“I’m so overwhelmed!”
I remember sitting at my desk and speaking those words to an empty office in a moment of frustration and exhaustion. My employer had sought a particular industry designation for several years, and we were close to the finish line. The only thing that stood in the way was completing a comprehensive 50-page report with over a hundred graphs and accompanying explanations. And I alone was in charge of drafting the report, with a tight deadline and no room for error.
After countless revisions, the report was still not complete. Several of my coworkers kept insisting on changes, often in direct contradiction to each other. Some suggested reworking the entire document. Others suggested adding additional sections. All the while, the deadline crept closer and closer. Still, I was able to submit the final report one day before the deadline.
I woke up the following day excited that the project was complete. My excitement quickly transformed to frustration as I opened my email inbox to discover another litany of changes. This additional request for changes seemed impossible to complete in time, especially since I had planned to spend most of the day on the road to visit with my family. You see, it was Christmas Eve, and my plans had just been upended.
At that moment, I was utterly overwhelmed.
You can probably relate. Maybe there have been times when you’ve had too much on your plate as well. Maybe circumstances in your personal life have pushed you to your breaking point. Perhaps you know what it’s like to daydream about sending your phone and all its notifications on a one-way trip into a nearby lake. The details may change, but you probably know what it’s like to be overwhelmed.
If that’s true, I hope this post will help. Here are seven practical suggestions that may help you overcome overwhelm.
- Practice healthy sleep habits. Rest is a gift from the Lord. He has created us in such a way that we need downtime to refresh and recharge on a regular basis. And by regular, I mean daily. When we fail to get enough sleep, we deprive our bodies of one of our most basic physiological needs. The result is that our physical, mental, and emotional capabilities are impaired, and the potential for experiencing overwhelm in our circumstances increases exponentially. Therefore, make sure to get a good night’s rest – tonight and every night.
- Schedule time with the Lord. Whenever the items on our “To-Do List” increase, our time with the Lord usually decreases. For many of us, we skip our personal Bible study and prayer time altogether to get a jumpstart on our tasks or responsibilities. Unfortunately, this approach is often counterproductive. When we begin each day with the Lord, it places us in the proper mental and spiritual state of mind. It also allows us to view our circumstances and tasks through the appropriate lens. For example, when someone unexpectedly interrupts our plans for the day or adds items to our task list, our time in His Word is more likely to remind us that God allowed the change for a reason. Given this proper perspective, we will be less likely to experience a sense of overwhelm. Therefore, make sure that you don’t neglect your time with the Lord. Put it on your calendar each day, and don’t miss the appointment!
- Break the addiction with your phone. I have a love/hate relationship with my smartphone. On the one hand, I love the fantastic apps and wealth of information available at my fingertips. On the other hand, I hate the endless stream of notifications that fight for my attention. Each time my phone rings, buzzes or vibrates, I’m pulled away from what I’m working on to a land far, far away. Ironically, as I typed the previous sentence, my phone buzzed to alert me that my beloved Cincinnati Reds routed the Philadelphia Phillies. That’s great, but it has nothing to do with this blog post! Each time we pick up our phones, we break our concentration and often double, triple, or even quadruple the time it takes to complete our work. Therefore, turn off nearly all notifications. At the very least, put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode while you work. If you’re wondering if you’re addicted to your phone or if you’re looking for practical tips to break the addiction, check out this post.
- Learn to say no. This suggestion is easy to type but hard to practice. One of the biggest reasons why we often feel overwhelmed is because we overcommit ourselves. We say yes to requests when we have no business doing so. Each time we do so, we add another ball to our juggling act, and it may be the ball that causes us to drop them all. Yes, as followers of Christ, we are called to serve others, but we are not called to serve everyone in equal measure or at the same time. We are finite creatures. We have limits. Even Jesus did not always make Himself available to the needs of others (see Mark 1:36-38 or Luke 5:15-16). He set appropriate boundaries. He was intentional with His time, and His followers must be intentional as well. Therefore, learn to say no. It’s a proactive maneuver to prevent those feelings of overwhelm before they appear.
- Make a written list. In my own life, overwhelm creeps in most often when I know I have a lot to do but no designated list or plan of action for completing my tasks. Everything is just floating around in my head, which often causes my blood pressure to rise. However, I have discovered that the simple act of writing down all my tasks is a therapeutic exercise. Once everything is on paper, the list often becomes less daunting and much more manageable. Furthermore, I can now develop a plan of action by prioritizing what’s best next. The list doesn’t have to be written by hand, of course. You can use a task management app of your choosing. (Todoist and Apple Reminders are two of my favorites.) The simple act of making a list always reduces my sense of overwhelm, and I pray that it will do the same for you.
- Use a gratitude journal. One of the best ways to avoid succumbing to overwhelm is to shift our focus. Instead of dwelling on our problems or our mountain of responsibilities staring us in the face, we should dwell on our blessings. In other words, whenever we begin to feel overwhelmed, we should take a few moments to think about all the ways God has blessed us. When we do so, God will fill our hearts with thankfulness and joy. In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). In other words, one of the best ways to overcome overwhelm and worry is to dwell on the myriad of reasons for which we can be thankful. That’s why I recommend keeping a journal in which you jot down at least 2-3 reasons every day for which you are grateful. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, just flip through a few entries, and I suspect that the God of peace will settle your heart and mind.
- Take a day off. As I mentioned earlier, our bodies require rest. When we push ourselves beyond our limits, we pay the consequences. In addition to practicing healthy sleep habits, we should also take a day off from work each week. Just as God rested from His work on the seventh day, He has provided us an example to follow. He has given us the gift of sabbath rest to take a break from our labors to restore strength to our bodies and joy to our souls. Remember, as Jesus said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, a day off is a gracious gift from the Lord. Unfortunately, when we have a lot on our plates, we are tempted to keep working. To keep pressing on. To skip the sabbath. But, sooner or later, our lack of rest will catch up with us, and the dreaded overwhelm will return. God gave you the gift of sabbath rest. Don’t neglect it!
After a long weekend, you may have a long list of tasks staring you in the face today. If so, I pray that you will implement a few of these suggestions to help you fight against a sense of overwhelm today!