Four Red Flags That You're Spreading Yourself Too Thin (or Confessions of an Over-Committer)
by Heather Branham

I have a confession to make: I am a recovering over-committer. There have been long seasons of my life when I have spread myself so thin that I made myself physically sick. (The image of me at one particularly stressful job scratching a rash that only appeared when I was at said job comes immediately to mind.) Saying "yes" to every request for my time or attention or trying to focus on every project I found interesting made it impossible to be successful at any one thing. Just when I put out one fire, another would crop up. Just when I would start to get some traction in one area of my life, I would get distracted by a real or perceived (and sometimes self-induced) crisis in another area. Living this way left me feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, and it wasn't sustainable. But try telling that to an overachiever with a serious problem with perfectionism. I was fully engaged in what Brene Brown calls the "hustle for worthiness." I was attempting to be all things to all people and feeling deeply inadequate in the process. And inadequate was what I was hustling to try not to feel in the first place. 

How I got there and how I got out are topics for another post. (Don't worry, it's coming!) For now, I'd like to remind us all that relapse is a part of recovery, and we must be vigilant against the urge to slip back into the hustle once we've gotten out. Here are the red flags I see when I’m starting to spread myself too thin and need to reevaluate my priorities.

  1. Participating in "the shuffle." The shuffle goes something like this: "Oh, you want to meet at noon on Tuesday?" I have a standing appointment on Tuesdays at noon, but if I move that to 1PM and ask my 1PM to come early on Wednesday, that could work. I would have to skip my morning workout and that would be a really long day on Wednesday, but... "Sure, I can do noon on Tuesday." This, my friends, is a recipe for burnout. If you find yourself regularly shuffling appointments or duties to make room for new requests, that could be a red flag that you're taking on too much. If the new request bumps a regular responsibility, where is the time and energy going to come from to attend to the original commitment? If your first impulse is to think, well, I'll just get up earlier or stay up later or not do this thing that I really enjoy, beware of the next red flag.
     
  2. Neglecting self-care activities. Self-care is the new black. It's all the rage and anyone in the health and wellness industry will tell you that you need to make it a priority. But, when the rubber meets the road, what does self-care really mean? I like to be very concrete with myself about what constitutes self-care, lest my inner hustler try to convince me that drinking a cup of tea while sitting with a client counts as self-care. (Which, in my book, it doesn't.) For me, self-care is a set of activities that improve my mood or maintain my physical or emotional health. Some of these activities I have always enjoyed (taking a hot bath, going to yoga, giving myself a pedicure, being crafty). Others I tolerated because I knew they were good for me and have grown to enjoy them most of the time (eating healthy foods, exercising, going to bed early and getting enough sleep). If I start feeling the need to please all the people, all the time, my self-care activities are often the first thing on the chopping block. If I’ve made it to the middle of the week and haven’t stepped foot on a yoga mat or in a gym or on a running trail, that’s a sign to me that I’m focusing more on other people’s priorities than I am my own.
     
  3. Harboring resentment. When I start to feel snappy towards the people that I love the most, I try to take it as a cue to check in with myself. Is this person doing something that warrants my annoyance? Or am I just frustrated with them because I haven’t been taking good enough care of myself? Usually these feelings of resentment spike when someone close to me is asking me to do something and I’m already in over my head. A huge red flag for me is when I start feeling resentful towards multiple people about unrelated things. Chances are everyone is not conspiring to make my life difficult (because really, I’m not that important). Odds are better that I’m stressed out and have too many things on my plate. More often than not, that is no one’s fault but my own.
     
  4. Feeling anxious, depressed or irritable. Hustling for worthiness can really take an emotional toll. After a while, feeling like you can never do or be enough can be really depressing. If I notice myself feeling anxious for no apparent reason, that’s often a sign that I’m doing too much. For a lot of folks, irritability can mask feelings of anxiety and depression. If I allow my over committing to relapse to a point that it’s really affecting my mood, I know it’s time to start looking at my boundaries and investing more time into my self-care.

What are your red flags? How do you pull yourself back from the brink of spreading yourself too thin? Let us know in the comments.

Heather Branham, LCSW is a family therapist based in Asheville, NC specializing in non-traditional families. Contact her to discuss counseling or consulting services focused on the LGBTQ community.

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