Seven Ways I Deal with Overwhelm Before it Deals with Me (or, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”)

A couple of months ago I sent out a survey to my email list members,
to help in my own brainstorming about what directions to head next.

In response to a question about blog content, one person made a comment
that regularly pricks my thoughts. She said,

“Maybe you could post that you too get overwhelmed
from time to time … if you do. Surely you do?”
 ·······   Yes, I surely do!   ·······

For the past two days I’ve set aside time to write a blog post and an email newsletter. I’ve actually made the time to do it! But then I can’t write. Cannot. I chase ideas around my cluttered brain and find nothing cohesive. I look dumbly at photos I’ve uploaded and sentences I’ve struggled to form.

I recognize this. It is not a case of an elusive muse. No, it’s paralysis. And it is brought on by a sense of overwhelm which cloaks everything I try to do with its dark, slogging weight. It comes when there are too many expectations (usually self-made!), too many idea trails to follow, too many things coming at me at once.

Two powerful triggers of overwhelm for me are 1) travel, and 2) the holidays. And what do you know? They are both presently operative, with all their happy bells on!* I love travel and I love the holidays, but they throw the beloved evenness of my days out the window. Amen, anybody?

Yesterday, after staring at the computer screen blankly for a long time, I finally gave up and cleaned house. (Which is one of the things that has badly needed doing, and people are coming over tomorrow.) A huge perk of house-cleaning is that it lifts my spirits and clears mental space. Maybe that’s the reason I can write today?

As I cleaned I thought about the strategies I use to beat back a sense of overwhelm so it cannot get the best of me. I identified seven. In most cases they boil down to some wise words I learned from a little girl a long time ago…

One Christmastime, when my oldest daughter was six, she stood on a chair at the kitchen counter helping my mom decorate cookies. Her curly, unkempt red hair was pushed back by an ill-fitting plastic tortoiseshell headband which continually slid forward onto her forehead. My mom kept trying to fix it, but my daughter wasn’t having it. With far more wisdom than she could understand, my daughter declared, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”

This line has gone down in our family lore and is still quoted frequently, whether the object of the assertion is a grandmother or not. Watch how it works in the first four of my list of seven. These are things I do when I am feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Lower my expectations for whatever is the task at hand. Although my heart was clamoring for a thorough fall house-cleaning yesterday, I chose a few important particulars. Maybe I’ll get to others before 2019. (“And anyway, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  2. Drop judgment of myself for my limitations. Yesterday I was grieving the fact that I didn’t pack a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child, let alone make a blanket for it (which is what I really, really wanted to do again). So I let myself feel sad for a bit, then I went to the Samaritan’s Purse site and ordered a shoe box right there. You can still do this too! Deadline is November 19. (“You got a box out! That’s what matters, Grandma!”)
  3. Set low goals for what I can accomplish by Christmas. Handmade gifts may not be done on time or even at all. I preach the following to myself regularly: “Nobody knows what your intentions were but you. Others will likely love whatever you give as a gift. Don’t turn it in to something to fret about. (“Cuz nobody cares, Grandma!”)
  4. Recognize that the feelings of stress are simply a feeling, that no-one else can feel mine (they’re inside only me), and many of the things I think I need to do are cared about by only me. Do I need to cook dinner from scratch tonight? Do I need to dust the blades of that ceiling fan before people arrive? (“Really, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  5. Flip the switch in my mind to think about the things I have been able to do: Have a great conversation with a friend. Fold the laundry and put it away. Teach an online class (!!).
  6. Be conscious of the present moment and enjoy what I’m doing. When I practice this it’s actually a lot of fun. Turn on loud music or listen to a podcast while I clean. Pour a short glass of wine while I cook.
  7. For the to-dos that are necessary, I do best when I address them one-by-one and tune-out the rest of the noisy list in my head. This keeps me calm and speeds up each little job. Many don’t take but a few minutes!

What are YOUR techniques when overwhelm strikes? Please share!

*Last weekend I returned from southern California where I stayed with my mom for a week. One evening we were stunned by this glorious sunset. (Can you find the sliver of ocean in pics 3 and 4? Far right.) The photo below is what I was met by back at home in northern Illinois.

Janja’s Christening

Last weekend was the christening of little Jane Elizabeth. She was baptized with the name Janja, a Croatian word meaning “little lamb.” Janja is also the dear woman Jane was named for.

When Jane’s mama asked about a special blanket for the occasion, she had already searched this website and found the blanket I made for my own granddaughter’s baptism. What a pleasure it was to recreate this sweet lamb!

There was a small but meaningful bond I had with Jane Elizabeth as I worked on this for her—for my “maiden” initials (pre-marriage) are JEM too.

Blessings on your christening and most especially on your life, Janja. Such a wonderful name you have!

© Joan Olson
“Little Janja” (38×40)
Felted Wool Sweaters

Love isn’t love until…

Interested in making a felted wool sweater blanket, possibly with my new class? Sign up for free access to a video I’ve put together, Find and Choose Good Sweaters for Felting. It gives pointers on how to select great sweaters for making a blanket. This also adds your email to The Green Sheep newsletter list. (If you’re already on the newsletter list, your email won’t be duplicated.) Or learn more about the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class here!

Do you remember that little song? Love isn’t love until you give it away ♥. It’s true. And it happens with these shoe boxes.

For the past two years I’ve made a cozy wool blanket to pack into a shoe box with lots of other goodies for Operation Christmas Child. Last year, on the spur of the moment, I invited the folks on my email list to make one along with me and pack it for the same purpose.

Over twenty brave souls gave it a try!

I quickly learned to make videos and post them in a Facebook group, and we leapt into this project together. WOW. We had a really enjoyable time, we all learned a lot from each other, and the blankets turned out beautifully.

And since it’s fall + shoebox-packing time again, I am reminiscing by re-posting photos of some the blankets that came out of that venture. Check out these lovelies! You guys are so talented!

(Each blanket is made from thin felted wools
l
ike cashmere or merino and measures about 40″x50″. This way
they roll up tightly and fit in a shoebox with other fun and useful items.)

We were able to track where our boxes went, and of the ones I learned about we know 2 went to Honduras, 2 to Rwanda, 3 to Ghana, 1 to Madagascar, and 1 to “A Hard To Reach Area.” It’s delightful to know these blankets are out upon this planet, keeping children warm.

Guys, packing a shoe box is such a simple way to share all that love in your hearts. There certainly doesn’t need to be a handmade blanket in it! I’d love to encourage you to visit the Operation Christmas Child website and see what it would take. (Operation Christmas Child is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization which also does a lot of work with refugees around the world.) The shoe box deadline isn’t until mid-November. I’m going to try to make a blanket (from scraps I already have cut, so it’ll go quicker), but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m packing a shoe box. Anybody with me?

This year—although NOT in conjunction with the shoe box project—I’m offering a full-fledged, not-on-the-fly class to learn to make blankets: the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class. Fall is the time we start thinking of keeping warm, making gifts, and bringing beauty inside our homes. Many of us are ready to hunker down with a project. If this is you, the class is open for enrollment through September 28. Class itself starts on September 29. Just a week away! Questions? Leave them here or click on “Contact” in this page’s header.

By the way, there’s significance to the term “master class.” In the musical world especially, it refers to a seminar where advanced students are given individual attention by the master musician. I am not exactly a master and you may or may not be advanced, but one real value (and joy!) of this class is the interaction, support and feedback from each other and from me.  You are also completely welcome to do the class on your own and without interaction. But I hope you’d give it a try the other way first. I’d love to get to know you!