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3 Questions to Ask Yourself When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

I love that ministry in the Church helps me get to know people I never would have been able to otherwise—especially sisters who have experience and wisdom to share with me. Seven years ago, my visiting teacher Betty Owen sat and listened to me cry in frustration. There was just too much work to do and not enough of me. My four kids were running riot. My pregnancy made me slow and hot and tired. I had projects piling up, and my anxiety and depression were getting out of control. 

Even now, I remember the click I felt when my brain settled on the idea she gave me—and my life has never been the same since. 

She said, “Every time you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself three questions: 

Why am I doing this?’

‘Why am I doing this?’

and

‘Why am doing this?’”

It seems like the same question over and over, but it’s not.

Why am I doing this?

The first question helps me examine whether or not I’m spending time on something that truly matters. I can think of several things I do each day that are completely pointless. I’m not talking about a long bath, which rests and refreshes me; I’m not talking about relaxing on the couch with my husband, which helps us connect and strengthen our relationship. I’m talking about things that are obviously wasting my time or even making me unhappy. Social media is an easy target here, but not the only one. I’ve also come to realize that there are TV shows and movies that aren’t worth my time—especially if they alienate the Spirit. Free time is too precious to waste on something that doesn’t make me happier. 

Why am I doing this?

The second question encourages me to think objectively about whether I could meet the same ends in a different way. So, say we have guests coming this weekend and I’m tempted to go a little obsessive-compulsive with menu plans and a fabulously clean house. But what’s the object of the visit? Are they coming to see Pinterest-worthy rooms and meals, or are they coming to see me? If I really focus on the end goal, I get ready for guests by getting the house as clean as I can within reason, and having a few good ideas about food that don’t take a ton of shopping or cooking. Then I can really enjoy the visit as much as my guests deserve. And what about truly worthwhile projects and pursuits that are obviously too time-consuming for me? This year, it looks like we’re just not going to get the rose garden in. I want to. I love gardening. But if it’s the straw that’s going to break this back, I’m not willing to do it. If it’s actually stressing or tiring me to the point that it would be worth a few extra dollars to buy flowers rather than grow them, so be it. 

Why am doing this?

Question number three is the big one. There are seven people in this family, which means there is a lot of work to be done. But it also means that there are a lot of workers to do it. 

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For much too long I’ve been okay doing most of the “grunt work” around here, by default. But the kids are getting older, and it’s time they learned that I have rights, too. It’s a simple concept that’s not easy to implement, as most parents have already discovered. This is where we let go of the dream of perfectly done chores, since it’s only a dream, even if you are trying to do it all yourself. Sometime after the birth of my youngest, I realized that I’d rather have mostly clean windows today—and the pleasure of teaching my kids valuable life-skills—than the pipe dream of perfectly clean windows someday when I have the time to do them myself. And let’s be honest: that’s roughly . . . never. Of course, the kids will fight you every step of the way. It’s their obligation to do so, in order to build your character. Fight back, friends. Fight smart. Plan ahead. Make it worth their while by feeding them dinner, allowing them a bed to sleep in, or even forking out an allowance if you’re feeling generous. It will lift your workload in the long run, and on those days you just do the work for them, they’ll be thanking you for the reprieve.

Jeffery R. Holland taught in his landmark talk on mental illness:

“In preventing illness whenever possible, watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel. When you face “depletion depression,” make the requisite adjustments. Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. Physicians promise us that if we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly will take time later on to be ill."

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If you are feeling overwhelmed, I urge you to remember and ask yourself these questions. They’ve given me a perspective makes a daily difference in my life. 

And thanks, Betty. You’re the best.

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