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Too many things to do, never enough time. Always catching up.
That’s how most of us live our lives.
Constantly evaluating where our attention is needed the most – a meal to cook, phone call to return, bill to pay, child to soothe, report to write, friend to check in on, gift to buy, washing to fold, car to refuel, appointment to make, groceries to buy, email to write, meeting to attend, uniform to iron, parent to call, dishes to wash, husband to connect with, ahhhhh, you know how it goes. Plus, in the background we’re worrying, replaying situations we don’t feel good about, or trying to remember all sorts of things. It can feel overwhelming and completely out of control.
It makes sense that we feel like we’re always rushing, while the list of things we need to do keeps growing faster than we can get through it. And our own needs often don’t make it onto the list at all.
In her book, Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, Dr. Libby Weaver says that:
“Never before in my work have I witnessed so many females in such an intense rush to do everything and be all things to all people… Women are wired. Many of them, are tired too. Tired yet wired. And this relentless urgency, this perception that there is not enough time combined with a never ending to-do list is having significant health consequences for many women.”
In modern society, technology has provided a steady stream of interruptions and bids for our time and energy, through constant notifications and options for filling every spare second. We can’t even stand in a queue for 2 minutes without checking our phones!
Dr. Libby explains that “our bodies are not wired to cope with constant pressure, perceived or real, nor are we equipped long-term to eat poor-quality food and lead sedentary lifestyles, strapped to technology, plugged in and switched on.”
We’re feeling the effects – PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, poor sleep, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, anger and impatience. These are just a few of the possible consequences.
A serious effect on our health may ultimately be what get us to finally stop rushing but we don’t have to wait until our bodies stop working the way they’re meant to. I mean, is this the life you really want? Do you really want to be feeling wired, stressed and exhausted all the time? I certainly don’t.
Why do we choose to be rushing all the time?
Let’s be honest, for many women it doesn’t feel like a choice. There doesn’t seem to be another way to manage everything. It happens gradually over time, with little increases in pressure and demand, each increase individually seeming manageable but eventually leading to an unsustainable situation.
These days women are expected to do it all. We were educated to succeed in a masculine world – where constant action, goal setting, striving and progress are the path to success, and consistency, drive and unwavering motivation are celebrated. We pride ourselves on multitasking and being superwomen, juggling families, careers, friendships and our own interests (if we can fit them in).
Consciously and / or subconsciously we feel the pressure. These societal expectations are internalised from childhood and many women look forward to motherhood, expecting that it will slot into their already full lives beautifully.
When it’s harder than we realise, we try harder and we don’t dare talk about it, because we don’t want to admit we’re failing (we’re not failing, but it feels that way). We feel like we’re alone in our struggles, when countless mothers are also silently keeping their feelings of inadequacy to themselves.
We can’t stop or slow down because then how will things get done? Who will take over? The list will just get longer!
Rushing as a habit and a need for love and acceptance
Personally, I feel like rushing became a habit. I was so used to always being busy and rushed that it became almost comfortable. I barely noticed the underlying current of stress because it became like background noise, easy to tune out, but always there provoking my nervous system. Rushing and overwhelm were my emotional home. Subconsciously, because my brain was familiar and comfortable with them, I found ways to maintain them. If I found space in my life, I looked for ways to fill it.
What’s underneath all of this?
From my experience both personally and with clients, I find that rushing can usually be traced back to the very natural human desire to be loved and accepted. Our brain interprets any threats to this as a real safety concern – just as it would consider being chased by a ferocious wild animal a threat. It can’t tell the difference between a physical threat to our lives and an emotional threat.
We try to measure up to the unrealistic standards of society, because that makes us acceptable, valuable and worthy. It makes us a good mum and wife and a successful woman.
We avoid saying no and try to be everything to everyone because we don’t want to disappoint them, risk rejection or withdrawal of love.
We compare, measure and push ourselves harder and harder, keep our struggles to ourselves and don’t ask for help because we don’t want to be judged, rejected or perceived as an unwanted burden to anyone.
Does this sound right to you?
Remember that this isn’t necessarily a conscious part of your decision making. If you dive deep and get underneath all that rushing and the reasons you’re telling yourself you need to do it, could this be a part of it for you?
Love and connection are so important. We all want and need them. It really makes a whole lot of sense that your subconscious would prioritise them. But what if it was wrong about the way to find love and connection? What if the threats weren’t as dire as they seem?
What if being true to yourself, slowing down and living a calmer, more present life would still bring you love and acceptance?
How to stop rushing
You don’t have to continue being rushed, overwhelmed and exhausted, lovely.
But I know you also can’t just delete half your to-do list today and slow down. That probably feels very complicated and maybe even impossible.
So, let’s look at 5 manageable actions that can help you slow down.
1. Practice diaphragmatic breathing
When you are rushing, you take short, shallow breaths which only reach the top of your lungs (chest breathing). This signals to your brain that you are in distress. Once your brain receives this message, it perpetuates the chest breathing and reinforces the feelings of being stressed and rushed.
To see if you are chest breathing, place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. See which hand rises more as you breathe. You are chest breathing if the hand on your chest rises more.
Diaphragmatic breathing brings your breath all the way to your abdomen (your abdomen will rise more). This type of breathing relaxes your nervous system, slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and relaxes your muscles. It helps you rest and brings you out of your heightened emotional state. You can practice this throughout your day to help you slow down and feel calmer.
2. Find little moments to pause and be calm
You might not feel like you can find an hour to stop and rest, but perhaps you can find a few mins. Here are some ideas that take 5 mins or less:
- Mindfully drink your tea instead of scrolling through social media at the same time.
- Read a few pages of your book when you get back from dropping your kids at school or childcare.
- Sit in the car before pick up and observe your breath.
- Stand in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh air.
- Play relaxing music in the car while you drive.
- Meditate (use an app if it would help you – Insight Timer is my favourite).
- Sit quietly and admire the view out the window while the children play or watch their favourite show.
Every little moment spent unwinding stress and finding calm is worth it. They all add up and help you slow down. Over time, you’ll find it easier to increase the amount of time.
You also might like to try adding an hour of rest into your schedule, once a week. One hour when you can truly stop all the things you need to do, and do something for you. Something relaxing – sleeping, going for a walk, reading a book or whatever you feel you need. Once a week is a great starting point and feels way less daunting than every day.
3. Create technology free times or spaces
As I mentioned, technology creates constant demands on our attention and energy.
When can you create technology free times? Meal times, the hour after you wake up or the hour before you go to bed are great options.
Where can you create technology free spaces? Some people choose to have no technology at the dining table or in the bedroom.
The absence of technology gives us the opportunity to create mental space and rest.
4. Limit caffeine
Many mums rely on caffeine to get through the day but they may not be aware that caffeine stimulates the fight or flight responses in your body, leading to the production of adrenaline (our acute stress hormone).
Try limiting or cutting out caffeine for a month and see what happens. That includes coffee, black tea or caffeinated soft drinks. Green tea is an excellent alternative for tea drinkers (less caffeine) and dandelion tea is often the drink of choice for people trying to cut back on coffee (I know it’s tea, but it tastes very similar to coffee!).
5. Identify where you are doing things for love or acceptance.
This is the one that will help you sustain any other actions you take to slow down.
What are the things you are doing so you won’t disappoint people or be seen as a bad mum, wife or woman?
Where are you saying yes when you really want and need to say no?
When we believe that we have to do certain things or be a certain way to be loved and accepted, these beliefs drive our actions powerfully. It will be hard to consistently slow down if these beliefs remain in place. So, start to ask yourself why you feel the need to do things and without judgement, question whether you are really at risk of being rejected or unloved. In most cases, the answer will be no. Your value and worth doesn’t depend on what you do, or how well you do it. You are valuable, worthy and loveable because you are. When you know this, you are free to make a different choice.
There are numerous ways we can stop rushing and introduce more calm and rest into our lives, but this can feel very overwhelming or difficult at first, so rather than not starting at all, just choose 1 thing you can change over the next few weeks. Once you see the effect of that one thing add another. Keep it manageable and set yourself up for success. When you are intentional about making lots of little choices to stop rushing, you give yourself the opportunity to feel better and enjoy being present in your life.