Truth time. I have felt overwhelmed lately (and by lately, I mean for over a year now). It’s the kind of overwhelm that makes me want to sprawl out on my living room couch, swaddle myself under my plush blanket and just binge out on the latest Netflix show because I don’t have enough energy to give.
It’s the kind of overwhelm that brings tears to my eyes when a close friend texts me “how are you doing?” because I feel like such a failure in multiple areas of my life right now. It’s the kind of overwhelm where I simply can’t keep up, so I don’t even start. The kind where I am beating myself up with the “shoulds”- like I should get more done every day, I should eat healthier at each meal, I should have a perfectly picked-up house, I should behave perfectly, I should be better at spending time with God and my family, taking care of myself and following up with friends. Maybe you feel the same? If you do, then welcome to the Overwhelm Club. You my dear are not alone.
We all feel overwhelmed at times, but when that overwhelm becomes a regular part of our daily life it can begin to steal our joy, destroy our health and kill our dreams. I don’t know about you, but my overwhelmed feelings were not just happening during my busiest weeks and then going away when things calmed down a bit. I was constantly feeling overwhelmed. It had become a way of living for me. Even when I set boundaries, took days of rest, and did everything I knew how to do to de-stress, I still felt incompetent, inadequate and overloaded.
Then a few weeks ago, I read John 14:27 (NIV) which says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
As I read that verse, it dawned on me (no pun intended) that I had swapped the word “peace” for “perfection.” Even though I don’t try to chase it because I’ve realized the absurdity of it, striving for perfection is something I continually have to guard my heart against.
You see I am a good auntie, sister, daughter, and girlfriend, but I’m not a perfect one. I am a good employee, business owner, writer, coach, and leader, but I’m not a perfect one. I am a good breakfast maker (outside of that you don’t really want me to cook you a meal) and a good housekeeper, but I’m not a perfect one. We were given the gift of peace, not perfection. And so once again I am reminding myself and maybe you too, that overwhelm is not a symptom, but rather a signal that we are out of alignment with who God created us to be because we are focused on perfection, not on His peace.
So what steps can we take to reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed and instead experience peace? The answer doesn’t lie in just slowing down, finding a new job or making some key adjustments in your schedule, while some of those options may be needed, they are not the ultimate solution. The true root of overwhelm exists in our hearts and minds, not our busy lives. Therefore, these five steps I am going to share with you focus on transforming our lives from the inside out in order to overcome our overwhelm.
Step 1 – Remember
Remember that God is in control, that He will take care of you and that you need to turn to Him first, not last, when feeling overwhelmed. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 61:2 (NLT) that when we cry for help when our hearts are overwhelmed, God will lead us to the “towering rock of safety”.
Step 2- Recognize
What do you tell yourself when you feel overwhelmed? What lies do you tell yourself? “Suck it up.” “Just keep going.” “It could be worse.” “I should be more on top of things.” “There is something wrong with me.” In our efforts to rally, we can end up dismissing and invalidating our own feelings and buying into a lie. If you find yourself overwhelmed often, you need to recognize the lies, rather than ignoring your feelings and powering through.
Step 3 – Reset
Reset your schedule and your thinking. Maybe you feel the pressure of saying yes to everyone and everything, but that isn’t God’s plan. Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone, because Jesus knew His purpose. So step back and look at your schedule with God as your tour guide to help you filter out tasks that may not be bad in and of themselves, but are ultimately not helping you live out your purpose.
And when it comes to resetting your thinking, grab your journal or a piece of paper and make a list of the things that are causing you to feel overwhelmed. Next, write out this sentence for each issue listed and fill in the blank to allow your focus to shift to the ways that God is addressing the issue. “I feel overwhelmed by _________________. Thank you God for reminding me that you have already conquered, covered, defeated and promised me victory in this area of my life. I choose to be an overcomer. I choose to be overwhelmed by you.”
Step 4- Reflect
I am encouraged by the words of Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT). “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand”. Did you catch that? God’s peace is a byproduct of prayer. So, in order to restore alignment and overcome the overwhelm we need to spend time in prayer and reflection with God. Take time to share your heart with God and then also ask questions like, “is this a me expectation or a God expectation?” and “How am I trying to control the situation, instead of letting God take control of it?”
Step 5 – Receive
God’s peace is not something we have to earn, but rather it is something to be received. So relax, be calm, take a deep breath through your nose as you think the words “Jesus I receive your peace” and then as you exhale think “and I give you my overwhelm.” Repeat this several times until you begin to relax your muscles and thoughts. Don’t reject the gift of peace through worry, complaining, or doubt, rather open your heart and receive what God freely wants to give to you.
Jesus had more cause to feel overwhelmed and burdened than any of us. Yet, he did not curl up into a ball and veg out. He did not ask God for a “better” job. He did not wish for a different life. Rather, He allowed God to empower Him and help Him overcome persecution, betrayal and even death. He remembered who God was. He recognized the lies the enemy told Him in the wilderness. He reset His mind to God’s truths and made sure to put margin in His schedule to spend time reflecting and praying. And He received the peace and hope that God promises each of us. As a result, He met each and every challenge with a relaxed and calm attitude because He knew that overwhelm was inevitable, but that through God He would overcome! And you can too!
May you rest in His love and feel the peace which surpasses all understanding. May you cast all your anxieties on Him and may He guide you every step as you walk the path of peace and overcome your overwhelm!