that I think would be a waste of time, I skip them. This brings me to the last question.

5. Are there any other ways in getting what I want in life?
Around five years ago, I enrolled in an alternative learning class on bakery. Every week for 6 months, the class would learn how to bake different cake recipes. For 4 hours each Satuday, I went to school. I would bring all the materials and ingredients and follow the recipe which we copied the week before. The fee was only Php 500 but we buy our own ingredients and materials. We baked in school. I finished the course but I did not enroll in another course. I realized I can learn the same thing online. I can watch online videos and read instructions on how to bake cakes. I do not have to carry those materials every week only to clean them up and carry back to my house. I could save time and effort in doing that by learning how to bake in comforts of my own kitchen, YouTube videos and online instructions. There are infinitely many ways in going from point A to point B. Similarly, there are many ways in achieving my dreams. I just hope I can find a way to take the smartest route.

I have simple dreams and simple responsibilities. I know that there people with greater responsibilities. The amount of stress they carry can be enormous and my way of coping may not be applicable to them. I am only sharing how I cope. It may only be applicable to me. If you have reached this far, I thank you for reading this.

Art has become my creative outlet in coping with stress. With the popularity of adult coloring books, I am happy three pages of Johanna Basford’s Enchanted Garden are made available in her website. The copies have been sold out and to cater to those who cannot wait for the new stocks to be printed, she shared three pages which you can print on your own. I printed mine on a 300 GSM paper so I can use my watercolor pencils.


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