When You Feel Overwhelmed (+ Helpful, Practical Advice)

The past thirteen days have been rough. My Spring Break trip to Michigan was chill, inspiring, and rejuvenating–but I always have a hard time getting back into my routines. It’s like my mind forgets what “structure” means.

And with the long lists in my bullet journal, I desperately need structure to get it done. During family worship, my dad’s routine prayer for me is, “and help Callie with her school and…all the other things she has going on.” It’s definitely the most succinct way of putting it. 

I admit that I am easily overwhelmed; but that fact does not diminish the awful feeling of being overwhelmed. The sensation is akin to drowning no matter the cause–you desperately want air but you can’t seem to find it.

Here are some things that have helped me, and I hope they help you!

1. Say “No” to Say “Yes”

It is a universal rule that in order to say yes to something, you have to say no to others. The boyfriend tells me it’s called opportunity cost. Simply put, you cannot do everything. Yes, that cape looks good on you, but the lack of sleep and worn nerves do not. There are only 24 hours in the day, and you really should sleep for about 8 of them. So we need to use the other 16 wisely.

People-pleasers, I know it’s hard to disappoint. Perfectionists, I know it’s hard to let someone do it “their way” (AKA the wrong way). Renaissance wo/man, I know it’s hard to simplify. But quality and quantity cannot coexist in responsibilities. One must give. If you want to be excellent (and sane), the quantity has to be super intentional.

Try this:

1. Make a list of all the demands on your time. Keep them specific, but macro. Some of mine are: Teaching ESL, Worried Sapling blog, Relationship with the Boyfriend, My Family, Working Aftercare, & Exercise.

The amount of words isn’t as important as your ability to know how much time each takes. Some people like to list the amount of time they need for each, but honestly it varies for me so much that I go by feel. You do you. (Here’s an app if you want to track time. Or just use lined paper and a pen if you’re old school like me.)

2. Put the list in order of importance. (If you’d rather not rewrite them, just rank them starting with 1).

Ask yourself if I absolutely had to give up some of these, which would I hold onto no matter what? Your reasoning is up to you, it just needs to be important to you (not important to others. That doesn’t last.)

3. Decide if you can give up 1-3 of these commitments. I highly recommend it, but all situations are different.

I gave up two commitments in the past thirteen days. One was a weekly call about something I’m passionate about, the other was a lucrative writing hobby (that I’m also passionate about). I need the money, but I need the peace of mind more.

2. Strategize Your Time

My bullet journal is my best friend. I have monthly/weekly goals and then break them down into daily tasks. This way, I can focus my mind on today without being overwhelmed by all that is to come. I know if I strategize, I’ll get done what I need to when I need to.

3. Schedule Breaks

You need short breaks and long breaks. My short breaks look like pomodoro breaks, an hour to hand letter and relax, and going to bed early (naps are also a favorite).

Long breaks look like weekly Sabbaths (24 hours of no work whatsoever), weekend/weeklong trips, and sometimes just a morning hanging in PJs drinking tea. Constant work is impossible and unnecessary. Your mind being overwhelmed may be a cry for rest.

4. Why are You Overwhelmed?

It’s important to figure out why you are overwhelmed. Are you juggling too many responsibilities? Is there a looming deadline stressing you out? Or is it something completely separate pervading everything else?

Recently, I had a very introspective, enlightening conversation with a mentor. With the details on my mind, I found myself overwhelmed by normal occurrences. It was hard to concentrate. This one experience was bleeding through the pages of my day.

Grab a close friend or mentor, or even a journal, and try to pinpoint what’s going on. Where is this feeling coming from? It’s easier to fix a leak if you can find it.

5. Pray About It All Specifically

I’ve started writing this paragraph a dozen times, and I’m struck by how cliche it sounds, but it’s true: prayer works. Don’t confuse prayer with worrying with a little Jesus thrown in.

Prayer looks like an intentional conversation. When I’m overwhelmed, I’ll kneel on my prayer blanket and tell God everything that’s going through my mind right then. I am detailed, I have anxiety, and I talk really fast; but God doesn’t miss a word. No filter is required in His presence, no pretense is needed to look better than, and there is no better listener nor healer. Some will say it’s just talking through it, others will credit the Holy Spirit (as I do), but it always brings peace. Resolutions? Sometimes. Usually. But not all the time. But always peace. Because really, Jesus still sits on His throne. He still died for me. Those things still hold true.

Hang in there, soldier. It’s not always easy, but it gets better. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.