I shivered as we approached the automatic doors thinking, this is last place I want to be on a subzero night. I strode over to the check-in desk with my teenager in tow.
“May I see your insurance card?” the receptionist asked.
While she entered information into the computer, I gazed over the brimming waiting area. Coughing, sneezing, glassy-eyed and crimson-cheeked patients and their companions filled nearly every chair. The walk-in clinic in flu season promised a lengthy wait.
“Thank you. Please have a seat.”
In a medical clinic, it isn’t difficult to guess which are the sick people. We judge from their symptoms, and we avoid them. Who likes getting sick? Even at home, when someone is ill, we wash our hands more, use separate hand towels and we try not to share germs. But a bigger epidemic than influenza is sweeping our culture. This wave is more subtle than a respiratory virus, but if we look close enough, we might see that the disease has spread even to our own homes.
Listen closely to those around you. Listen to your own words. How often do you hear, “I’m too busy,” or “I can’t rest right now?” In the grocery store, we see the mother with little ones trailing behind. “Hurry up,” she says, “We’re going to be late.” This is the disease of feeling chronically short of time which leads to an ongoing sense of frustration. People with hurry sickness never have time to relax.
Hurry sickness isn’t the only culprit in the epidemic. Its near cousin is overload syndrome, a title that describes the stress that comes from having too much—too much stress, too many possessions, a crowded schedule, and an overloaded mind. The overloaded person seems to live from one crisis to another, and when a new stressor comes along, he or she goes into a meltdown. Eventually it wears down the physical body as well.
A close examination of the hurried or the overloaded person might give some clues to yet another culprit in the epidemic. Those who are always trying to keep up with the Jones, with ever-increasing debt, likely suffer from what has been coined affluenza. As our culture becomes more affluent, there is increased pressure to have more material things. Victims of affluenza frequently suffer from both hurry sickness and overload syndrome as they struggle to get ahead.
If a quick check-up reveals that you are afflicted with any of these or even all three, there is hope. Just as with viral infections, treatment and prevention are essential. Like an antibiotic for an infection, the first prescription in getting better is to deal with the worst of the problem right now. If too much stuff is bogging you down, it’s time to purge your possessions. Give to charity, auction on E-bay, have a yard sale, or take a trip to the landfill, but do whatever you need to do to free yourself of the things that are suffocating you. If hurry is your problem, ask yourself what you are doing right now that you don’t really need to do. Purge your schedule by focusing on what really matters.
Affluenza is a sneaky virus. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have it. I’m a great bargain hunter, and I love shopping at thrift stores, but that doesn’t mean that the pursuit of more stuff doesn’t affect me even in my bargain hunting. It may be difficult to deny our children a Nintendo Wii when everyone else has one; and it’s easy to fall into traps of thinking we need things that we don’t.
Once we identify solutions, it’s time to think about prevention. Just as we wash our hands to prevent the spread of colds and we immunize against the flu, it’s important that we protect our schedules and our minds from relapses. The best prevention is learning to say no. It sounds simple enough, yet it’s difficult to put into action. I struggle too, but it gets easier the more I practice. We can learn how to say no to purchases, no to new commitments, and no to more stuff—even if it is free.
We can wipe out this epidemic, at least in our own homes, by renewing our focus on godliness (Ephesians 4:19), and letting go of worldly desires. We bring emotional health and tranquility to our families by guarding our time, spending wisely, and making God-honoring choices. I think our family could use an overload syndrome booster shot.
This article, written by Michelle, appeared her “Habits for Quality Living” column in the March 2008 issue of Wisconsin Christian News.