Find Joy When Life is Overwhelming: Look up, Reach out
When life is overwhelming, I forget my purpose. This usually happens when I have invited friends over or I am planning an event, like my child’s birthday party. My to-do list seems to grow as the day comes nearer. Last-minute cleaning, baking, buying, and decorating bury me under a list of tasks, and I forget why I’m doing it all.
When my life is overwhelming, I forget the joy of celebrating one of my children. I forget the joy of inviting friends and family into my home. I forget my purpose is to love and to be loved.
It may not be an event that’s overwhelming you. Maybe it’s your daily work list, your job, or a difficult season you are experiencing. It could be emotional overwhelm or an unmade decision that is constantly weighing on your heart and mind.
When we feel like we are drowning—whether it’s pressure, circumstances, stress, emotions, or decisions—we focus on what is drowning us. We forget the joy of being a child of God, alive, hopeful, and free.
Remember Your Purpose
I used to work as a dental hygienist. I loved getting to know my patients and teaching them how to take care of their teeth. But some days, I felt the overwhelm of trying to keep up with a busy schedule. Instead of enjoying my time with a patient, I would do my job as fast as I could so that I could move on to the next one—forgetting the joy of teaching and encouraging.
How can we remember our purpose when life is overwhelming and all we can see is what is weighing us down? How can we shift our focus from the to-do lists, the grief of loss, the anxious thinking about the future, the loneliness of trying to do it all alone? How can we find purpose in the doing and joy under a load too heavy to carry?
Here are some ways I am learning to cope with overwhelm that you may find helpful too.
Stop to Look Up
This posture of looking up is an embodiment of surrender and openness. Ideally, you can go outside and look up at the sky and immediately feel peace and wonder. But even when I’m inside, looking up at the blank white ceiling brings more calm than seeing all the eye-level clutter surrounding me. When you’re burdened with too many things to do or too many emotions to carry, stop, look up, breathe, and talk to God about what is overwhelming you. Let’s stay there long enough to listen.
Write It Down
I keep a running to-do list in my head, but I don’t often take the time to write it all down. This wastes a lot of mental energy on “what’s next?” I carry my emotions this same way, overthinking to the point of physical weariness. However, writing is a beneficial way to process feelings, find clarity, and visualize next steps.
When you have too much to do, write it all down. Write every single step so you can mark off items as you go. It can be overwhelming to see everything written down, but as you mark items off your list, you can feel the overwhelm decrease.
When emotions are the cause of your overwhelm, journaling your thoughts or writing prayers to God can bring relief. Your circumstances may not change, but moving those feelings from inside of you to outside of you is like taking out the trash. Keep it inside too long, and it starts to stink. Put it outside where you can sort through it, discard the lies, and only keep what is necessary.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
When you have too much to do and you’ve written down every single item on your to-do list, think about who can help you. Give your spouse or older children tasks that you feel comfortable delegating. Invite a relative to come over early and help finish decorating or cooking. Ask a friend to help you on a project or run errands with you.
If you’ve journaled through some tough emotions, now is the time to find someone to talk to—a trusted friend or a counselor. They can’t take away your circumstances, but they can offer some wisdom to help you see things more clearly, to affirm what you’re feeling, or to offer a new perspective.
We were not made to do life alone. Asking others to come along with you on your journey is beneficial to you and the other person. Friends and family want to help, but we have to be willing to ask for it. There is more joy in tackling life together than in suffering through it alone.
Find Rest in the Moment
One Christmas season, I was experiencing grief, anxiety, fear, and loneliness—on top of all the things to do. As mom and joy-maker in the family, I was struggling to share any happiness. I talked to God about it, journaled what I was feeling, scheduled an appointment with a counselor, and found rest in my four-year-old’s eyes lighting up at brightly lit Christmas trees. I found rest in quiet mornings with a book and a warm mug in my lap. I delighted in all the sweet comfort of Christmas treats.
Most importantly, I rested in the hope that it wouldn’t always be this way. I found comfort in knowing there was a way through it and it involved Jesus every step of the way. What a joy to know that I didn’t have to bear it alone. Instead of drowning in overwhelm, I could overflow with hope!
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When your life is overwhelming, I pray the Lord gives you hope and peace as you remember who you are and why you are doing the important things you are doing. May His Spirit guide you through overwhelm with purposeful, hope-filled steps. May each step walk you closer and closer to joy.
Natalie Hilton is a writer with a heart for introverts who long for connection and belonging but struggle in reaching for it. Her posts on Instagram point lonely women towards faith, community, and friendship. You can download her free resource, 10 Bible Verses to Read When You Feel Lonely here. When she’s not writing you’ll find Natalie cozying up with a blanket and a book or spending time with her family. Follow Natalie on her website or on Instagram.
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