Stifling Stimuli

In today’s fast paced society, we’re bombarded with stimuli on a minute by minute basis. Some people are well equipped to handle it. Others aren’t. Having a few simple tricks in our playbook can be a tremendous game changer.

Like most people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, I often get overwhelmed by the things going on around me. The constant demand for my attention drives me batty! This is known as sensory overload.

A little about sensory overload

Sensory overload can come from a variety of sources, but the most notable are noise, crowding, visual stimuli and information overload. There are many other forms as well. For me, I’m affected by a variety of sources, but the most crippling are noise, visual stimuli and information overload.

Someone who suffers from sensory overload will often “shut down” or refuse to participate further in the activity at hand. They can get irritable. They can become tense, fidgety, restless, have difficulty concentrating or have angry outbursts. Sensory overload can affect people who suffer from a long list of disorders. When we think of sensory overload, we typically think of Autism, anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but sensory overload can also affect individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and schizophrenia. (source)

Treatment and Prevention

Of course, with any disorder or syndrome, there are medical interventions that can be taken to treat the illness, but I’m more inclined to go the prevention route. I’d rather find the source of the issue and eliminate it rather than masking the issue with a cloud of pharmaceuticals – especially since so many drugs end up causing more health problems. Ever read one of those side effect lists?

Instead of drugs, I am utilizing these two techniques: avoidance and setting limits. Avoidance involves creating a peaceful environment. This can be done by producing quiet, uncluttered spaces. Setting limits involves limiting social interaction, limiting the amount of time spent on any one project, and taking frequent “time outs”.

To reduce the visual stimuli, I decluttered my home. I discovered through self-reflection that my home caused me a great deal of stress. Visual overload occurs when I have too much stuff to look at and process. Having papers scattered across all the solid surfaces, clothes scattered all over the floor, toys filling any remaining void, and a mounting to-do list brings me to my proverbial knees. I just can’t do it. Decluttering my home was key to solving this problem. In addition to keeping my home neat and tidy, I have to keep my desk at work tidy too. Books are put away in their cabinet. Pens and pencils are tucked away nicely in their pen caddy. Unneeded papers are shredded. When things are left out, it’s like each one of them is screaming “look at me! look at me!” I’d had enough. The negative (empty) space created in both my home and work environment simply by decluttering or putting them away when I’m done with them has done wonders for my mental status. Decluttering a home is a lofty task. If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo for inspiration.

NOISE! Oy. Noise. This is a monster for me because how do you tell everyone around you to shut up? You can’t. Plain and simple. But you can create a space where you can get away – most days, this is my car. Mornings at our home are hectic. Everyone is running in a million different directions trying to get things done before we leave. It takes us an hour to get dressed, put on our shoes, and walk out the door. It shouldn’t take that long, but it does. And it’s stressful. There are many times when the stress of getting moving in the morning drives me to tears after I drop the kids at daycare. This time in my car alone, without the radio and without social interaction is vital to me. If I had to go straight from dropping kids off to walking into my office within minutes of each other, I’d be a frazzled mess all day long. The hour long drive to work is my morning stress buster. Most “normal” people don’t have an hour commute, so to those people, I would say bless your heart and suggest finding a ritual you can perform, alone, before embarking on the next part of your day. Stop at a coffee shop and enjoy a cup of Joe before work. Meditate. Take a walk through the park. Something, anything, to help you decompress.

At home, when things get out of hand, I will often retreat to the shower. A nice hot shower without interruption is priceless! Lock the door and drown in the steam! Then, of course, there’s also bedtime for the kids. As sad as that is to say, sometimes, bedtime is the biggest blessing of them all. And I can’t forget exercise! Taking an hour to focus on yourself can’t be understated. Like they tell you on an airplane: put on your mask before you help someone else put on theirs. Mama’s no good to anyone else if she’s not taking care of her self first.

Information overload is overwhelming to me. I will often miss key details because I’m overwhelmed at the sheer volume of words coming at me and tune the rest out. Taking notes helps. I don’t go anywhere at work without a notebook. If my boss has specific instructions, I’ll start writing them down. Getting the words out of my head and onto paper frees my brain to accept and process the next series of words coming at me. Whether you’re getting directions to an unfamiliar place or taking directions at work, writing them down is ever so helpful. And when you’ve gotten them all written down, you can read them back to the speaker to make sure you’ve got it all correct.

This applies to that long to-do list, too. Don’t keep that thing stored in your head. Write it down to clear up the space in your brain.

Other techniques include limiting interactions with specific people, taking frequent breaks during tedious tasks, and just simple deep breathing techniques. They all help. At the end of the day, you have to know your own physical limits and you have to respect them.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

A Weekend Unplugged – Recap

I mentioned last week that I was going to embark on a weekend free from using my phone for anything other than phone calls and text messages. Here is how that went.

I am quite pleased to announce that I followed through! There were two instances where I used my phone to look something up when a computer wasn’t a viable option, but I did not play any games and I did not stare mindlessly at the phone at any point in the weekend.

My goal was to shut off the data on my phone on Friday at 3:30 pm and leave it off until 5 am Monday morning. With the exception of a few apps I was still using that required data access (my grocery app needs data access for some reason or other), I accomplished this mission. Primarily, I wanted to avoid mindless time wasting using my devices.

I used my phone for text messaging, phone calling, accessing my grocery app and accessing our budgeting app. Oh, and for Google twice.

I made use of my time by decluttering and minimalizing a piece of furniture in our bedroom, which resulted in decluttering and minimizing the whole room and master closet on Saturday. I boxed up the inventory from my MLM business and moved it to the garage to be sorted come spring for the garage sale. I have decided our bedroom is the grandest waste of space in our house. It’s a very large room. It houses 3 pieces of furniture, two bedside tables and a king size bed, with a TON of empty space. I wish I could reallocate that space to another area of the house – like my laundry room or the kids’ bedrooms. Funny thing – when we built the house, having an enormous master was something I was excited about. Now I just look at it and shake my head.

I made use of my time by sorting through and dejunking the junk drawers (there are two) in our kitchen and helped my daughter clean up her room. I washed some communal blankets and swept the floor. I did some minor organizing in the garage and got groceries for the week. I watched Sleepless in Seattle while I folded a basket of clothes and a basket of towels. I don’t think I had ever seen that movie straight through before. It’s a good one. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

I had a few moments of impulse where I reached for my phone during a short break in activities, but I quickly recognized what I was doing and stopped myself. Much to my surprise, I didn’t read as much as I had anticipated. I figured I’d replace my phone with my Kindle, but I did not. I did finish a book, but there wasn’t much left in it and didn’t finish it until last night.

I went all weekend without staring at my phone. And I survived.

What little time I spent on my phone was intentional and productive. I generated my grocery list. I balanced my checkbook. I googled home phone service. And I googled an address.

I really expected to binge on my phone as soon as I broke my “fast” but I haven’t yet. In preparation for my weekend, I removed my games from my home screen. They haven’t been returned. I really thought I’d waste half the day playing the games I thought I’d miss. But I haven’t. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday and I still have 74% battery left! And I’ve gotten quite a bit of work done at work.

Now that’s not to say I have completely sworn off all time wasters. I did get online for a few minutes on Sunday because my husband said someone tagged me in something on Facebook and I wanted to acknowledge it, so I got onto Facebook on the computer and acknowledged, and I got on it for a short bit today during my lunch break. My usage today has been nothing like what it was in the past few weeks to months. And I like it. I hope I can continue it! All told, my Facebook usage for the last 3 days was probably a total of 1 hour.

I’d like to eliminate my phone as a source of distraction in my life and I feel this experiment was very successful and I’d hate to see the work I’ve accomplished come undone. So, I think I’ll continue my experiment and not move my games back to my home screen. I don’t dare say forever… but I would like to see how long I can manage to go without them cluttering up my life.

How ‘bout you? Ever think to give up the electronics for a weekend?

A Weekend Unplugged

In a world that runs on technology, with micromachines that run the consumer life, it’s easy to get wrapped up and lost in the ones and zeros that are constantly filtering in.

I’ve noticed that our world is nearly always looking at a glowing screen, be it a computer monitor, a tablet or the phones in our hands. It’s next to impossible to look around and not see someone staring at their devices – whether it’s the park, the mall or a restaurant, you are guaranteed to find someone lost in their device. I am one of these people and it bothers the shit out of me.

I haven’t taken a tally of how much time I spend staring at a screen, but I know for a fact it is way more than I want it to be. At this very second, I’m writing this post using my phone while my kids are watching videos on a kids’ site or challenging themselves on SumDog on the laptop. (The husband is snoring away in the recliner). The tv is even yanking at us – despite no one watching it. I bet the picture is similar in any random home across the nation.

I’ve tried to take steps to reduce my own use of technology – hoping those around me will see what I’m doing differently and join in, but reducing the apps on my phone hasn’t been enough. What I’ve removed, I’ve replaced with something else. Instead of scrolling through Facebook, I’m playing games or reading blog posts. It’s ridiculous.

Our brains are constantly seeking stimuli – something it can analyze, information to process. It’s no surprise we are so into our devices. They’re a constant stream of fresh stimuli. There’s always something new. Why watch that beautiful bird in the tree when we can gaze into the looking glass and see something we haven’t seen yet?

But while we’re staring at our phones, our lives is passing us by. The seasons are changing, our kids are growing and our relationships are dying.

Because my dependence on technology and all that it brings to me is wildly out of control, I am putting the phone down and walking away. I’m not going to use my phone all weekend long. I’m shutting the mobile data off at 3:30 pm on Friday and not turning it back on until Monday at 5:00 am. I will only use my phone for its originally intended use – communication with people close to me. Text and calls is all that my phone will be used for this weekend.

It’s going to be hard. Oh man, is it going to be so very hard. But it’s necessary. I can’t go on like this. I’m so overwhelmed by the time I spend on my device that I want to scream.

When I feel the itch to check Facebook Groups, I’ll grab a book. When I feel the pull to play a game, I’ll go outside with my kids. I’ll find movies to watch. I’ll catch up on the shows we’ve missed recently. I’ll take a walk. I’ll play a card game with my kids. But I will not pick up my phone.

How is your technology use? Do you need a break too? Care to join me? Comment below with “I’m in” and we’ll go in together.

No Spend November

It’s no secret that our society is overwhelmed with consumerism and debt. Statistically speaking, the average American household credit card debt tips the scales at $16,140 with an average interest rate of 14.25% (source). That’s a lot of money!

My husband and I contributed to this number in previous years but have since worked really hard to rectify that situation. We dug deep, rearranged our budget, and made a plan to pay off our cards and we saw it through. But we still live pay check to pay check, and that’s quite depressing.

I’ve been following a lot of different kinds of blogs lately – minimalist, homesteader, and frugalist alike. One thing I keep seeing between all three genres is making do with what you have, not buying what you don’t need, and curbing the excess spending. This blogger is of the same mindset.

When my husband and I set out to correct our debt problems, I adopted the Dave Ramsey plan (well, sort of) and started budgeting and snowballing debt. It’s been a very slow process because we still had bad spending habits. If we wanted something, we simply bought it – but we bought it differently. Instead of dropping the credit card on the counter, we dropped the debit card and then I performed some creative financial magic at home to make the numbers work so we didn’t end up overdrawn. Unfortunately, our savings was always the victim – hence why we still live pay check to pay check nearly 5 years since my Dave Ramsey discovery – three times as long ago as it takes the average Dave Ramsey follower to pay off all their debts. In the end, we’re still treading water.

I’ve been using You Need a Budget to budget and track our spending for about two years now and I’ve noticed a trend: we still spend too much. There are two categories in which we consistently spend too much money: groceries and free spend (Free Spend is the category Dave Ramsey says you have to have for frivolous spending that does not take away from the 4 walls of your financial house – my husband and I both get $25 a week for free spend). We consistently go over budget in both of these categories by $200 on average. That’s too much money. What’s it getting spent on? Dinners out, impromptu grocery shopping trips, gas station stops, coffee stops, unnecessary buys, lazy pizza dinner nights, etc.

If we’re ever going to find our way out of this financial debt we dug our way into in the early years of our marriage, we’ve got to change the way we spend money. Point blank. But how do you change the way you spend money? With drastic measures, of course!

Enter: No Spend November. You’ve heard of No Shave November, where guys opt out of shaving for prostate cancer awareness, right? Well, No Spend November is where people opt out of spending money for financial wellness awareness. And I’m jumping on board.

For the month of November (and 5 days of December – maybe all of December and January), I will have a defined set of rules to follow in regard to monetary spending. These rules apply to the grocery and free spend categories of our budget – nothing else will change. The rules are as follows.

1. Bring lunch to work every day and eat it. No trips to the cafeteria.
2. Make coffee at home. No trips to the coffee shop – except on Veteran’s Day when I’ll get a free cup from Starbucks.
3. Make a meal plan for each week, buy according to that plan, and stick to the plan. No unplanned trips to the grocery store unless I legitimately need an ingredient for dinner and cannot improvise.
4. Use the public library or Kindle Lender’s Library for new books. Do not purchase any new books during the month of November.
5. Limit dining out with the family to restaurants that we have gift cards for, and budget accordingly for the rest of the bill.

Most No Spend November participants say no to dining out altogether, but this is just my challenge and not one my family has agreed to participate in, so I’m trying my best to be strict enough to break my own habits, while being flexible enough to keep my family happy. As such, some dining out has to remain.

Expected result: My expected result will be less creative financing stress to deal with each week, more money available to set aside for upcoming gifting opportunities (Christmas and birthdays are right around the corner), and setting my Free Spend money aside each week to be used next spring on raised garden beds for my vegetable garden. I have lofty goals for 2016 which include a lot of landscaping, debt payoff and savings endeavors because I am very tired of living on this debt treadmill. I want off. I’m not willing to sell all my stuff like Dave suggests, but I am willing to make some sacrifices to my current lifestyle to push it forward. I’m willing to skip the expensive coffee flavored sugar milk in lieu of cedar planks for my garden or red wood mulch for my flower bed. I just have to make it a habit to do so. November is my month to make it happen.

I will revisit this topic in December to share how I did.

What about you? Have you ever thought about participating in a No Spend month? What are you waiting for?

Ready for a change?

I had a conversation with someone earlier today about something they want to change about their life. We got to talking about what steps this person was taking to realize that desire and I noticed they weren’t really doing much to get them closer to their goal. I wanted to ask them why they weren’t working harder; why they weren’t doing what they needed to do to see the change. Why are they just sitting there while their life passes by, living the same life day to day that they are unhappy with?

I consider myself very proactive and driven when it comes to setting and reaching for my goals and while I know not everyone is of the same mindset, I get frustrated just the same when I see someone slighting themselves or making excuses for why things haven’t turned out like they envisioned. This situation often makes me think the person is lazy and passive – like they’re sitting idly by hoping things will change without their needing to do any actual work, but maybe they’re actually just uneducated. Maybe they don’t know how to make the changes they long for. Maybe this lack of knowledge is what has them frozen in their current position. Maybe they need someone to help them along. Maybe there needs to be a class on how to change their life…

Welcome to Life Change 101, an abbreviated overview on making a life shift happen. 

Whether you want to go back to school, lose some weight, reach a fitness goal, get pregnant, improve your mental health status or start a new career, one thing remains true through it all – you have to actually work for it. You have to evaluate what it is you want, become educated on what it will take to achieve it, and then execute a plan to make it happen.

When you find your life isn’t where you wanted it to be, there are two things you can do – you can sit there and hope it’ll magically change, or you can stand up and make it happen. If you should choose the former, don’t expect much to to be different when you wake up tomorrow morning. If you choose the latter, however, prepare for infinite possibilities. Before you start, though, there are three questions I recommend you ask yourself.

What change do I want to make?
What do you think will make you happier? Is a job change in order? Do you want to go back to work after taking time off to raise your children? Do you want to go back to school? Lose weight? Improve your fitness? Have another kid? What do you want? Why do you want it? Some soul searching might be required for you to truly determine what you want to see your life become. This might require some time so don’t rush it. It’s important to move forward, but it’s more important to move forward in a worthwhile direction. Don’t just move to move. Move with a purpose you truly believe in.

What do I need to do to accomplish my goal? 

  1. Learn what it’ll take to go back to school, what options are available to help pay for it, and how you’ll fit it into your life.
  2. Look for internships to help you gain experience in your field if you’ve been out of the professional world for an extended period of time.
  3. Study nutrition and fitness and educate yourself on how the human body works if you plan to compete in a long distance race or lose weight.
  4. Evaluate what obstacles that stand in your way – child care, finances, shortage of time, etc.

Make a list of everything that stands in the way of you achieving your goals. Next to this list, formulate a list of how you can overcome those obstacle. From this, formulate a plan for how you’ll make it all work.

Find scholarships to pay for school. Talk to your employer about tuition assistance. Talk to friends about how they made attending classes fit around a full time work schedule and a family. Make arrangements with friends for childcare swapping to provide care for your children while you attend classes or hit the gym. Check with your health insurance policy or life insurance policy to see if there’s a discount or incentive that accompanies going to the gym and improving your fitness. Check with your employer as well; some employers pay gym memberships because they understand a fit employee is a more productive employee. You never know what’s out there or who’s willing to help unless you ask around.

Am I ready to execute my plan?
You’ve done so much work to this point determining what you want to do and how you will be able to do it, all that’s left is the execution! You know all there is to know about the degree program you want to study. You’ve talked to your boss and he’s agreed to adjust your work hours so you can take classes. You may have found an internship to get you experience in your degree field so you can add experience to that blank resume. You found a friend who’s willing to take your children two nights a week so you can take your classes in exchange for watching her kids while she runs on Saturday. You’ve done all you possibly can to prepare. You’ve mapped out the path. All that’s left now is to walk it. Strap on those boots and let’s get to hiking!

Bottom line:
Nothing comes to anyone while sitting idly by. You won’t get the life you want by sitting on your arse waiting for it to land in your lap. It just doesn’t work that way.

Whatever the change is you wish to see in your life, you must acknowledge that it’s not going to just happen to you. You aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and have the life you always dreamed of. You have to get out there and make it so. You have to fight for what you want. No one is going to give it to you, but it’s there for the taking if you should decide to you want it badly enough. The only thing standing in your way is you.