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When You're Overwhelmed

Posted by admin on August 2, 2013

bamboo5.pngDo you think our forbearers found themselves overwhelmed by life?

Think about it. They moved most often at a walking pace, unable to hurry. A letter might take weeks or even months to travel to its recipient.  Outside activities ceased at sundown, while indoor life lasted only until the candles guttered out in their holders. Bakers baked, milkmaids milked and preachers preached. Very few had much choice in how they would spend their days.

Do you think they felt overwhelmed?

We are overwhelmed by modern life. Too many choices, too many expectations, too many emotions swirl around us and beat upon us until we cry out “Enough!” and bury our heads.

What about our grandparents and their grandparents back through the ages?


My tenth Great-Grandmother, Anne Bradstreet, contracted smallpox at fourteen, married at sixteen, embarked on a tiny ship, the Arbella, at eighteen, and found herself several months later surrounded by vast forests and unknown Indians, forced to deal with starvation, deaths of friends, illness, and cold. Even after they settled, she was often alone rearing eight children, for her husband traveled on colony business. She was girl, wife, mother, poet, worshipper, housewife, friend. She wore as many hats as we do.

Was she overwhelmed? I don’t doubt it.

Her poems reveal a heart that fears, a spirit that rises against her circumstances. In each pregnancy, she, unlike most women in this century, feared she might not live through the next ten months. When her house caught fire and burned to the ground, there was no Red Cross, no bank account, no internet fund raising. Of course she was overwhelmed.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed with life? I can think of some obvious responses:

  • ignore the feeling and soldier on
  • take to bed with depression
  • pop some pills
  • lash out in anger at those closest to you

Here is another way to handle the feeling that life is all too much for you:

1. Identify the specific emotion and its root.

Are we overwhelmed because we fear disappointing people (root = pride)? Perhaps we feel overwhelmed because we resent people trying to control us (root = fear of being crushed)

2. Know who you are (identity) and what you are to become (destiny)

When we understand both our identity and our destiny, we can better make decisions about what to allow into our lives. If we are bowed under the weight of expectations, either our own or others, this becomes an especially important exercise.

3. Commit to doing something with the knowledge gained in #1 and #2. Or, of course, you could breathe deeply and gaze at a peaceful picture.

Because I am a follower of Jesus, I add one more exercise to the ones above: I choose everyday to thank him for each circumstance he brings to me, both the good and the bad. “Thank you for this abundance of choice.” “Thank you that my family members  expect me to carve myself into pieces and give 100% to each.” “Thank you that my novel has not found an agent.”  “Thank you that I finished rewriting it and that it is stronger. “ You get the picture.

What does this mean for the writer?

Carol Bly writes in Beyond the Writers’ Workshop that between the inspiration stage, when a writer gets a story down on paper, and the literary fix stage, when the story is shaped into something worth reading, is an important middle stage that most of us ignore.  She calls it “spiritual deepening.” Unless we are willing to take the long inner look, and do something with what we find, our stories remain shallow and undeveloped. Critique partners may urge us to give more emotion or tell more about the character, but all that added baggage is, according to Bly, only weight on top when the story needs stronger foundations.

Feeling overwhelmed is the perfect opportunity to do the spiritual deepening she calls us to.

What do you think?




Posted by Susan on
When I'm overwhelmed.... I read blogs and try to forget about the long and insistant "to do list" And then I find a blog on being overwhelmed :>) or better yet at working out of the whelming tide. Thanks, Pris! Off to nail down the plans for my workshop -- fix all the swirling key points, activities, objectives, materials needed, timing on to flat white paper and settle the swirling
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