3 Principles to Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

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I have a distinct memory of being in the 5th grade. All of us had to write a report on the Revolutionary War. This was no ordinary report. We were to work on it all year and in the end, mine was about 100 pages. However, one night stands out in my memory. I was seated at the dining room table and there was chaos all around me. Noise. Confusion. Fighting. I sat there looking at my notebook paper with tears streaming down my face. I felt categorically overwhelmed. The noise combined with the challenge of the project left me feeling like I wanted to crawl in bed and cover my head.

Have you ever felt that way? Categorically overwhelmed? Maybe it’s not a project that’s making you feel overwhelmed. Maybe it’s a health crisis, a relational crisis, or a financial crisis. Whatever the difficulty, you feel like you’re drowning!

The Psalmist David wrote about how he felt like he was drowning in Psalm 42. He penned these desperate words: “My tears have been my food day and night… deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:3,7). David felt like he was drowning! How did he cope? He reminded himself to put his hope in the LORD (Psalm 42:5,11). What does putting our hope in the LORD look like when we feel like we’re drowning?

Here are a few tangible principles to help you:

Embrace Your Limits. Here in the West, we pride ourselves in pushing past our limits. However, that’s not spiritual. God wants us to acknowledge and embrace where we are limited. Only when we embrace our weaknesses is He able to invade with His power. When the situations in our lives feel overwhelming, we must begin by agreeing with God: “LORD, I’ve got nothing. I am overwhelmed by ____________________ (Put in the situation). Thank you, that though I am overwhelmed, You are not. You will strengthen me and sustain me as I deal with this ____________________ (Put in whatever “this” is). I praise You in advance for how You will work and feed me hope.

Reflect and Consider. Spend some thoughtful moments considering exactly what is making you feel overwhelmed. Ask yourself: Can I change anything? What can I control? Write down your biggest fear in that situation and then consider, if your worst fear happens, where will God be? What is He able to do? I love that in Psalm 42, David holds a brief self-management meeting. He asks himself, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5).  

Create the Space for Sanctuary Time. Sanctuary time is time we set apart to enjoy God’s presence and pray. It can be helpful to have a “sacred place” where you go to commune and spend uninterrupted time with God. For me, this is my home office. Every morning I grab coffee, light a candle to remind me of God’s presence, get on my knees in my home office, and spend time pouring out my heart to God and praising Him. I look forward to those times. They are precious to me. For David, his sacred space was likely in a cave in the wilderness, but there he learned to shut out the world to commune with God.

Friend, the truth is, one of the best mental health practices you can develop is a robust prayer life. Learn how to pour out your heart to God. Then switch your focus to praise. Commune with Him and enjoy His presence several times throughout your day. Perhaps you’ll read a Psalm, or you might simply breathe a short prayer thanking God that He is near.  

In our hurried and at times chaotic world, there will be moments when you feel overwhelmed. Learning to practice these 3 principles will help you. Embrace your limits, spend some time reflecting, and create the space for sanctuary time.

It’s time to start Christmas shopping! Why not consider these resources to help those you love:

Psalms for the Anxious Heart

The Extraordinary Power of Praise

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