What to do when life seems overwhelming

What do you do when life seems overwhelming?


Recent circumstances have resulted in us leaving the church that was our strong support system for many years. We’re living in the midst of a home renovation project gone very wrong and trying to figure out how to deal with that. I’m off to the city early next week to see a specialist about a lump growing on my gums that my dentist hasn’t been able to find the cause of. We’re moving into the busiest season of the year for me in one of the volunteer positions that I hold. And to top it off, we seem to be living through the winter that will never end.

You’ve probably lived through similar seasons. Maybe you’re there right now. You may be dealing with an enormous stressor such as job loss or the death of a loved one or it might simply be an accumulation of smaller aggravations that have left you feeling completely swamped.

So what should we do when life leaves us feeling like we’ve reached the end of our rope?

If you’re a young parent, you probably feel this way a lot of the time and with very good reason! I asked my daughter what her advice would be and her reply was, “In my case the answer is don’t bite off more than you can chew!” That’s good advice for all of us. Sometimes we’re the cause of our own stressful predicaments. We simply take on more than we can handle. None of us has an infinite amount of time available, so perhaps in those cases the answer is learning to prioritize, learning better time management skills, or simply learning to say No!

But what can we do when we’re overwhelmed by circumstances that are beyond our control? I’m reminded of a dear friend who often asks, “In the light of eternity, does this really matter?” Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the situation from a wider perspective. Yes, the new ceiling surface that was applied throughout the main floor of our house on Saturday is a superb example of shoddy workmanship and will have to be redone. We’re not sure how or when that’s going to happen. As stressful and aggravating as that is, it isn’t life threatening and years down the road, it won’t seem as big a deal as it does right now.

The lump on my gum, however, could be a big deal. When you’re a cancer patient, any inexplicable lump or bump is reason for concern, but the same wise friend once reminded me that 99% of the things we worry about never come to pass and all the worrying in the world won’t prevent the other 1%.

Whether we’re overwhelmed by the busyness of life, legitimate concerns, or distressing circumstances that are not of our own making, there are things we can do to help alleviate stress when it threatens to overcome us. What works for me, might not necessarily work for you, but here are a few suggestions to try.

  1. Focus on getting through one day or even one hour at a time. Matthew 6:34 gives this wise advice, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
  2. Don’t skip meals. When I’m severely stressed my appetite is the first to go, but our bodies need fuel. Eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar, fatigue, and brain fog.
  3. Drink a cup of tea. My automatic response to crisis situations has long been to brew a pot of tea, but now studies conducted in the UK have actually shown that drinking a single cup of tea can significantly reduce anxiety levels after suffering a stressful experience.
  4. Escape. Go for a walk or a drive in the country, lose yourself in a good book, get out of the office over your lunch hour. Do whatever it takes to get away from the stressful situation even for a short time.
  5. Exercise. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, exercise in almost any form acts as a stress reliever, providing a distraction from worry and boosting the production of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
  6. Pray. Prayer is an age old stress reliever that doesn’t require a prescription! Taking a few quiet moments to pray can help you gain perspective and find peace in the midst of turmoil. When the situation is so overwhelming that you can’t even find the words to pray, remember that Romans 8:26 tells us that “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
  7. Soak in a hot bath. Add a few drops of lavender oil which is commonly known for its relaxing effects on the body.
  8. Sleep. It may be difficult to quiet your mind enough to get to sleep when life seems overwhelming, but getting a good night’s rest should be a priority. A cup of chamomile tea half an hour before bedtime is widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer. Lavender oil can also be helpful here. Rub 2 or 3 drops on the palms of your hands and inhale deeply then wipe your palms on your pillow to leave a hint of lavender there.
  9. Don’t try to handle everything on your own. Delegate, ask for help, share your struggles. When stress doesn’t go away, and you’ve tried your best to manage it, you may need talk to a doctor or mental health professional about it. There’s absolutely no shame in that.