woman facing a mountain seen with green trees, one thing to do when you feel overwhelmed

Life is hard.

Doing this human thing can be pretty challenging at times. It can feel overwhelming. Let’s talk about what you can do when you feel overwhelmed.

We all have a list of things to point to that justify why we feel overwhelmed: the kids, the deadline, the job insecurity, the commitments, the family conflict…you name it. However, if we take a step back and look at how overwhelm works, we’ll realize that overwhelm doesn’t creep in because of what’s happening in the present moment.

When we feel overwhelmed we let our minds imagine other moments or other interpretations of the present moment.

The connection between thinking and feeling runs very deep. So when we allow our brains to focus on things that are not the present moment, that’s what our brains, and therefore our body, starts to react to, thereby determining how we feel. It follows that if you change what your brain is reacting to, it will in turn change how you feel.

Whether feeling overwhelmed is a part of your every week, day, or moment, I invite you to consider that maybe there’s a different way…That maybe the command to “not be anxious about your life” is not as outlandish as it sounds.

Many things can help us deal with being overwhelmed, including nutrition, exercise and sleep, which are crucial to handling stress.

One illustration of just how impactful these are to our wellbeing is the story of Elijah pleading with the Lord for death one moment, then after a snack and a nap feeling strong enough to embark on a 40-day journey (while being sought after by his enemies).

As Elijah can attest, sometimes a good nap and a little food can change our outlook on everything.

woman bent over praying with her hands to her knees

However, that doesn’t exactly get to the heart of dealing with the real, heavy things that we carry around inside of us. What can provide freedom from this heaviness? Turning towards the present moment.

Here’s an example: You’re prepping for a big event at your home and there’s a lot of chaos in your house. As you’re getting the food and drinks ready, you suddenly drop the bottle of soda you were carrying. The sticky liquid goes everywhere.

At that moment you have options: start stressing about what everybody else is going to think when they see the spill in your kitchen or when you’re late to greet your guests and show up with wet spots on your knees…

Or you could start thinking about how you’re so clumsy and you just made this huge mess and you’re “always” doing this kind of thing…

Or you can decide to just feel what it’s like to be on your knees, wiping up the soda, taking in the sensation of the towel soaking up the liquid, hear the laughter in the background, and zero in on what’s happening in that moment. (You might be rolling your eyes right now thinking this isn’t possible, but I want to assure you it IS attainable!)

When you feel overwhelmed, focus on the present moment

In every stage of life, I’ve thought that I was as busy as I possibly could be. When I look back on my time in college, I remember feeling so overwhelmed about schoolwork, student organizations I was involved in, keeping up with my social life, discerning a religious vocation, and having a part-time job on campus. However, once I got to graduate school, I looked back on college in disbelief that I ever had used the word “busy” to describe my life in college.

But graduate school was nothing compared to the first year of being married and starting a practice! Now I was really busy and couldn’t possibly get any busier.

Enter a new baby. The first year of being married and starting a practice seemed like it was a vacation once we had our first child. So when the third child came along… (I think you see where I’m going with this.)

Today, I have seven kids, multiple employees with offices all over the country, and a remote practice through which we see people from all over the world. I have more responsibilities than ever before, but I can honestly say I feel less overwhelmed than I was in college.

This is because I’ve learned how to turn towards the present moment in each moment – and every present moment holds immeasurable peace. What’s even better, this is not a personality trait that you either have or don’t have! This is attainable no matter how overwhelming life is or how used to being overwhelmed you are.

The more we practice turning towards and sitting in the present moment, the more we are able to receive the peace that accompanies each of those moments.

It takes practice, but little by little we all can get there!

(Learn more about living a life free from overwhelm in Episode #50 of the Being Human Podcast!)

Learn how to stay present to the present moment by learning Catholic Mindfulness! The 8-Week Catholic Mindfulness Virtual Retreat gives you daily “bite-sized” lessons that teach you how to connect your faith with your emotional life so that you can feel the peace God has intended for you!

Catholic mindfulness virtual retreat

If you found this blog post helpful, check out these other articles: