Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Want to improve your mood? Take time for 'mindless things'
D.C.: I am struggling with being grumpy, snappish and downright angry a lot lately, and there's really nothing more going on than the everyday overload of part-time work, parenting a preschooler, marriage, keeping a house running, keeping up with friends and family, etc.
I feel like I can't breathe sometimes because there is always so much to do and I rarely have time to myself.
When I do have a few free moments, I'm usually too exhausted to do anything important to me, like write. I end up doing mindless things instead of what I really want, which depletes me further.
Any suggestions for breaking the cycle of feeling like life is just a treadmill of constant activity?
Carolyn: The big one is to stop trying to do other things with your downtime, even things you consider important.
Rest is important, too, and you're not getting any — except maybe in the form of those "mindless things," but you're not even letting yourself enjoy them. That makes them less restorative than they could be.
Some of the things keeping you busy are likely to be around for the long haul, like working, chores, social connections and fighting to preserve some time for your special interests. But some of the overload — namely, anything related to those relentless young-child needs — is temporary.
So embrace that. Talk to your husband, and pick a few things that you're willing to postpone until your preschooler is older and more self-reliant (I'm talking 6 or 7 years old, not far off). These can include your preferred amount of writing, cleanliness, and contact with friends and family; all of them are at least candidates for the back burner.
Similarly, you can pick a few things that you consider your top priorities for right now. Those can include being available to live life at your preschooler's pace, or making a set amount of time available for writing, or putting alone time on the weekly schedule, whatever. Seek out laughter. Include alone time for you and your husband, too; position your marriage as a tonic, versus a drain.
Once you have these two mental lists prepared, put them into effect. Start postponing the less urgent things, and making time for your priorities.
And, maybe most important, change your outlook on downtime.
Decide right now to stop beating yourself up when you spend your precious free time on accomplishing "nothing." Realize you are indeed accomplishing something: You're shutting down. We all have to do it. We can't be productive with every waking minute of every day.
Accept this, and the mindless things won't feel like a soul-depleting failure. Make it your mantra: Slow down, ask less of yourself, ask less of others, ask less of this time in your life.
As always, if it doesn't work — if the angry mood persists — then it's time to consider talking to a therapist. That might not be the kind of time to yourself that you had in mind, I suppose, but it might be necessary to find out why you're putting so much pressure on yourself to be everything at once.