In today’s busy, fast-paced world, women are stretched in every direction. Not only are we taking on more in the sphere of work, we still remain the primary caregivers of our children and/or aging parents. The term ‘the sandwich generation’, coined by Dorothy A. Miller in 1981 to apply to those who are looking after both children and parents, applies to many of us. As people live longer, often into their 90s, you even have the ‘club sandwich’ phenomenon of people in their 30s and 40s caring for aging parents and grandparents (as described by Carol Abaya*). Apart from work and family care commitments, we also involve ourselves in non-paid work-, faith- or hobby-related activities, such as being an active member of a professional association, church group, community association or evening class. On top of that we try to fit in some exercise! No wonder we become tired and stressed.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary describes ‘overcommitment’ as “to commit excessively – to obligate … oneself beyond the ability for fulfilment, or to allocate resources in excess of the capacity for replenishment”. Essentially, it means taking on more than you are able to adequately achieve; to stretch yourself beyond your resources. These resources may be your time, your emotions, your physical capabilities, or even your finances. Earlier this year, I came to the end of my emotional and physical resources in a particular area of commitment and had to let go and step back. It was a hard yet worthwhile decision for me. For the next few months I just focused on slowing down and getting the rest and recreation that I needed to recover (hence no Simplicity blogs since January!) I am still in the process of regaining my energy but I know that I did the right thing even though some people may have felt let down.
So what are the signs that you are overcommitted? A key sign is resentment. You start to resent the time or energy spent on an activity or responsibility. It no longer gives you the fulfilment or joy that it used to. This may apply to people that you care for – the caring has become a heavy burden. You may also start to be more anxious or stressed than you normally are, or find yourself snapping at people. Small things start to annoy you when previously they were not a major hassle. Another feeling may just be sheer overwhelm – that it has all got too much for you.
When you start to experience these feelings, give yourself some time to sit down and review the commitments and responsibilities in your life. It is useful to write down all your daily and weekly activities including all the things you do for others (e.g. taking your mother shopping or your children to after school activities). Honestly assess how you feel about each of these activities. Some things are clearly our responsibility and it will be difficult to let them go, while others can be taken over by somebody else. This may be difficult sometimes, because we are used to playing a certain role and may be reluctant to let it go. Do not be afraid to let others step in and provide a supporting role. For example, I recently dropped off a friend of my mother’s to visit her while I went to the gym. She was able to cheer up my mum, who is going through a bad patch, in a way that I cannot. It was great to hear from her later that she was feeling so much better and that the visit had done her so much good. It relieved me of the feeling that I was the only person that she could turn to for help.
When I recently let go of the responsibility that had become so overwhelming to me, I was surprised at how many people applauded me for taking this step. Being honest about our limitations is actually extremely freeing and even gives others around us the permission to be honest about their own struggles with life’s responsibilities. So, I challenge you to look at your own life and to seriously consider how you can let commitments go if they are becoming major stressors in your life, or at least to look for additional support to help you to manage your commitments better. You will feel so much better for it!