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.

12 thoughts on “What to do when life seems overwhelming

  1. A timely message Elaine. We get caught up in our own angst and forget others are likely struggling through similar issues and worries. Sending prayers for your dental concerns. And good luck with the home renos, that’s a challenge for any of us.
    Loved the performance on Saturday night! Your “character” in particular, with some of her comments, made me think that Norah Muldoon was a total opposite to the things that Elaine DeBock would say. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the play, Jan! That’s one of the things I love best about drama; the opportunity to be someone completely different from myself. It’s a great escape!

  2. I hope your gum is healing, Elaine. All your advice is excellent. I find praying helps tremendously, and I focus on gratitude. When I had Lyme disease I thanked God for giving me a strong immune system to fight it. And I did my bit, taking the treatment, exercising and eating right and enjoying lots of tea and hot baths. 😉 In the end, though it sounds a bit Pollyannaish, I was grateful to have got Lyme, because it really made me focus on improving my health, and it renewed my faith in God. I’m happy to say I am well now. Sorry about your ceiling. Those sorts of problems are a costly nuisance.I hope you find a good plasterer to fix it. Enjoying your blog! Thanks!

    • Thank you for commenting, Heather! I’m so glad to hear that you are well again and that you can testify to how something as difficult as Lyme disease can have positive results when we depend on God!

  3. All of these are marvelous suggestions–especially gratitude and prayer. I have this, from The Will of God, by Frederick William Faber, tucked in my Bible: When obstacles and trials seem Like prison walls to be, I do the little I can do, And leave the rest to thee.

  4. Matthew 6:34 has been my focus and II Timothy 1:6-7 has been my strength in this past year of helping my husband through his health issues. I am thankful for retirement that allows us to truly focus on his health…and my heart goes out to those who are still working and must still deal with such life-changing challenges.
    Prayers for you and the issues that you face…especially your health!

    • I agree completely, Charlene! I don’t know how we would have managed to cope with my health issues over the past few years if we’d still been working. Praying for you and your husband!

  5. Hello,
    I stumbled upon this site, thank you for all the helpful advice on how to relax, I’ll have tea and will definitely pray, it will surely help. I wonder which church did you leave and why? I’m sorry you felt the need to leave, unfortunately it happens. I’ll say a prayer for you. When you get a chance please tune in to relevantradio.com – Perhaps there’s a radio station in your area, or you can download their free app and listen on your phone anywhere. God bless you!

    • I’m glad you found my blog and that it was helpful! I won’t name the church that we left or go into any details here, but I will say that we felt very strongly led by God to leave. Thankfully, we have found a new church home where we have been warmly welcomed and where we have many opportunities to learn, grow, and serve. God is good and when we act in obedience, He pours out His blessings!

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