As a systems and technology manager with a major company, part of my job is to coach employees. In recent years I’ve seen an increase of people being overwhelmed with all that is going on in their lives both at work and at home.
Many of the thoughts I’ve heard from the people I work with can be summed up in three general themes:
* Problems seem more prolific than they used to be.
* Problems seem bigger and tougher than they used to be.
* Life simply seems much more complex than it used to be.
In general, people seem to have a sense that the world is tilted out of control (personally, I never thought it was in control, but that’s beside the point).
People get overwhelmed with all of the tasks staring them in the face. To them, the work appears to be too large, too insurmountable. At my company we work on major projects, some of which can take multiple years. The scope of some projects scares even some of the hardiest workers. To them, the task simply feels bigger than they are.
Do these feelings describe you? If so, continue reading to learn several ways that can help you focus on how to keep from feeling so overwhelmed with all that is going on in your life.
Why do we feel overwhelmed?
In the instances I’ve seen, this sense of being overwhelmed revolves around one or more of the following:
* Feeling that the magnitude of the task at hand is too big for you to handle.
* Being put into the position of doing something that you have not done before.
* Being put in or caught up in circumstances where you don’t know what to do. (This is especially aggravated when you have had no training to deal with it, and there appears to be no plan.)
* Fear of failure.
All of these involve one central anxiety—fear.
Being overwhelmed is fear—being afraid of the unknown or one’s abilities. But we should not let fear and anxiety freeze us. We should apply the following guidelines to get a grip on feelings of being overwhelmed and not let them gain control over us.
Watch your health
One of the most important factors in gaining the upper hand on feelings of being overwhelmed is to watch our health. Usually that anxious, defeatist sensation comes over us when we are tired and worn out.
We need to be aware that our physical health and exhaustion has a major impact on how we feel about things. Most of the instances of being overwhelmed that I’ve seen have been when someone was very tired or exhausted.
Our modern way of living puts a lot of demands on our time, and it’s easy to neglect our health if we aren’t careful. Be sure to make time for proper rest, relaxation, exercise and sleep, and eat a nourishing, balanced diet. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll be able to cope with life’s challenges.
Make the overwhelming manageable
We normally tend to look at a project as a whole rather than a batch of smaller parts. Yet by doing so we can begin to feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of the task.
There is a simple solution: Work out a way to break the task into smaller doable parts. Take it one little piece at a time.
I learned the importance of this approach years ago when we had a new home built in Wisconsin. Being the cheap person I was (and sometimes still can be), I thought it would be good exercise if we did our own landscaping, so I arranged to have 12 truckloads of topsoil brought in for our lawn, which I would then spread by hand. Even after exhaustion set in and the feeling of being totally overwhelmed got to me, my stupid manly pride kept us to the task. I found that the only way I could cope with the job was to break it down into one pile at a time, one wheelbarrow at a time, one shovel at a time.
I could handle that. We did well. We spread eight of the 12 loads of topsoil manually.
Around that time, I think God had mercy on my wife and presented us with an opportunity to have someone spread the remaining four truckloads via a bulldozer. It only cost $50 and probably saved our marriage!
I also learned the valuable lesson that it is important to break large jobs down into smaller pieces. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are projects.
When faced with a major task, don’t worry and get anxious about it. Realize and plan that it will take time. Lay out the tasks to be done each day. Set smaller goals and actually work those goals. If there is still too much, break it into even smaller pieces and extend the schedule. This approach will make many large jobs much more manageable.
Look for alternatives
I learned another valuable lesson from all those truckloads of dirt in my yard: Sometimes we must seek out alternatives. In my case, that turned out to be extra help (in the form of a bulldozer).
If you find that you have too many responsibilities, remove what is not important.
Ask yourself the question: Does this really need to be done? You may find that you are spending considerable time and energy—and too much worry—on things that aren’t really necessary. Concentrate instead on the things that are necessary, and make them your priorities.
You may need more help from family members, coworkers, managers or supervisors. Thoughtfully examine your situation, consider potential solutions and present your case to them.
Seek God’s help
When life seems overwhelming, we have God’s promises that He will work with us.
Talk things over with Him in prayer. Such communication with God is helpful in several important ways. Prayer helps us focus on what is most important. It enables us to have a clearer mind. Prayer can also “reset” the mind and allow us to find alternative ways of dealing with our challenges. Most importantly, God often inspires the solutions that come to mind when you pray. Just be sure that when you pray, and He inspires answers, you don’t take credit to yourself. Give credit were credit is due—to God.
Sometimes we need to learn a lesson about taking on too much. Hopefully we’ll learn that lesson quickly. Otherwise we’ll have to deal with the consequences, putting some of this other advice to use.
Regardless, remember that fear is at the root of much of our anxiety and we shouldn’t let it stand in our way.
Remember what Paul tells us in Romans 8:31 Romans 8:31What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
American King James Version×: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
With God behind us, we should be able to throw away fear and anxiety. We should be able to focus on what is possible to do—and then do it.
Several scriptures give us good advice as to how to deal with fear and anxiety.
Proverbs 12:25 Proverbs 12:25Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop: but a good word makes it glad.
American King James Version×tells us, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” This verse acknowledges something we all know, but could do better at putting into practice.
We all need encouragement, particularly when facing an especially daunting task such as a new project or new responsibility involving new skills and challenges. Make it a part of your job to give encouragement and provide a feeling of confidence among those with whom you work. Take the same approach within your family, too, spreading the kind of “good word” about which Solomon wrote.
Jesus Christ pointed out that, in the end, worry and anxiety really accomplish little. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-34 Matthew 6:25-34 25 Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?
28 And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Why, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
33 But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
American King James Version×).
Christ is not advocating irresponsibility in caring for our families and ourselves. He is pointing out that if we are doing as we should and striving to please God, we can have faith that He will take care of us and see us through life’s many challenges and struggles. Because of this confidence in God, we need not worry or feel anxious.
The Scriptures also assure us that God will never allow us to be burdened with more than we can endure. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
American King James Version×: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (New Revised Standard Version).
When we are feeling overwhelmed, we should review these and many other encouraging scriptures to remind us of God’s promises and love for us.
To see another way you can “take a break” from your day-to-day life, refocus, and reprioritize, please see Sunset to Sunset—God’s Sabbath Rest.