Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of us were feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed much of the time.

As a Type A person, I often feel like there’s never enough time to get everything done.  My mind is like a reel of never-ending to-do lists.

With this constantly buzzing around in the back of my mind, of course I often find myself feeling impatient, rushed, and overwhelmed.

Can you relate?

Even if you’re not a Type A personality like me, you’re likely impacted by our busy busy busy culture.

It’s pretty common in our culture to stuff our calendars full of activities, and then to complain endlessly about how busy we are.

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Busy has almost become a kind of status symbol…being busy makes us feel important and needed.  If we’re not busy, will people think that we’re lazy or redundant?

Instead of taking a hard look at our lives and why we feel so overwhelmed, we rush around in a hurried frenzy from one activity to another and nothing ever changes.

We just keep complaining (and simultaneously, bragging) about how we are just so busy.

In a culture like ours, what do we do if we’re tired of feeling so overwhelmed all the time?  Here are a few thoughts to consider.

Busy is a Choice

We don’t have to stuff our calendars full of activities we don’t even want to do.  One silver lining of the pandemic is that many of us are realizing this.  Busy is a choice.  It’s okay to not be busy.

That being said, of course we all have responsibilities.  We work, we raise children, we care for our aging parents, we go to church, we cook, we clean, we exercise, we run errands, we go to appointments, we go to social gatherings (at least we did before the pandemic), we have leisure time, we manage our finances, the list goes on…there is no denying that we all have multiple priorities to juggle.

What many of us don’t realize is that we can choose how we want to think about this. Remember that our circumstances do not cause our emotions.  Our feelings are caused by our thoughts.

We can choose to feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, or we can recognize that our thoughts are a choice. 

We can choose to feel calm even when life is busy or chaotic.

Scarcity vs. Abundance

Most of us view time the same we view money – we believe there’s never enough of it and there never will be.

There aren’t enough hours in the day and it’s just impossible that we’ll get everything done, right?  If these are the types of thoughts we’re thinking on repeat all day, no wonder we feel overwhelmed!

Time scarcity is not a useful mindset.  It doesn’t help me to get more done – in fact, it might do just the opposite!  If I stress myself out with these thoughts, I’ll likely be less productive.  I work better when I’m feeling calm and steady.

What if we chose to view time as an abundant resource instead of a scarce one?

Here are some thoughts you could try:

  • I have a lot to do, but there is plenty of time to get it all done.
  • I have always met deadlines in the past, and I will now too.
  • I am confident in my ability to get things done.
  • I can work efficiently without hurrying or rushing.
  • I have plenty of time.
  • I am thankful for the time I have.
  • I always find a way to get the most important tasks done.
  • I know how to prioritize tasks and manage my time well.

Thinking these types of thoughts will likely make you feel more calm, which will make you more productive.

It’s also helpful to focus on one task at a time.  When you’re looking at your entire to-do list for the day or for the week, of course you become overwhelmed.  Stay in the present moment and focus on one task at a time.

If you give that task your full attention, you’ll likely complete it more efficiently and effectively.

Related Resource: Time Scarcity – Design Your Dream Life podcast

Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

Alan and Gem Fadling, hosts of the Unhurried Living podcast, say “Many of us are hurried, and hurry is costing us more than we realize.  Busy is a matter of calendar, but hurry is a matter of soul.”

As they illustrate in their podcast, it’s entirely possible to have a busy schedule without being hurried.  Hurry isn’t a natural result of being busy.  Hurry stems from anxiety.

We rush around in a frantic pace because we’re afraid we don’t have time to get everything done…and we worry about what will happen if we can’t keep up.  Will we get a bad grade in a class?  Get fired from a job?  Will people think we’re lazy or incompetent?

The truth is, we can be busy and still feel peace in our souls.

When we’re busy and overwhelmed, we often think the solution is a break – a day off, a vacation, a quick walk around the block.

It’s certainly important to rest.  I absolutely encourage you to take a lunch break every day (if possible) and to take days off whenever you can.

But often we think we need a break when that’s not what we actually need.  What we need is to learn to feel rest in our souls even when we’re busy.  When we approach work with a calm attitude, we don’t find ourselves constantly craving a break.

If work is actually pleasant and enjoyable (instead of stressful and overwhelming), we don’t have the constant desire to escape from it.

Related Resource: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World

Resting to Work

Most of us work to rest instead of resting to work.  What do I mean by this?

On weekends, I often check things off of my to-do list (grocery shopping, other errands, cleaning, meal prep, exercising, etc.) before I will finally allow myself to rest and relax.

We have this idea that we work to rest.  Once the work is done, then we can finally rest.  What if we flip that on its head and decide to rest to work?

This is why vacations are important.  If we’re “too busy” to take a day off, how does that impact our quality of work?  We’re likely tired, burned out, and stressed.

Taking a vacation or even just one day off allows us to rest and recharge.  We can return to work re-energized and we can produce better work.

The concept of the Sabbath day is based on this idea as well.  We take a day to simply rest and spend time with God.  Rest is essential for us and it was woven into the design of humanity.

We are not machines and we cannot be productive 100% of the time.  Taking a day to rest makes us more productive when we return to work.

Remember You’re Not Alone

Overwhelm often stems from thoughts like these:

  • It all falls on me.
  • This is too much.
  • If I don’t do it, no one else will.

It’s no surprise that these thoughts make us feel overwhelmed.  Alan Fadling described a time when he asked a group of pastors and spiritual leaders to write down all of the tasks they needed to complete the following week.  As they wrote down one item after another, they began to feel stressed.

One leader noticed that his heart rate was increasing and he took his own pulse.

Next, Fadling asked the leaders to write down two simple words after each task – with God.

I have reports to complete…with God.
I have deadlines to meet…with God.
I have bills to pay and chores to finish…with God.

This simple practice of adding those two words to each task made the leaders feel less stressed and more relaxed.  The man who had taken his pulse earlier took it again after doing this.  His heart rate had returned to normal.

Related Resource: An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Life

This task may seem silly or too small to make a difference, but it’s a reminder that we are not in this alone.  No matter how lonely we feel, God is always with us.

We do not have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.  That isn’t our responsibility.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Creating Calm in the Chaos

We all have multiple priorities to juggle.  Often, we want to take a break or change what we’re doing so that we’ll feel less overwhelmed and stressed.  While cutting a few unnecessary activities from your calendar might be a great idea, it likely won’t solve the entire problem.

Our emotions are caused by our thoughts, not our circumstances.  If you are someone who is prone to feeling overwhelmed, you’ll likely continue to feel overwhelmed… even if your circumstances change.

When situations change, you remain the same.  You bring your same brain (with the same thoughts, beliefs, and neural pathways) with you wherever you go.

If you want to feel less overwhelmed, you need to focus on the root of the problem – your thoughts.

To recap, here are a few tips:

  • Shift from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset.
  • Eliminate hurry.  Hurry does not make you more productive – it makes you less productive.
  • Focus on one task at a time.  Stay in the present moment.
  • Rest to work instead of working to rest.
  • Remember that you are not doing this alone.  God is always with you.