The start of the school year often seems to be the beginning of “getting back into the swing of things.”

While summer provides a nice break from the rush of school, it seems that as soon as the school year starts, many families are back full-on with homework, tests, papers, practices and more. We feel rushed as we go from one thing to another, and weekends are a brief respite before we dive back in come Monday. This is true not just for families with school-age children, though.

How many of us have looked up and an entire month has passed before we know it?

One common thing that I heard during the original lockdown in March due to COVID-19 was how peaceful it was for so many to not have to be somewhere all the time. Maybe you heard someone say something like this: “I mean, I don’t want to say I’m grateful for the virus, but it’s nice to slow down and have a break.”

What does it say about us that we can get so used to going full speed that it takes a global pandemic to get us to slow down and stop?

While some might long for things to go back to a simpler time when life wasn’t so fast paced, the reality is that life, for many of us, will continue at its breakneck pace. What can we do to manage our time and our mental health in the rush of day-to-day life?

One way to become overwhelmed is by thinking about all the things we need to do. Many of the people I talk with seem to hit the proverbial wall every couple of weeks or so due to all of the stress they have in their lives, and the word that they commonly use to describe the way that they are feeling is “overwhelmed.”

When you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to slow down your thinking and focus on the current task that you can accomplish. Think about it this way: most of the time we begin to feel overwhelmed not because of one particular thing that we have to do, but rather because of all the different things we have on our schedule. I know that I begin feeling overwhelmed when I think about the different things that I need to do for a particular day and then all the things that I need to do the following day or two. Before I know it, I begin to feel paralyzed because of all the tasks I need to get done and the fact that I don’t see how I’m going to accomplish them in the necessary time frame. Next thing I know, I’m feeling defeated because I’ve convinced myself that there’s no way I can do all the things I need to do. What helps me get out of this storm of negativity is to concentrate on the one task I need to be working on at the present moment.

By focusing on what we can control in the present moment, not only do we help keep ourselves from spiraling because of thinking about all the things we have to get done, but we can also actually make ourselves more productive. While many think that procrastination is a symptom of a lazy person, oftentimes it is a product of our feelings of being overwhelmed. We want to shut down and avoid those negative feelings, so we tune them out by watching Netflix or getting on Facebook. Unfortunately, as many of us know, this is a negative feedback loop that only intensifies our negative feelings when we return from our escape. The antidote to procrastination is often focusing on the one task we can accomplish in the present moment and not allowing our minds to get run over by the litany of things on our to-do list.

So, as we go about our busy lives, let’s try to focus on the tasks at hand in the present moment. Doing this can help us avoid getting overwhelmed and help us feel better at the same time.

• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to mmccray@wpcgreenwood.org.

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