Simple gestures make a difference when a friend is overwhelmed

We’ve all heard the reminders to give people who come across angry, grouchy or distant a break because we don’t know what they might be going through at the moment.

It’s true that life gets heavy sometimes, and when it does we can choose to carry the load alone or share with others who are willing to help.

We also can make someone else’s load lighter by simply being present, staying positive and offering a listening ear. 

But our attempt to help can actually pile on our friend’s load if we turn the conversation back to ourselves and exhaust his or her energy with too much venting about what is happening in our lives.

It’s a hard balance because it seems more and more people are overloaded and stressed. More and more people need rescuing, but the pool of rescuers seems limited.

Lonely journey

I wonder how many people are working through life’s difficulties, pressures and to-do lists in their heads without talking it out with someone else. 

It might be they don’t want to burden others; it might be they have a hard time trusting. And in many cases it is because of the confidentiality of the matters at hand. 

Either way carrying heavy loads and attempting to navigate difficult issues alone is more than a lonely journey. It also leads to mental, physical and emotional fatigue.

I sometimes wonder how those called to the counseling profession handle all they have to carry.

The same is true with pastors. Think about all the families in a congregation and the burden of concern and care the pastor has for each of them and what is happening in their lives.

More people than we realize are balancing a tremendous weight mentally and emotionally as they work through each day.   

Praying should always be our go-to response for those we know tasked with — and thus attempting to manage — major responsibilities.

Choosing to share a positive word of appreciation will go a long way in the midst of the heaviness, especially if they are receiving a large dose of complaints or negative feedback from others. 

And finding a way to help relieve some of the pressure your friend is under might just be the best gift he or she receives all year.

—Jennifer Davis Rash 

Carrying the weight of the world

It may feel like you are the only onOverwhelmede with all the weight of the world on your shoulders, but that feeling is shared by more people than you think.

People everywhere — in various types of jobs, ministries an
d life situations — are expected to do more with less,
no matter what other loads they are carrying at the moment.

We are all putting more and more pressure on ourselves and each other by nature of tight financial times, a resistance to draw boundaries and the mind-boggling speed at which technology increases daily.

And social media has created a new form of anxiety — FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — which piles on another layer of pressure.

Trying to do it all

So here we all are trying our absolute best to manage our families, spend quality time with our families and friends, do more than any one human could possibly do in a day at our jobs, be super involved in countless church activities, volunteer with a specific ministry or charity, participate in our communities, keep our homes and cars in decent order, make sure our children are part of every possible activity available to them and maybe find a few minutes to exercise. Oh, and try to be available to everyone at all times while attempting to find moments here and there to spend time in God’s Word and clear our minds long enough to pray (for real, not just say some words) — and maybe, if we are lucky, get more than four hours sleep a night.

Whew, I’m exhausted just writing that paragraph, but I’m guessing more than a few of you can relate.

You might be overwhelmed if …

Do you ever want to pause everyone and everything so you can catch up?

Have you ever secretly wished you would end up with a temporary but serious illness, maybe something that would hospitalize you, so you would have a good excuse to drop everything for a few weeks?

Does it feel like everyone you know is pouring guilt on you and/or you are continuously disappointing every person in your life?

Have you ever felt overly frustrated when others don’t do what you want them to do?

Negative results

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, then you are likely overwhelmed with life right now. If you aren’t aware of that fact or if you aren’t working toward finding balance, then you aren’t only hurting yourself, you are most likely negatively affecting those around you as well.

I know when I’m at my most stressed-out points, I impose unrealistic and unfair expectations on others. I convince myself that my responsibility list is more important than everyone else’s. Frustration sets in when others don’t cooperate.

And if two of us in the same circle are overwhelmed at the same time, then a collision is almost guaranteed. Emotions are usually raw and overreactions happen easily. Hurtful words may be spoken and unfortunate decisions may be made in the process.

Three immediate actions to take

The answer has multiple layers and will have to be customized to some degree to the person’s specific situation. But things all of us can do to prevent spreading the problem are:

1. Commit to stop piling pressure on those around us. Avoid the temptation to pass our issues on to others who are not obligated to help such as might be expected with an official team at work, church or the community.

2. For one project or one day, help a fellow struggler by doing exactly what they ask (assuming it is nothing harmful) so you are the one person in their life not resisting them. It encourages both parties because we know from experience how much it means for someone to help without resistance. It also opens the door for a conversation about how we can help each other in the struggle.

3. Accept that you are overwhelmed and commit to start the process of correcting the problem. A good first step is to freeze your calendar until you can clear some space to breathe.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

A sincere nod or strictly perseverance?

The more I talked the more his eyes glazed. Why I continued to spill out the ridiculous amount of information, I do not know. After all, he wasn’t retaining any of it, so I was basically wasting my time and his.

And while I could be describing almost any lengthy conversation I have with my sweet hubby, this particular conversation was with a ministry peer.

I usually have decent observation skills and can read my surroundings well. Knowing the appropriate way and time to share information, delve into a lengthy discussion or ask someone to join a spontaneous brainstorming session will certainly influence the results, or at the very least the efficiency of the process.

These are things I know well and work hard to always assess. I also know what it feels like to be on the other side.

You get caught by someone unexpectedly and it’s a day when you are already overwhelmed, overworked and pretty much exhausted. The other person isn’t doing anything wrong and may even be sharing positive news, but by not being aware of your inability to absorb what is being dumped on you, he or she sends you into a mental battle of perseverance versus creative escape.

You stand there nodding, saying things like “Uh huh” and “of course.” You determine to basically agree to all that is being outlined before you because that will take less time than debating or discussing the details. You convince yourself that the person will wrap up sooner if you don’t contribute to the conversation.

At least those are thoughts that go through my mind in those situations. Does that ever happen to you? (I hope it isn’t happening right now as you read this column!)

Anyway I would venture to guess that most of us have been on both sides of this situation, and I’m curious as to why we keep doing it to each other.

In my recent experience, I knew exactly what was happening, but I also convinced myself that I had to transfer the information to the other person at that moment.

Why did it have to be right then? Not because there was a vital deadline but because I needed to move something out of my brain and off my to-do list. I had planned to check that off my list and chose not to adapt to the situation.

How much of what we do every day is basically taking information of some type from one person and handing it to another person? Sometimes I think we live in an endless tangled web of assembly lines. Instead of taking the item from the person on the left and handing it to the person on the right, we are moving in and out of all the lines handing things to this person and that person — making the rhythm inefficient and chaotic.

In some ways, the spontaneity and creativity is exciting and fresh. In other ways, the lack of order is tiring and unproductive.

And so in this transfer of information from my brain to yours, I merely want to note a few reminders for myself while sharing with you another life lesson I’m trying to learn:

•Be aware of the other person’s schedule, pressures and energy level.

•Give the gift of “just the facts” and let the other person ask for the details he or she needs.

•Be willing to put any information that can wait on hold if the timing or situation seems wrong.

•Try to solve issues or problems (within the appropriate boundaries, of course) before automatically handing the problem to someone else.

•Be positive and encouraging (as long as it is real and not a fake attempt).

•Surprise a family member, friend, co-worker or fellow church worker by taking something off his or her plate.

— Jennifer Davis Rash

Simplifying life is simple, not easy

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Managing Editor, The Alabama Baptist

Slacks and skirts flow freely now. Shirts and jackets have plenty of elbowroom. Dresses and jeans alike can be snatched at a moment’s notice, ready to wear, no scurrying around to deal with wrinkles or missing accessories.

Why would I want to tell you about my newfound love for a simplified closet, you ask?

I admit it is a stretch, but my closet has given me the perfect visual for what I seek in so many areas of life — purposeful, prepared and paced. It is organized and balanced for all that is needed but focused and simplified to avoid chaos and wasted time.

We’ve been talking about balance as well as various areas of health and fitness the past few months, and they are proving to all work together in success and defeat.

Dealing with clutter

Another piece of the puzzle deals with clutter. It could be physical clutter (like what was in my closet prior to my recent redesign project). It could be calendar clutter (overscheduling ourselves). It could be mental and emotional clutter (too many unresolved or burdening issues). And it could be all of these at the same time.

When you pull back and look at the various parts of your life, can you find clutter anywhere? How does it make you feel? Is it slowing down your productivity, your ability to focus, your motivation?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed, as if you are in a pit, as if you are suffocating or sinking lower and lower with no chance of ever finding the surface again? Do you sometimes find yourself just wanting to run?

Granted, we all have moments like this and that is just part of life, but if these occasional moments turn into daily living, then it might be time to pull back and reassess.

Please know what I’m describing here deals with preventing and/or resolving a chaotic, overwhelmed, exhausted lifestyle through simplification and balance. If you have serious mental or emotional health issues, then I suggest seeking the help of a trained counselor. And Pathways Professional Counseling would be a good place to start (www.pathwaysprofessional.org). This is a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.

But if your struggles can be tempered by a few lifestyle changes, then I’d like to suggest the concept of simplification. I’m trying to learn this concept myself and am seeking tips.

God tells us clearly that we are to “seek ye first the kingdom of God” in Matthew 6:33 and to “be still” in Psalm 46:10. But how can we seek Him before anything else and expect to hear Him at all if we are too overwhelmed and exhausted to even think clearly? And if we aren’t listening to God or immersing ourselves in His Word, then what good does all the stress and chaos do anyway?

And while actually pulling back to simplify and declutter life is hard enough on its own, the frustrating part for me is that it’s not a one-time event. We have to stay on top of clutter in our lives, or it will eventually creep back in.

Think about the junk drawer in your kitchen. It’s so easy to toss junk mail and random items that float by in that drawer until you decide what to do with them. If you don’t clean the drawer out often, then before you know it, it is stuffed full of clutter. But if you clean it out often, then you can keep the junk from piling up.

During the next few weeks, we will deal with simplifying concepts in all areas of life as well as publish your thoughts and suggestions on this topic. Be sure to send those to jrash@thealabamabaptist.org or comment here.