When Life is Overwhelming, Do This

When my kids are in a zone of continual complaints, or they feel stressed and overwhelmed about the amount of work on their plates (hello, new world of high school), I tell them this: pause, take a few breaths, and say out loud five things you’re thankful for. It’s a mom thing to say, and it’s usually responded first with eyerolls, but they eventually comply.

And it almost always works. I mean, it doesn’t dissolve the to-do list or melt away all the stress, but it helps reset our brains and hearts — it gives instant perspective. Our life is more-or-less fantastic, and things really are generally okay. It may not feel like it in the moment, but it will pass, and life will go on.

(Of course, I’m talking about the natural stressors and overwhelm of typical life, I’m not referring to something more severe or intense, like depression and anxiety. I’m all about the therapy and/or meds there.)

So. When I’m tempted to complain or collapse on the couch in a fury of why is life so stressful right now?, I usually forget my own words to my kids. I don’t see the goodness in my life. I see the regret, the seemingly never-ending expectations, and the deadlines. I forget to pause and name my gratitude list.

Funny how that happens.

Life is intense right now. Not bad, not beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’m not in despair. But I am admittedly in overwhelm. There’s just a lot of a lot.

So, here we go…

What I’m grateful for right now

• New mercies every. single. morning, reminded by yet another sunrise. Amazing that this keeps on happening, day after day, and has for millennia.

• Quiet mornings before the kids wake, coupled with a few minutes of silence + coffee. It’s my favorite.

• Technology that so easily connects our relationships — as I write this, I’m also currently texting with a dear friend in Thailand. I so easily forget how amazing this is.

• Our family is mostly healthy, and that is a huge, merciful thing. It’s far too easy to take health for granted.

• I’m grateful for modern medicine. Docs found my beloved extended family member’s health condition in time for surgery this past week (vague, I know, but for privacy reasons).

• I love my work. Yes, it’s a lot, and yes, right now there are changes happening, but when I zoom out, I still can’t believe I get to do what I do. What in the world.

• Our family has traveled to all sorts of places, bonding as we go. I truly do believe the cliched saying, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. I’m mad grateful for those experiences.

• It’s not perfect, but I can move my body and it can do hard things. Every morning it’s a miracle that our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing in and out, and our muscles do what they need to do. Our brains keep firing. Incredible.

• We have a roof over our head, enough food in the pantry, clothes to cover us, cars to get us where we need to be, and comfortable beds for sleeping. This means we’re among the wealthiest in the world and did absolutely nothing to deserve it. What a gift. 


…I feel better. I knew I would, but it’s still a delight when it happens. My typical response to this exercise is to get back to the work before me, hug my kids (a little tighter than they’d like), and do a little something that’s outside myself today — donate to a charity, leave a few more dollars in our coffee shop’s tip jar, or stop and talk with a neighbor with whom I usually wave and walk on. 

So, once I hit publish, these are things I’ll do. Life is okay. 

Add to this list, friends — what are you grateful for?

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