What to do before saying, “I Just Can’t”:6 Strategies to Help Conquer Overwhelm

Overwhelm. Have you experienced it?

Overwhelm stems from that thing which exists in such great amounts that someone or something cannot deal with them. It affects emotions in a powerful way (Maxmillandictionary.com). The sensation seems to come on suddenly and can erupt during times of stress, change, grief, sadness, depression, trauma, overload, or even during periods of happiness or excitement.

To tell the truth, I’m struggling in a period of overwhelm. Right. Now.

Its onset came as I felt I was making great strides in what I believed to be a Holy Spirit-led direction. Then from out of nowhere, a painful event occurred and stopped me in my tracks. It’s been several weeks and I’m still not quite back on my feet. I find myself questioning everything:

Will this work?
Should I even do it?
Is it my idea or God’s direction?
Which plan is best?
What if I ruin it?
What’s the most efficient path?
Where should I start?
What if I fail?
What if I succeed?
How should I proceed?
If I stopped would anyone notice?
Does what I do matter?
Why do I think I can pull this off?
How will I get it all done?
Why can’t I make myself take a single step forward right now?

Depending on your level of overwhelm, the questions that bombard your mind may be similar to mine or entirely different. Regardless, any season of overwhelm is uncomfortable—frightening, even.

Before feeling engulfed by “too much,” —perhaps as little as a few days (or even a few hours) ago— you felt you were on solid ground. But the sudden awareness of overwhelm has caused the proverbial earth to quake and shake you off course.

That’s how it was for me.

Overwhelm stops us from walking in our calling and completing the good works that God has prepared us to accomplish. We feel smothered by a list of “need to” and “should do’s,” while feeling utterly deficient in what’s required of us to do them.

It can grip us amid tasks, relationships, or disappointments and makes us want to shout “I just can’t!” Before long, we find ourselves daydreaming about how it will feel to quit rather than how to overcome the obstacles we face.

Instead of allowing myself to feel steamrolled by more than I can handle, I’m in the process of taking deliberate steps to muster the courage to step forward. As an act of accountability, and in light of sharing hope for all of us to overcome, 6 strategies I’m adopting are provided below. I believe they will be helpful no matter the source of your overwhelm (be it tasks, stress, relationships, employment, health, etc.).

I’m acknowledging the root of my overwhelm.

As I’ve prayed and meditated over this season, the Lord has shown me that overwhelm stems from fear. (If you read many of my posts, it’s not hard to discern that many of my personal struggles have the root of fear. This one is no different.) Overwhelm grows from a fear of lack. I fear that I won’t have enough . . .  time, love, resources, support, strength, patience, or stamina. Whatever I need to complete the process I face I fear I won’t have it.

As I continually aim to walk in God’s truth and refuse to let lies of the enemy grip my life, I’m reminded that God isn’t a God of lack. He’s the God of generosity and abundance. Instead of pondering on perceived deficiencies, I’m meditating on encouraging scriptures. I invite you to use these links to review the scriptures for yourself:

Philippians 4:19
Matthew 7:11
1 Timothy 6:17
Ephesians 1:3
Colossians 2:10


I’m refining my focus.

I’m discovering that my overwhelm is (at least partially) self-inflicted. I’ve taken on too many projects or allowed a plethora of project ideas to cloud my vision. In taking a step or two backward, recalling the last specific direction I received from the Lord and moving forward with that one thing alone, my focus is refined.

Keeping good notes of the wonderful ideas that have come to mind, I set them aside for later and engage as fully as possible in the one thing that’s next for me. For now, it means completing a project that’s already started, rather than taking on new projects or following rabbit trails that lead me away from an established goal.

I’m clearing some space on my calendar.

For this season, I’ve said no to lunch requests and canceled a few coffee dates. I’ve taken a hard look at my calendar, gripped my red pen and slashed through a few business engagements and even volunteer opportunities. My hope is to circle back and reschedule them in the future, but for now, I’ve had to let them go.

My priority is to re-establish my footing and give myself a strong foundation from which to launch back into the activities of my calling.  In order to get back on my feet, I feel the need to hunker down and get to work on what’s most important right now.

I’m embracing margin.

Margin is the space in our lives in which we can catch our breath, find stillness, and retain our mental health. In the quiet of margin is where much of our self-care takes place. It makes room for interruptions without being overrun by them. It helps us tackle project “spread” or seemingly endless “emergencies” while maintaining the rhythms of life that we long for.

Creating margin can be as simple as blocking out an hour in the afternoon or setting aside 45 minutes each morning to intentionally help my heartbeat return to a healthy pace. To achieve margin, I might allow three hours for a project I feel could reasonably take two—so that I’m not pushing against hard deadlines. Instead, I’ve given myself breathing room. My productivity increases, my health improves, my family takes notice, and my highest priorities are accomplished.

I’m quieting myself to listen more.

Inside the time I’ve freed through canceling appointments, saying no to requests for my time, and creating margin, I’m practicing something very healthy: less doing and more being.

I’m reading more of God’s Word in smaller segments throughout the day. Prayer comes more frequently—with my attention fully focused on prayer (in addition to never-ending pleas for help throughout the day). God-honoring podcasts and worship music fill my mind while I’m strategically listening for the Lord’s prompting. These activities help me connect more with Him so that when He leads, I will hear and then obey.

I’m sharing my struggle openly.

While I’ve tried the independent way in the past, this time I’ve refused to walk this journey alone. I’ve shared my struggle with some close friends, listened to their encouragement, considered their advice, and moved forward with partnership and accountability. One suggestion was to write about my journey, which led to this article. Writing is not only therapeutic for me, but it records the memorial stones in my walk with God. It helps me recall the times when I’ve experienced His goodness and strengthens me to press on and serve Him with all I have. Putting it on display for others to see not only increases my intentionality, it has the potential to help others along the way.

How the strategies have helped:

While I’ve been at this for only about 10 days and I have no idea how long this season will last, I’m already seeing results.

  • I feel closer to the Lord
  • I’m finding new energy
  • My mental clarity is returning
  • My life is calming
  • I’m receiving encouragement from those close to me
  • I’m (slowly) returning to productivity
  • I feel more content and confident.

I trust that this journey will be life changing and look to the Lord with great expectation and hope. Rather than crying out, “I just can’t,” I’m remembering that with the Lord’s help, yes I can.

I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?”
Jeremiah 32:27 (NIV) 

May you be encouraged through my struggles and feel strengthened by His Word.









1 Comment

  1. Marla

    I was feeling burned out and overwhelmed! And my husband and I delegated our family members to good places over a long weekend last weekend. So it was just the two of us. Doing fun things. Doing nothing. Reading in a cozy alcove of the hotel. Eating good food. Seeing a great show. It’s A-MA-ZING how the OVERWHELM seeps away when ya get away from the places of pressure and breathe in new air! I came back very refreshed with new perspective on what I am and am not supposed to do. And, with renewed energy to tackle the tasks that are in the YES column. 🙂


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