I know better. Still, I sit staring at my outlook calendar, steno pad full of unfinished tasks, editorial calendar and goal review sheet. Clenching my pen tighter with each forced inhale, eyes closed in a weak attempt at silencing my inner critic, a frustrated exhale escapes despite my efforts at controlled breathing. It all started with a fleeting thought: reduce overwhelm and put joy back into my life.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
causes of overwhelm
Often many things align resulting in feelings of overwhelm: most bear the marks of self-infliction while others result from unexpected changes or demands. Understanding the causes helps reduce overwhelm and positions you in a better place for enjoying life.
- Overcommitment-too much on your To-Do List.
- Time deficit-not enough time for accomplishing tasks or completing commitments.
- “Great” Expectations-of yourself and your abilities. Expectations others have of you and your abilities.
- Keeping up appearances-everyone is counting on you, stopping or slowing down looks like failure.
- Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual empty tank-essentially refusing to rest or recharge.
- Unmanaged stress-ignoring your body’s signals of stress build up with increased anxiety, worry and poor decision making.
- Limiting perspectives-refusing to see another way of doing things.
- Self-focus verses God focus-focusing on what you want verses allowing God to direct your path, calendar and To Do List.
Many causes beyond our control contribute to overwhelm, but understanding the ways we create overwhelm for ourselves provides an immediate avenue for reducing situational overwhelm.
Along with reducing the frequency with which we experience overwhelm, managing seasons of overwhelm moves us towards the elimination of the uncomfortable mental and physical side effects of overwhelm.
results of overwhelm
Arriving in a place of overwhelm often occurs through actions we take, but even more often this out of control state results from our thought patterns. When someone tells me they feel anxious, unsettled, or as if life seems out of control; I ask them about their thoughts immediately preceeding these feelings of overwhelm.
More often than not, they conditioned their minds with limiting beliefs (rigid negative thinking), fear, expectations and self-imposed deadlines or pressures. They went down a rabbit hole of unmanageable demands, and seeing no way out, sacrificed themselves in the process, creating (yes you guessed it) more overwhelm.
unpleasant side effects of overwhelm
Realizing the tendency for over-committing, unrealistic expectations, and an undisciplined mind, creates awareness of a chronic problem with overwhelm. But many people still prefer ignoring the problem or simply relegating it to their personality type as if they have no ability for change.
But unlike the inherent personality traits of preferring quiet evenings to a noisy outing, chronic overwhelm invokes some substantial side effects.
- Anxiety. Panic attacks, shortness of breath and generalized anxiety are the number one side effect of overwhelm.
- Loss of Motivation. The brain becomes inundated with overthinking, demands and chaotic thought processes resulting in a state of hopelessness.
- Procrastination. Many people view procrastination as laziness, when in fact it results from situations of overwhelm. Bombarded by an oversuffed schedule, demands or pressures, you simply defer starting at all.
- Cognitive Paralysis. Loss of problem solving ability, creative resources, even memory. Forcing the brain into the circular thinking process of reviewing the monumental tasks before you, causes a mini shutdown in the brain.
- Spiritual Lethargy. With so much going on both in your head and in your life, spiritual disciplines take a back seat. Any attempt at prayer or Bible reading results in the frustration of battling intrusive thoughts.
Many of us know well both the feelings and side effects of overwhelm; sadly we have less familiarity with how to stop this uncomfortable cycle. The following mindfulness techniques help reduce overwhelm while creating a much needed pause for clear evaluation of your real needs. Follow with a quiet time of prayer, meditating on the truth of God’s Word.
reducing overwhelm with mindfulness
- The STOP Method. The STOP Method provides a way of stopping a stress reaction before it starts, but also furnishes an alternative to the cycle of overwhelm. Learn the STOP Method HERE.
- Change the Channel. Changing the channel is a form of distraction. When trapped in a cycle of overwhelm, begin mindful breathing, focusing on your breath. Then “change the channel” of your thoughts by reciting the alphabet backwards, recalling in detail a scene from your favorite movie, or my favorite, recite Bible verses from memory slowly, focusing on the words. Another method of changing the channel is working crossword puzzles, sudoku or Bible trivia.
reduce overwhelm by facing the truth
- Stop Your Story. Most people gripped by overwhelm have a story they tell themselves. It usually contains statements like:
- I can’t change my actions or situations because (fill in the blank with numerous excuses)
- I can’t change this committment because (again numerous reasons)
- There is no one who can help me.
All of these statements speak of rigid thinking and a lack of flexibility in seeing a different perspective or solution. At times you become addicted to the drama of your situation and choose remaining stuck. Your story keeps you from changing either your inner way of “being” or your outer way of “doing”.
Ask yourself this question to reveal if your story presents the obstacle for reducing overwhelm, “If I set aside all my reasons, excuses, roadblocks, and absolutely anything was possible, what change could I make either inside, in my way of thinking or outside in my way of doing?”
- Get Practical. God gifted you with amazing abilities unique to you; He created you for a purpose and kingdom inpact, but not on a solo mission. Overwhelm sidetracks you in a thousand directions, yet you go nowhere. To reduce overwhelm, pause, reflect and prioritize.
- Do the important things FIRST. Not everything urgent is important: avoid sacrificing the important on the altar of the urgent.
- Avoid allowing others the choice of what is important.
- Prioritize. Determine the important things and go down from there. Focus on one task at a time. Avoid multi-tasking as it stresses the brain.
- Rest. Plan times of rest, the more overwhelm you feel, the more rest you need.
- Ask for help or delegate tasks.
reduce overwhelm with Scripture
Staring at my outlook calendar, steno pad full of unfinished tasks, editorial calendar and goal review sheet, sadly I realized I never took the time for prayer and sitting quietly with the Lord. So often spiritual amnesia sets in as I view everyday committments, tasks, opportunities and responsibilities as simply the mundane of life.
But the Apostle Paul reminds me in 1 Corithians 10:31, “ So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” What is more mundane than eating and drinking, yet even then we glorify God by the manner in which we do it. And lest any doubt remains, Colossians 3:17 clears it up, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.“
seek god’s wisdom
Honoring God in our actions, responsibilities, opportunities, committments and whatever labors present themselves becomes an impossibility if we get lost in the cycle of overwhelm. The mindfulness techniques and practical suggestions above offer helpful tools for reducing overwhelm, but the greatest tool at our disposal remains seeking God’s wisdom through praying scripture.
By praying God’s words, not mine, I literally took my own thoughts captive, forcing their submission to truth. The following verses are my most effective weapons. I memorized these and several more, so I had them at the ready anytime. If memorization is hard for you, make up index cards you keep with you for easy reference.
- Philippians 4:6-9
- Romans 12:2
- Isaiah 26:3-4
- Romans 8:31-39
- 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
- 2 Corinthians 10:5
- Psalm 94:19
- Psalm 46:10
- Proverbs 3:5-8
- Joshua 1:9
- 2 Thessalonians 3:16
- Psalm 56:3-4
Everyone experiences overhelm at one time or another; unexpected circumstances and life’s hard places press us beyond measure. But the times we create overwhelm by poor choices, spiritual neglect, people pleasing or unrealistic expectations, we forfeit the abundant life Christ purchased for us.
Christ came that we might have abundant life, (John 10:10) but when we allow overwhelm control over our lives, satan swoops in and steals our joy in God’s good things. We sacrifice life giving time with God, family and friends and our own well-being to a cruel taskmaster. Pause, find rest, peace and wisdom in God’s Presence.
Overheard in an Orchard
Sais the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”