When Life Seems Overwhelming, What do you Do?

Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed at life? I have. And for the past three years, it happens like clockwork this time of year.

Worker overwhelmed

How do you overcome overwhelm? By focusing on these 3 things. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

Our little girl is almost three. And every year I am reminded of that amazing day when she was born. As we plan the party, choose a cake, and wrap her gifts, my thoughts turn to the day she joined the world. It was a day that overwhelmed me. It continues to overwhelm me today.

My father passed away from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) eight years ago at the age of 51. His form of ALS was a rare one, so rare that they initially misdiagnosed him with Parkinson’s. His mind deteriorated before his body, rather than the other way around.

For months, I watched as the man that I knew slowly left us. We would have conversations and he would repeat the same things multiple times and ask the same questions of me repeatedly. As hard as it was, I would give almost anything for just one more of those conversations.

It was too hard for me, though. So I left. He died peacefully in his sleep on a Tuesday night.

I hadn’t seen him in more than a month.

From death to birth…

I am often reminded of him and the fragility of life, but never more so than when I think about the day our daughter was born.

She was a completely helpless person, completely dependent on us. At the very same hospital, a baby was born prematurely and died. Our daughter was perfectly healthy. Sometimes it makes no sense.

My best friend drove seven hours to be there and told me my dad would be proud. That night, as our daughter was sleeping, Field of Dreams came on the movie channel…and I lost it.

As I watched Kevin Costner play catch with his dad, I remembered my father. I remembered us playing catch or spending hours on the golf course together. I longed for him to be there to witness the birth of his first grandchild.

I was overwhelmed with sadness. With guilt. And with my newfound responsibility.

The world sometimes gives us too much. How could I ever protect this perfect child from everything that could happen to her?

But I had resolved that I would be a great father. I realized that I can only do what I can do to help her.

I can’t control what the world does to her, but I can show her how to react.

I can’t control what comes on the TV, but I can keep her from watching it.

I can’t control when she gets sick or when she bumps her head, but I can comfort her and help her get back on her feet.

I can only do what I can do and not worry about the rest.

Every year, the same feelings crop up. I feel overwhelmed.

And every year, I remind myself to do what I am suggesting you do when you feel the same way:

1. Control only what you can control.

2. Find victory in the small things.

3. Enjoy the process.

When life seems overwhelming, focus on those three things.

What strategies have you used when life seems overwhelming?

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    A beautiful story. Lean into those feelings. That’s what makes you human. Being human makes you a better leader.

    • Soooooo true!

    • Yup. Loss sucks, but it forces you to grow and to wake up to what matters.

      • I think what separates the good from the great is recognizing that WHILE you are going through pain.

  • Matt, your post no doubt resonates with a lot of readers, myself among them. Thank you for sharing it. As you probably recall, I’m a mother of six, and my Dad passed away suddenly three years ago. Legitimate feelings of being overwhelmed and being aware of the fact that I’ll need some kind of divine intervention to accomplish the assignments on my plate tends to overwhelm me too. However, perhaps they should? Those moments have the effect of driving me to earnest prayer. (That kind of real, raw, open communion with the Almighty that is born out of desperate need.) Admittedly, gratitude, praise, joy are equally important to express. The whole thing is reminiscent of an earthly relationship I once had with an authority figure. One of the people who spent my first 21 years of life providing for me, keeping me safe, teaching me and encouraging me.

    One last thing to consider, Matt, it’s possible that if given his druthers, your Dad might have actually preferred to keep you from the pain of experiencing and witnessing his further decline in that last month. No question you miss your Dad. And no doubt you wish you’d have been there. But do not give in to any momentary feelings of false guilt. Those don’t come from your earthly father, nor your Heavenly one. I hope in some small way, my reply helps!

  • Funny. I posted yesterday on my blog about times when life doesn’t make sense. I think the 3 things I posted yesterday can apply to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed.

    • Nice! If I hadn’t written this so far in advance, I’d say I copied you :)

  • Glenn Dredden

    Matt,
    Wonderful post thanks for sharing and being so open and honest. I think we all have been there from time to time. As far as the strategies I use when life seems overwhelming, two things come to mind, the Word and prayer. I know that may sound like a cliché but for me it is true. I know my life would be a disaster without God’s Word and daily communication with him in prayer. That is why I pray when I don’t feel like praying and read the Word even when I don’t feel like reading. It not only helps me when everything is well but especially when I am in a storm when or a condition where I can’t pray or read the Word. When life starts to seem overwhelming I meditate on what the Word of God says about me. Maybe it is “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28, KJV). It might be “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” I Thes 4:13-14, KJV). Whatever my problem or situation I try to use the Word to help me overcome it. It does not mean my problems necessarily go away but I am given the assurance that God will help me and see me through. Prayer, helps me to not only express how I feel to God but I can listen and to hear what he has to say to me. Often, it is something in the Bible and it always helps me through.

    Glenn

    • Well said Glenn! Romans 8:28 is an oft-repeated verse in my mind during toug times.

  • Thank for sharing, Matt, this is a touching story. I’ve been dealing with overwhelming feelings myself, and focusing on the small victories is what has helped tremendously. No matter how crazy things get, I have to focus on the small wins to keep going.

    I hope your daughter learns as much from you as you stand to learn from her birth, her life, and her love.

    • Beautiful Ryan. Thanks for the encouragement.

      The small wins thing is hard for High D/Overachiever types but it is SO important.

  • It’s probably not the best strategy but most of the times I just push through the overwhelm. I keep trudging. I keep going. I keep pushing.

    • Best by itself? Maybe not…but it sure beats the alternative!

      • True that. It’s better than stopping altogether.

  • Jake

    Enjoyed the article. Let me offer you a glimpse into my life events so you can put things in perspective. We have 2 teenage daughters and my wife filed for divorce after 25 years in February. 2 weeks ago my father has a stroke and is left without speech and cannot walk. He was the one taking care of my mom who has dementia. To say I have been overwhelmed is the understatement of the year. How am I coping? Not too well the first few days, but I have found that taking action in the right direction helps. As you mentioned, the small victories matter. I still don’t know how this will play out- trying to hang on to my job while taking care of two ailing parents by myself AND going through a divorce, including giving up my house.

    • Hi Jake,

      Let me first acknowledge that what I am about to say is easier said than done. I totally get that. But it will work over time.

      *Control only what you can control.

      Focus on what you can control and give up the rest. Give it up. It’s not worth your energy. I have a post coming in the next week about what battles to fight that might be worth a read to you. Come check it out.

      *Find victory in the small things.

      Celebrate the little things big time. I mean every little thing. Make a phone call to your best friend a big deal, not routine. Celebrate everything you can find. Sometimes it will feel like you are faking it, but it will help.

      *Enjoy the process.

      Hard to do, I know. But find enjoyment in any improvement. Kind of ties into the last point, but take some time each week to find where you’ve improved. Did you sleep a little better? Did you give up resentment towards your wife? Did you hold your tongue when you want to lash out against so-and-so? Enjoy those milestones.

      I hope sincerely that this helps in some small way.