3 things to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Apparently, the last post (“9 signs you may be at your limit”) struck a chord with a lot of people. I think many of us felt at least a few of the indicators, and have felt that the way we’re doing life right now isn’t the way we’d like to do things for the rest of our lives — nor would it be sustainable.

Question markThe next big question that several people asked was: “What can we do about it?”

Here are some ideas (learned from others!):

1. Audit your time. Many of us feel overwhelmed but can’t place our finger on exactly why — we might point to something broad like “Work’s a lot right now,” or “There are too many people to try to catch up with.” A helpful exercise — one taught me by my brother Clem — is to actually sit down and look at how you spend your time. You may discover, as Clem did when he did this a number of years ago, that you’re trying to pack too many things into a finite number of hours. So consider:

  • How much time does work take?
  • How much time do you have after that?
  • How much time do you spend watching Netflix or TV shows?
  • How much time do you have to recharge your batteries?
  • How much time do you give to your family?
  • How much time do you spend with God?

2. Differentiate between a busy season and a busy lifestyle. This is something my counselor mentioned to me, and I found it a really helpful distinction. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there’s a time for everything, but it can be hard for us to discern whether we’re ‘just’ in the middle of a particularly busy season of life or whether we’re living in an unsustainably busy way.

Snow on the doorknobOne question to ask yourself is, “Is there a discernible end to this season?” Christmas and Easter are particularly busy times of year for me, but I know that once those days pass, things will calm down (a little). Just as there are signs when seasons change (like, for instance, oh … the snow stopping when it’s time for spring), busy seasons should have clear indicators of when they’re ending.

However, if you’re thinking that your busy seasons just keep following one another, you’re probably living in the Southern California of life — where there’s only one season, and it’s busy. And if it’s unsustainably and unhealthily busy, you may need to re-prioritize and practice saying no (even, and especially, to good things).

3. Establish healthy rhythms of life, building in time for things that give you joy. Whether you’re currently in a busy season or engaging in an unsustainably busy lifestyle, there are some helpful rhythms to practice to move toward a healthier, fuller way of living. Ruth Haley Barton lists a few in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership:

  • Work and rest. Learning how to sabbath is key to counter the workaholic busyness of our culture without descending into laziness; and if you’re in this for the long haul, learning to rest is indispensable. (Click here for more on sabbath: “In the beginning … rest.“)
  • Engagement and retreat. There are times when we press forward, starting new initiatives, beginning new projects, taking on the challenges of life and work in a broken world; and then there are times when we step back in order to recover, to recuperate, to heal the wounds caused by those challenges of life and work in a broken world. Remember that the weight of the world does not weigh on your shoulders; remember that God is at work — he was long before you came onto the scene and he will be long after you’re gone.
  • Silence and word, stillness and action. “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,” reads Proverbs 10:19 (which Ruth quotes). Too often we jump straight into sharing our thoughts or leaping into action without first being silent and still before God to hear what he might want for us, or even to figure out what we really think or want to do. Should I engage in this new venture? Should I say yes to this possibility? Should I voice my opinion or say what I think? Learning to live out of a deep reservoir usually involves pressing pause before pressing play.
  • Self-knowledge and self-examination. It can be tempting to think that once we’ve taken enough tests (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Strengths Finder, etc.), we can just rely on our instincts or our understanding of who we (think we) are. But the call of Jesus is constant and continual discipleship, learning and relearning how to do life with God. Psalm 139:23-24 should be a constant refrain in our lives: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
  • Finding a way of life together. Our inclination is to be self-sufficient, to find more and more ways not to need others (buy all your own stuff, have your own back yard, etc.) but the way of Jesus is one in which we do life in community. If you aren’t already, find a local church to plug in to, join a small group, cultivate connections in which you give life to others and others give life to you.  Don’t lone-wolf this. (Yes, I made that a verb.)

Life is constantly changing — new technologies (or TV shows) to distract us; old friendships fading away, new friendships popping up; quitting a job, finding a job; finding new hobbies, forgetting to make time for old hobbies; families growing and shrinking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

This is our God. This is the life he invites us into.

There isn’t a formula that allows us to plug in certain data and come up with the secret to good living — but part of what makes life worth living is the sometimes-arduous, never-boring, ultimately-rewarding process of becoming the kind of people who are actively seeking to live as God would have wanted us to live; the journey of learning how to be more like Jesus; and the privilege of having the Spirit of God help us do that with peace in the busyness, with joy in the brokenness, with hope in the pessimism, and with focus in the anxiety and freneticism and stress.

“Take heart,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC

Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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