As a systems and technology manager of a major company, part of my job is to coach employees. In recent years I have seen an increase of people who feel overwhelmed with their work and home lives.
They feel trapped in three general ways:
Their problems seem more prolific than they were in times past.
- Their challenges are bigger and tougher than they used to be.
- Life seems much more complex than it used to be.
In general, people are feeling more overwhelmed these days because they sense that the world is tilted out of control. (It was probably never in control, but that's another story.)
Both men and women feel overwhelmed with all the tasks staring them in the face. Their work appears too large, too complicated, too insurmountable, too much. My company works on projects that can take years to finish. The scope of some of them intimidates even some of the hardiest employees. To them, the task simply seems bigger than they are.
Do you ever have feelings like these? If so, read on to find several ideas that can help you learn how to feel less overwhelmed.
Why do we feel overwhelmed?
I've noticed that the sense of being overwhelmed centers on one or more of the following phenomena:
- A feeling that the magnitude of the task at hand is too big to handle.
- Being put in the position of having to do things you've never done before.
- Being put in or caught up in circumstances where you don't know what to do (a situation especially aggravated when you have had no training to deal with it and there appears to be no plan).
- The fear of failure.
All of these feelings have one thing in common—fear.
The core of being overwhelmed is fear—being afraid of the unknown and lacking confidence in our abilities to deal with the unexplored and unfamiliar. But we don't need to let fear and anxiety freeze us. There are principles we can apply that will help us get a grip on our feelings of anxiety and not let them gain control over us.
Watch your health
One way to gain the upper hand when you're feeling overwhelmed is to watch your health. Usually that anxious, defeatist sensation comes over us when we are worn out.
We need to know that exhaustion can have a major impact on how we see our tasks at hand. Most of the instances of being overwhelmed that I've seen have come when someone was extremely tired or even exhausted.
Our modern way of living places many demands on our time, and it's easy to neglect our health. Be sure to make time for rest, relaxation, exercise and sleep, and eat a balanced diet. You'll be surprised how much better you can cope with life's challenges.
Manage the overwhelming
We tend to look at a project as a monolithic unit rather than a batch of small parts. Yet by mentally taking apart the task, we can avoid feeling overwhelmed at its magnitude.
Here is a simple suggestion: Work out a way to break the task down into small, doable parts. Then take it one little piece at a time.
I learned the importance of this approach years ago when I built a home in Wisconsin. Intent on saving money and getting some good exercise at the same time, I determined that my wife and I would do our own landscaping. I arranged to have 12 truckloads of topsoil brought in for our lawn, which we would then spread by hand.
Even after exhaustion and a sick, sinking feeling set in, my manly pride kept me at the task. I found that the only way I could do the job was to break it down into one pile at a time, one wheelbarrow trip at a time, one shovel swing at a time.
I could handle that. We did well, manually spreading eight of the 12 loads of topsoil.
Around that time an opportunity arose to hire someone to spread the remaining four truckloads with a bulldozer. It cost only $50 and took a lot of stress off our marriage!
From this I also learned the valuable lesson that, as already noted, it is important to break large jobs down into smaller ones. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither are other large projects.
When faced with a major task, don't worry or become anxious about it. Realize that it will take time. Lay out the tasks and schedule each day's work. Set smaller goals and actually work toward them. If the job is still too intimidating, break it into even smaller bits and extend the schedule. This approach makes many jobs much more manageable.
Look for alternatives
I learned another valuable lesson from seeing the 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 you have too many responsibilities, remove those that are not as important.
Ask yourself: Do I really need to do this? You may find you are spending considerable time and energy—and too much worry—on things that aren't necessary. Concentrate instead on the essential. Make those things your priority.
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 to overwhelm us, we have God's promises that He will work with us to see us through (see "Biblical Solutions to Anxiety").
Talk things over with Him in prayer. Such communication with God is helpful in several ways. Prayer helps us focus on what is most important. It enables us to have clearer minds. Prayer resets the mind—lets us mentally start over—and allows us, with God's help, to find alternative ways to deal with our challenges.
Ask God to help you evaluate and properly set your priorities. Sometimes we need to learn a lesson about taking on too much. We should learn that lesson quickly. Otherwise we'll unnecessarily overburden ourselves. Applying some of the advice in this article should make it easier. Remember that fear lies at the root of much of our anxiety, and we shouldn't allow it to immobilize us.
Consider Paul's words in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" And Jesus reminds us that "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
With God's help, we should be able to cast aside fear and anxiety. We should be able to focus on what is appropriate and possible—and then do it. GN