John Fuller: Here’s Cheri Gregory describing what it feels like to be overwhelmed by life.
Mrs. Cheri Gregory: I t feels like this force that is absolutely about to come over you and take over you and make it so that, I mean, if you’ve ever been tumbled in a wave in the ocean, you can’t breathe. You’re so disoriented, you don’t even know which way is up.
End of Teaser
John: Well, Cheri Gregory was our guest on the last “Focus on the Family” radio program, along with Kathi Lipp and they’re back today to help you understand what to do when those feelings come. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, last time we had a very productive discussion with Kathi and Cheri just about where women are living, the sense of being overwhelmed. In fact, they wrote a book called Overwhelmed, and that was the basis for our discussion. But I think 95 percent of the women listening leaned right in to say, “This is me. I do feel overwhelmed.” It’s like we hit a very sensitive nerve, and we’re gonna come back and continue that discussion today.
I love what Kathi and Cheri shared about in terms of personality types, the expressive—and these are self-evident, the analytic, the driver, the amiable, and then the additional one is that highly sensitive person. And if you missed the discussion last time, get the download, get a copy of the CD, whatever you have to do. Or just call us and ask us, “How do you get ahold of it?” and we’ll do that for you. There was some good meat in the discussion last time.
John: And we also have a quiz you can take online at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio, where you’ll see some of these resources that we’ve mentioned. And Kathi and Cheri are both speakers and writers and they’re friends; opposites in many respects, as we’ve discovered, but both have experienced the … the senses, Jim, of being overwhelmed.
Jim: Oh, I know, and I could, having the discussion last time, I’m thinking of Jean, I know you’re thinking of Dena, and that’s, for all the guys that are listening, that’s what we should be doing is, “Where is my wife in this and how can I help and help her not feel that burden or feel that sense of being overwhelmed?” because I don’t think that’s where the Lord wants us to live day to day. He wants us to feel what He calls His shalom, His peace, not His “overwhelmed-ness,” and you know, this life should not overwhelm us.
In fact, let me read the Scripture that I think applies, and then we’ll say hello formally to you two. But in God’s Word right there in Psalm 61 it says, “The earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” First of all, welcome back to Focus and your response to that Scripture?
Kathi Lipp: It’s where my heart lives. Thanks for having us back. Yes, this is not where God designs us to live in overwhelmed, that God has a plan for protection and peace, and so much of what we have to do is just we’re leaning into that, to … to recognize that it’s available to us as believers and getting to lean into it.
Jim: Ah and if you missed it, get it, because there are so many good things; the description of the personality types. Today we’re gonna move beyond that and you talk about the power of micro steps. And it sounds self-evident. Okay, if I’m feeling overwhelmed, if I just do these one or two things, it will get me to a better place. Is that what you’re driving at?
Kathi: Well, okay, so I was reading all these blogs and all these books that say, “Hey, we’re gonna break it down into three simple steps,” and you know their simple steps were things like empty out your inbox for e-mail. I’m like, oh my goodness.
Jim: How many do you have in there, like 3,000?
Kathi: No, no, I’m one of those people who gets freaked out if it gets above 50. But those 50, to me they are 50 obligations I have to get back to. Roger has about 3,000 in his box, my husband, and I can’t even look. I mean, it sends me into a panic attack.
Jim: But in his mind all those are probably categorized. I share Roger’s sense of that. I’ve got a lot of unmet e-mails.
Kathi: Hey, as long as you can sleep at night, that’s fine. I just can’t think about you.
Kathi: But I remember gonna my inbox and seeing these emails that I knew that there was some kind of discussion that was happening or a problem, and it felt overwhelming to say, “Okay, I’m gonna do that e-mail right now,” so I had to break it down into micro steps. And this is gonna sound cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs (Laughter), to some people listening, but I had to give myself a checkmark just for opening the e-mail.
Jim: Okay, so that counts as a step.
Kathi: Right, not even reading the e-mail, but I just needed to open it up, because there’s something about opening it up. Okay, we’ve started the process; okay, we’re doing this; and then another step of reading the e-mail. Not responding, just reading to find out, okay, are they upset with me? What’s going on? And so, I call those “micro steps,” and for some reason, putting those down and giving myself a little bit of credit for each of those steps helped me be less overwhelmed.
And I think there are so many things in our day, when you say, okay, I have to get dinner tonight, well, we have to think about the hundreds of micro steps that go into that, which sounds overwhelming but if you just say, okay, one of your steps is you have to decide what’s for dinner. And that decision fatigue can get to a place where you’re saying, okay, I have to decide and then I have to shop and then I have to cook.
And so, that’s why we really believe that pre-deciding, which we talked about before, making decisions in advance, but then just saying, okay, micro steps. If something if really overwhelming you, you don’t have to take your dog to the vet. The only thing you have to do right now is find a time on your calendar where you can take your dog to the vet. And then the next step is finding the phone number for the vet. Break it down so you’re not so overwhelmed and you give yourself credit for what you are doing.
Jim: Let me ask you a practical question. And this is for Jean and I. You know Jean is managing the home because, you know, she’s there, she’s with the kids, and keeping that all on track. Sometimes I’ll have maintenance issues that we’ve got to take care of that, you know, she’s not necessarily grabbing the what or the how or the why. It might be the air conditioner or the heater’s broken down. I’m saying, “You’re the one that’s gonna be here.” I can’t call and schedule it because I don’t know if she’s gonna be there from noon to 3:00 on Wednesday because she’s got her own [schedule].
Kathi: Right, yeah.
Jim: So at first I was stepping on her schedule because I would do that and she’d be, “I’m not gonna be here Wednesday from noon to 3:00.”
Jim: So she’d have to call back. How do you get into that and she’s already feeling overwhelmed, like, “Calling to get that fixed, Jim, it’s just man, that’s like the 100th thing.”
Kathi: Did you hear both of us?
Jim: Are you both smiling? I can see your faces. But there’s a real practical one. How do I help her help me get it done?
Kathi: So I think asking her what she needs, “What part of this is overwhelming for you? Is it knowing which guy to call? Is it they’re gonna ask you questions that you’re not gonna have the answer to?” So maybe the solution is Jean calls for the time, but if they have any other questions than that, besides the time, then you’re on speed dial (Laughter) because it’s overwhelming.
John: Does it work for you to call and have the company make the appointment with Jean, call her and just say, “Jim called and said that we need to do this.”
Jim: I think it’s still a sense of being overwhelmed. I think for her just having to put that into an already busy schedule overwhelms her to where it’s like, wow. So inevitably, what can happen is it just takes [time] and it can frustrate me because it will take just too long to get it fixed, and now we’ve got a little spark going between us and I’m goin’, “Uh, come on.”
Kathi: But okay, I’m coming to Jean’s defense.
Jim: Come on.
Kathi: I’m here for you, Jean. Let me tell you all the things that are going on in this. One, it’s decision fatigue. Like she’s having to make more decisions and overwhelm is the unknown.
Jim: Right, I get it.
Kathi: You know, is she gonna have to answer the repair guy’s question? “Well, ma’am, this is gonna cost, you know, $1,500. Do you want to spend that?” And you’re in a meeting and she’s having to make the decision. There’s all sorts of stuff going on there. And so, what I need when I’m overwhelmed in a situation like that, I just need to know that Roger is on my team, that I can say, “You’ll talk to the guy, right?” “Yes, I will talk to the guy.”
Jim: Another good way may be to just say, “Give me four blocks of time and I can take care of it, but I need your blocks of time.
Jim: And that can be hard, too, though. “I don’t have any of those blocks of time.”
Kathi: But here’s the thing. But you know what? Asking the question you feel like you’re on the same team.
Jim: Yeah, that’s right.
Kathi: It doesn’t feel like, “Well, you’re at home, Honey, so you have to take care of all this.” It says, “No, we’re a team, and I can come in on these hard parts for you and we’re gonna make this work.”
Jim: Let’s move to a different example where you guys give advice in your book, Overwhelmed, about saying “no,” (Chuckling) which I think for some personality types, which we covered last time–and maybe you can connect this with a certain personality type struggles saying “no.” I doubt a driver, for example struggles with “no,” but maybe. But certainly the people-pleaser would. And everything they’re asking is, “Okay, let me check,” which means “yes” to the listener.
Jim: And means “maybe” to you, and now you’re stuck doing it, and you’re already overbooked.
Kathi: So an amiable is going to have a hard time saying “no” because they want to be the people-pleaser. That’s what you’re saying. So they may leave things open-ended; whereas, we feel like that’s a yes, they haven’t committed to it, and so there’s a misunderstanding there. The expressive says “yes” because “yes” is fun. “Yes” is so much fun to say. “Yes, I will do that. Yes, this will be great.” The driver has a hard time saying no to themselves. When change comes up, oh, they’re not okay with change. We said we were going to do this on January 7th, so that is when it’s going to happen.
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Kathi: And so, we all have these problems. And okay, so we’ve done the analytic, well, just because that’s what we’ve said we’re gonna do, we’re gonna do it. It’s also a little driver-ish, but because there was a plan, we’re all sticking with the plan. So the drivers can’t say “no” because they want to get it done. The analytic can’t say “no” because we said we were going to do it; that’s how we’re doing it. So it’s very hard. Every personality has a problem saying “no.”
Jim: And Cheri, let me ask you, because I think you probably have struggled with this. How do you get ahold of that calendar, that schedule, and say, “I just can’t do it,” and be very emphatic so you’re not communicating a “maybe yes,” you’re actually communicating a definite “no”?
Cheri: You know the important thing is to realize that when you say “yes,” you’re saying yes to everything, not just a “yes” to, “Oh, you made me feel good.” I used to say “yes” because I wanted to communicate that the relationship was important to me.
Jim: That measured your relationship.
Jim: Well, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that.
Cheri: And I’m realizing that I can say “no” to somebody without saying “no” to the relationship. I can say, “I value our relationship. This thing you’ve asked me I cannot do, but I still value you.
Jim: Is that how you would say it? Role-play a little as girlfriends. How would you do that between each other?
Kathi: Well, if I was going to ask Cheri, “Oh, I have the most exciting opportunity for you. We get to write a book together, and I can’t wait. I’ve already got it all planned out and I know you’re really busy, but I think this is gonna be a great opportunity for us.”
Jim: And Cheri responds.
Cheri: Okay, so which Cheri is gonna respond? Oh my goodness. Because if Kathi were to ask to write another book, I’d be like, “Whoo-hoo! I’m on board! No, wait, no. I need to, you know.” One of the things that I’ve learned, okay, so Kathi, say that last line again. I know what I’d say.
Kathi: I would really like for you to join on with I’ve got it all planned out, this is gonna be great. Will you do it?
Cheri: Kathi, it sounds like so much fun. Oh my goodness, you have the best ideas and you know I adore working with you. If you need an answer right now, my automatic answer is “no.” But if you can give me 24 or 48 hours to talk to Daniel and to pray about it, I’d love to get back to you after having a chance to think about it. But if you need to have an answer right now, I’m gonna have to say “no,” because I’m in a season right now where everything is an automatic “no” if it’s not already on my calendar.
Jim: That’s good. Now fast-forward 48 hours and you still have to say “no” to Kathi, your dear friend, who’s gonna measure your relationship and how much you love and respect her based on this answer. What are you gonna say?
Cheri: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, if she’s my dear friend, she’s not gonna measure my relationship.
Kathi: That’s right.
Cheri: And if it’s somebody who’s measuring my relationship based on guilt, then actually our relationship is probably very close to over at this stage.
John: Well, some great wisdom from our guests today, Cheri Gregory and Kathi Lipp, on “Focus on the Family,” and they’ve written the book Overwhelmed, which helps you identify some of the sources of the stress in your life, and then your personality type and how that plays into that sense of being overwhelmed. And we’ve got the book and a CD or a download of our conversation today, and some additional resources for you online so you can find out a little bit more at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio.
John: And Cheri, I’m still thinking about your comment about having a season of everything is default “no.” We went through a season like that where my wife just the automatic was “no, no, no.” It takes a while to kind of dig out of that, but how do you start?
Cheri: One of the things Kathi’s always been good at is giving me enough time. When she invites me to participate in something, it’s rarely rescue. It’s usually help. It’s usually being invited to join her team, and that’s been huge for me as I’m coming out of the “no’s” and starting to say “yes’s” again, I’ve tended to be a rescuer, but I don’t want to drive the ambulance anymore; I want to be a part of a team. I want to be part of a plan. I’m learning to be more spontaneous, but I’d like to be part of something that there’s enough time to really enjoy it and do it well.
So I’m continuing to say “no” to the things that are last-minute. A lot of last-minute things don’t even need to be done, and especially if it doesn’t involve my particular strengths. And you know we talked in the last episode of being an HSP, I’m looking more for those highly sensitive person strengths. Can they use me? Or will this particular thing I’m being asked to do actually deplete me and leave less for my family? And so, I’m trying to say “yes” a lot more, but very intentionally, and make sure that those are the yeses for who God created me to be, rather than me constantly stepping in, “Yes, you want me. Yes, you want me,” but then I’m taking roles that maybe somebody else would be so much better to fill.
Jim: Well, and Cheri, what you’re describing there is really important, because the rescuer emotionally, you derive a certain benefit from being needed.
Cheri: Being a hero.
Jim: And being the person that is needed, that I can help bring some peace to the situation, and that ability then to say “no” is usually left behind. I know in some marital conflict this is huge, because, and let’s just put it in the context of how we’re talking, where the wife is that rescuer, and so the friendships take precedent even over the marriage or sometimes the family.
And the shoe can be on the other foot, but just keeping it in the context of a woman, how would you coach, life coach, that couple, maybe in different meetings, and you’re talking to the wife and you’re also talking to the husband who now has become very frustrated because it looks like she cares more about those people outside of our immediate family rather than us. And then you get bitterness built up and all this. You’re now in that counseling mode; what are you saying to her and to the husband?
Cheri: You want my honest response? I’m gonna tell her she’s an adrenaline addict and she needs to cut loose, because she’s getting her sense of satisfaction, her sense of identity from running around, whether it’s the bake sale or the committee chair or all of the friends who call and they need her right now. And they need her in a way her husband doesn’t. They need her for that emotional, and they’re processing with her.
Jim: And she’s awesome.
Cheri: And she’s awesome at that, and her husband comes home and only needs what, 20 to 30 words, and he’s good for the evening, and the rest of the evening is silent, and it doesn’t feel as important to her. It doesn’t feel as connected. Okay, I’m not as good as Kathi at telling other people what to do, so I’m just gonna say what I needed to do with my husband.
You know what he loves more than anything else? He loves being in the same room with me. I don’t know why, but after almost 30 years, he just wants to be in the same room with me. And I have learned to exhale from this man, because he’ll just hang out on the couch and the cats will show up and I’ll grab a book, and somewhere in there I feel my anxiety level dialing down, and I get to this point that feels so unfamiliar and I go, “Oh, that’s what peace feels like. Oh, this is what freedom feels like.” And I realize a lot of this, not all of it, but a lot of this overwhelm I have done to myself, I have brought on myself.
Kathi: And let’s go into the man’s counseling session. Okay, let’s go into that other room.
Jim: Okay. You’re chomping at the bit there.
Kathi: Right, because here’s where I think the woman, when she’s with her friends, her friends are saying, “Thank you so much. I so desperately needed somebody to talk to,” and she’s feeling that appreciation. And when a husband can say, “You know what, Honey, when you sit next to me on the couch, that’s home for me.” And when a husband can say that and it clicks in a woman’s mind, “I’m not doing anything. I’m not rescuing him, but he just needs me with him.”
So really articulating to your wife, “This is what the best part of our relationship for me is,” then she can understand that’s important to him. It brings the weight that all those other relationships outside the house brings, and that’s where she can start to say, “You know, I need to be home a couple of evenings, because that’s what makes my husband happy and I want to be able to do that. And I know that there is no greater joy in my marriage than when I know I’m meeting my husband’s emotional needs.”
Jim: This is such good stuff. I mean I think we’re hitting some real raw nerves, and I hope again we’ve got some other questions for you here, but Overwhelmed, your book, I think is gonna be a great asset to so many women particularly, but us husbands as well.
Let me talk about the Sabbath. You mention in your book the importance of the Sabbath. You know what’s so interesting for us, even as Christians, we don’t talk a lot about that. I was in Israel recently with Ray Vander Laan, who does the series with us, That the World May Know, and he was reiterating the importance to God’s heart that we take that time, ’cause He knows how He’s crafted us and engineered us, and He’s very specific that we take that rest. He knows us better than we know ourselves, but we’re so busy, and we pride ourselves on our busyness, that we don’t even take a day
Kathi: Yeah, and I had to learn this the hard way from almost having a breakdown, not having intentional rest in my life. And one thing I was understanding was, that I was looking at Sabbath as God was taking things away from me. I really did. I thought I was getting robbed.
Kathi: And what I’ve come to understand, and by the way, when we talked about we can’t do this because we don’t work on the Sabbath, family mocked us; people thought we were insane. They said, “We’re gonna check up with you on Facebook to make sure.” But what we’ve come to understand and we do it, what works for our family, is dinnertime on Saturday to dinnertime on Sunday. And it was weird at first. Can I just say that? It was so weird.
Jim: And what does it look like, Sabbath in your home?
Kathi: Oh, so now what it looks like is, it is time that it was reserved for God, for our family and for rest. And we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We’re so used to accomplishing and we’re so used to having Sunday to catch up on everything.
So what we did, when Roger and I first did this, we’re like, “Well, what do we do?” you know we’re so used to doing, and so we had days where we didn’t have anything to do. We didn’t have any deadlines, and what we did was we started to invite our neighbors over for dinner. We started to make sure that our adult kids knew, hey, this is the night that we’re here and we can hang out. We started to go to Monterey because there was nothing we had to do. What a concept. There was nothing we had to do, so we got to do things that brought us joy.
And I would fight somebody to the death for my Sabbath. I am so protective of it. And my Sabbath has to move around because I’m a speaker on the road. Sometimes I’m speaking on Sunday mornings, so Monday is my day. You know, I have to play fast and loose with the Sabbath, but I take a day, and that is my day for God and for rest and for family, and I am so protective of it now.
Jim: So then you’ve been able to hold to that, even though there’s an endless list of things you need to do. And do you just push those things off then? There’s always gonna be tomorrow?
Kathi: You know what? We are designed to work for six days. That’s God’s design for us. And so … and when I say “work,” I also mean the Costco run. I mean it’s work.
Jim: Oh, that’s work. (Laughter)
Kathi: And we don’t count it. We try to fit that in on all the edges, and it doesn’t work.
John: So what does that look like for a mom with young kids? Because those kids are work seven days a week and then some.
Kathi: Amen. I get that. And I’m not saying you get to go have a Bahama holiday and I know that. But what I’m saying is from Saturday night to Sunday evening, for us, that is not our time to accomplish [anything]. I can do laundry six days a week.
Jim: Probably seven.
Kathi: Well, I could do it nine, and there are only two of us. How is that even possible? But what I’ve come to understand is when I say there are six days to get things done, I get things done in six days. Do I get it done perfectly? No, but it gets done.
Jim: I’m gonna ask you that question about children in a broader context, because so many people—we’ve got a 3- and 5-year-old, you know, the foster kids that were with us, and it’s busy. I mean I was feeling really bad because Jean was running so fast all of a sudden.
Jim: You know, being the mom of a couple of teenagers is one thing. That has its busyness, but it’s kind of orderly busyness. Now it’s chaos busyness, and you know there’s just so much to do. How does a mom of younger children cope with getting it all done? They’re feeling overwhelmed all the time. Is that just a season, sometimes you have to live in a season and accept it and know that there’s gonna be sunshine coming or what?
Kathi: So I think one, yes, it is a season. They are not gonna be toddlers for the rest of your life.
Jim: How do you avoid making that an excuse for the season being 15 years, 20 years?
Kathi: Yeah, so I think one, is to find out what healthy people do in the circumstances, how they are running their lives, what choices are they making? And I think that there is such a stigma for people who ask for help. We need to ask for help if you are being overwhelmed by your kids, because there’s overwhelmed, and then there is the overwhelmed that is damaging on a daily basis, where you are feeling so under water every single day. And for some reason we think we need to do this all on our own. We think “good moms,” oh, just the good mom persona can make us all crazy. We think that everybody else is doing it. We’re doing it without help.
One of the things we talk about in the book is that, you know the expression, “How much do you have on your plate?” Well, we have to realize everybody has different-size plates. Some of us are walking around with turkey platters and some of us are walking around with teacup saucers. And if all you can do is keep those little kids alive, know that about yourself and be okay with that.
Don’t compare yourself to other people who are raising children. You know, they’ve got eight kids and they’re homeschooling and they are running a home business and they’re serving the community. That person has a turkey platter and may be borrowing other people’s plates, let’s just be honest.
If you have a smaller plate, you have a smaller capacity, you get overwhelmed easy; maybe you’re an HSP, maybe it’s the time in your life, whatever. Recognize the size of your plate and live off of that. Don’t try to do more than God has designed for this time in your life.
Jim: Well, you’ve described it so well, and that’s the place, unfortunately, that we have to wrap up the conversation. This has been so good, Kathi and Cheri. Thanks for being so vulnerable and open about these things in your lives and how you have begun, Cheri, to your point, to overcome these things and know them and to begin to make the adjustments.
Jim: Let me turn to you, I think many women who are listening saying, “This is me. I’m desperate. I’m overwhelmed. I’m feeling like I’m in a tidal wave,” as you described, Cheri. “And every morning I wake up, that tsunami is hitting me and I can’t seem to get on top of this.” Let’s start by getting the book, Overwhelmed. I think there [are] so many great things there. The self-assessment is in there to identify what type of personality you tend to be. And I know there [are] always exceptions, but these are the general rules of thumb to ensure that you know who you are as best you can do that. And then begin to apply these things.
Here at Focus on the Family we have caring Christian counselors who can help you in that process as well, but I’d say start there. Do the self-assessment. We’ll have it at the website, John. Get a copy of the book. Let’s turn your life around together. Let’s get to the point where you don’t have to wake up every morning feeling overwhelmed, because of the great work and the insights that both Kathi and Cheri have put in their book, Overwhelmed.
And I’d say when you make a gift of any amount, and I’m saying any amount; if you can’t afford $15 or $20, if you can afford the postage, let’s get it to you and get it done. And of those who can help us to offset the expense of that, thanks for supporting the ministry.
John: Right, so the micro step, to use the phrase that we’ve talked about today, the first step is just go to http://focusonthefamily.com/radio or if it’s easier call 800-A-FAMILY and we’ll help you connect with the book and CD or download and other resources to help you get out of that sense of being overwhelmed.
All right, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today. I’m John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting your back on Monday. We’ll hear from Jonathan Evans about the impact that family devotions had on him as a child.
Mr. Jonathan Evans: And now that I look back, I think about my formation as a Christian, as a man came from that time over the table, even though I was rolling my eyes because I was mad because I was missing “The Cosby Show.” (Laughter)
End of Clip
John: Well, the importance of family devotions, perhaps around the dinner table, is the subject that we’ll address on our next “Focus on the Family” radio program with Jonathan Evans. His dad is Dr. Tony Evans. Join us then as we once again help you and your family thrive.