Spiritual Growth and Encouragement for Christian Women

3 Ways to Reframe Overwhelming Thoughts and Reconnect with God

3 Ways to Reframe Overwhelming Thoughts and Reconnect with God

I. Am. Going. To. Lose. It, I thought, as I pulled into a parking spot at my kids' school that morning after drop-off and bawled my eyes out. Yes, I was that mom you saw with the radio cranked, the tissues flying, and mascara all over her face.

There wasn't one specific thing driving me crazy, but lots of little tiny things piling up: behavioral issues with the kids; my never-ending to-do list; a beloved relative who was annoying me with her comments about an upcoming event; too many church activities that I'd overcommitted our family to.

Life overall was good (everyone was employed, and no major illnesses), but at that moment, the stress of everything brought me to my knees (well, OK, to my steering wheel) as the tears flowed. I call this feeling "death by a thousand toothpicks," and on that particular spring day, those toothpicks felt more like foot-long skewers. When life is overwhelming, all we want is peace. We want our problems to figure themselves out and go away. We want the heavy, dark clouds of our emotions to scatter and to feel the hopeful rays of sunshine again.

The problem is, of course, that's not always possible. Most of our problems can't be fixed with the snap of our fingers. Life is extremely complicated and sometimes even excruciating. True, when we're overwhelmed, it can be helpful to delegate, prioritize, and even let go of some things. Establishing rhythms and habits also streamline life and minimize stress. Personally, I'm a huge fan of working in bulk (freezer meals and monthly grocery shopping are my friends).

There are tons of great resources out there to help with this aspect of stepping out of overwhelm, but that's not this post. Instead, I want to give you a practical in-the-moment mindset tool to help you when you're in the throes of overwhelm and need to calm down and reconnect to God. I want to teach you how to create a mental reframe—a new perspective on your situation that honors the frustration while allowing you to focus on truth and find peace—as an essential life hack for whenever overwhelm and stress come knocking on your door. Even when life feels like it's spinning out of control, the great news is that we always have the power to take control of our perspective and lovingly find relief for negative, anxious thoughts.

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  • A full calendar, You need to slow down

    Wait, Overwhelm Is Good?

    You may call me crazy, but I've learned to praise God for these moments of overwhelm. For the record, no, I am not talking about praising God in the moment of overwhelm itself. Those weren't tears of joy I cried in the parking lot that day.

    Let me explain. By nature, I'm an overachieving perfectionist who is way too good at biting off more than she can chew. Some of the greatest lessons of my life (including a time when I nearly lost my life due to my overwhelming, demanding schedule) had happened during seasons when I didn't think I could take any more. More than once, Jesus, in his kindness and mercy, has had to lift this stubborn, I-can-handle-it-myself girl out of her own chaotic mess and gently say, "Darling, are you ready to let me help you carry the load?"

    Overwhelm reminds us that we have limits. That we're human (and that's OK). That we can't do it all and that God doesn't want us to. Overwhelm is a warning signal that we're not created to manage the turmoil of this world alone and that we need others (most importantly, God Himself) to make it through.

    In times of overwhelm, God has had to teach me that He is my sustenance, my manna. He's taught me practical ways to keep overwhelm at a minimum, but He also teaches me that He is the provider for all that I need and that, like the Israelites, His manna for the day comes miraculously and cannot be stored up for the future.

    He's taught me how to acknowledge my frustration, stress, and anger as real, plausible components of a fallen world; while still saying "it is well with my soul, God" and "what You've given is enough, right here, right now."

    Let's talk about how to create this type of mental reframe that brings peace and calm during times of overwhelm.

    Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Olga PS
  • 3 Steps to Creating a Mental Reframe When You're Overwhelmed and Need Calm

    3 Steps to Creating a Mental Reframe When You're Overwhelmed and Need Calm

    1) Notice what you're feeling and acknowledge it as real.

    What are the frantic thoughts you're experiencing? Write them down and get them out of your head without fear or judgment. Try to suspend the idea that you "know better" or "shouldn't" struggle in this area. Simply let the ideas come out and look at them from a loving, compassionate perspective. How does what you notice about yourself in this moment make sense based on what you're experiencing?

    Acknowledge the pain as plausible and understandable. You don't need to try to fix it or figure out a solution just yet. Allow yourself to notice what's there and offer godly compassion to this hurting side of yourself.

    Try completing this statement: "It makes sense why I feel X because..."

    2) Discern what's true and not true about the situation.

    As you recognize what's going on inside and see it as valid, next, notice what half-truths, limiting beliefs, or lies may be present in this situation. How may fear and pain play a role here as well?

    Ask yourself questions like:

    What aspect of this is true, and what aspect is not true?

    How does what is inside my head line up with what I know is true from God's Word?

    Remember to still keep a compassionate, loving perspective on what you're discovering. Many of us have deeper fears or past pain that drive our negative thoughts, which may cause us to feel paralyzed or push us to work harder. Either of these outcomes can fuel overwhelm.

    Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Hannah Olinger

  • A woman sitting on her bed looking out her window

    3) Decide where you will emotionally dwell and how you will respond.

    What will be your foundation moving forward? The storm may still be raging around you, but on what thoughts will you choose to let your mind rest?

    Sometimes we want to rush to this step and give ourselves a "blanket" statement that may be true but doesn't allow us to reframe our perspective. These statements may also add shame to the overwhelm. They may be truthful words, but are they the specific balm that your heart needs in this moment? Only you can decide, which is why it's so important to ask yourself, "what does my soul really need to find rest and calm?"

    You can also ask yourself questions like:

    How might my needs to be seen, heard, known, and loved play a role in what I'm feeling (and what I need to allow myself to discover in an emotional "dwelling" place)?

    What parts of this situation do I need to surrender as out of my control? What parts do I need to take responsibility for? What parts may I need to hand responsibility to someone else?

    3 Example Mental Reframes When You're Overwhelmed

    Here are some examples of mental reframes based on the acknowledge, discern and decide (ADD) model I shared above. Customize them to fit your situation, or better yet, use the ADD model to come up with your own mental reframes!

    THOUGHT: I'll never make it.

    MENTAL REFRAME: There are so many things piling on top of me that it makes perfect sense why I am worn out, exhausted, and losing hope about certain issues in my life. Life is hard and some situations truly feel like we've had the wind punched out of our chest. I know that God is the orchestrator of my life and that everything has to pass through His hands—bad and good. I also know without a doubt that God loves me and always is looking out for me. When I think about the pain I'm experiencing, those truths aren't in conflict because I know that every experience God allows in my life is an opportunity to grow closer to Him and understand myself more. I never have to be afraid that He won't give me what I need to walk through a particular situation. His love promises to always be there for me, and I've seen so much evidence of this in my life that I can put my trust in His goodness and His comfort as my hiding place as I continue to trust Him for my next steps. I may not quite know how I will make it yet, but that's okay because my loving Father does know, and He's guiding me a little at a time toward my best life. I will choose to believe that I will make it with God as my guide.

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  • A young black man praying, Why we must choose to change

    THOUGHT: I can't ever get ahead.

    MENTAL REFRAME: It absolutely makes sense why I feel behind right now. There's so much happening, and several of these draining parts of my life have been going on for a very long time. The truth is that God is aware of what's going on, and He's here to help me walk through it. I don't have to know how to solve it all today. I don't need to know how I'm going to get ahead. I'm just going to keep going, reflecting on the truth that God will show me everything I need as I need it. He sees my cries and wants to rescue me from this overwhelm, so I stand on His character as a loving Father and trust Him to provide everything I need. I am successful when I obey Him, so I don't need to worry that I'm not "ahead." Obeying God step by step is all I need to do, so that's what I'm choosing to focus on right now.

    THOUGHT: My life is so hard.

    MENTAL REFRAME: It's true that life feels hard right now. There are a lot of unknowns, and fear feels like a constant companion. Although today has problems, I can't think of a time in my life when there wasn't some issue I was working through. Yesterday had problems and tomorrow will too. God does not promise me a problem-free life. He said He would be with us through the problems and show us how to triumph over them. It's also true that yesterday had good things, so I know tomorrow will too. Good things are just as constant as hard things. It's natural to notice the hard times because they're painful, but I have a choice as to whether or not I will allow those hard things to crowd out the good things. Today I'm choosing to stop being mad that life isn't perfect. I will stop looking for things to be better "when." God, help me not let the hard things take control of my emotions and steal the good gifts you give.

    Unfortunately, in our fallen world, stressful and fear-based events will continue to cause us to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and worried. The great news is that God has given us the power to choose how we will approach life's problems. We don't have to be slaves to whatever thoughts are bouncing inside our heads. We can acknowledge what we're feeling is real; we can discern what is true and decide how we will respond. Just like panic and overwhelm are learned behaviors, with some practice, we can learn and practice calm as a new default behavior by learning mindset tools to cultivate new perspectives.

    More Articles from Alicia Michelle:

    3 Ways to Keep a Positive Mindset When Surrounded by Negative People

    4 Ways to Disarm and Calm Your Inner Critic

    7 Questions to Help You Identify and Heal from the Root of Perfectionism

    Photo credit: ©J Waye Covington/Unsplash

    Alicia Michelle is a certified NeuroCoach and host of the award-winning Christian Mindset Coach Podcast. She loves equipping Christian women with practical brain-and-biblically-based tools to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and self-sabotage so that they can cultivate godly confidence. Get her free training on how to overcome negative thoughts and manage anxiety at VibrantChristianLiving.com.