Overwhelmed: What to do When You’re Paralyzed By Your To-Do List

by Faith & Life, Family, Self-Knowledge

Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you just took a nap? Memes on Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media sites reflect this common experience. Many people, it appears, default to napping when overwhelmed, but is napping really the answer?

Father Mike Schmitz of Ascension Presents has been overwhelmed, too. In this video, Fr. Schmitz says he had over 70 emails, a homily and a talk to write, students arriving on campus, and a “thousand other things.” How was he supposed to handle it?

He found his answer in The Martian, where Matt Damon’s character is stranded on Mars. He needs water; he needs food; he needs to survive for four years until he is rescued. Fr. Schmitz calls The Martian “salty” because it contains some language, but he found the message he needed in Matt Damon’s character.


“Instead of feeling overwhelmed and giving into anxiety and worry, [Matt Damon] just acts,” Fr. Schmitz explains. To kill the anxiety when you are overwhelmed, Fr. Schmitz suggests, just act. Action is how you end up getting things done. When you choose to nap, your laundry list of chores is still waiting for you, but when you act, you are one step closer to your goals.

Sometimes when people want to act, though, they find that they aren’t able to face their tasks. What if everything isn’t perfect? “Perfection paralyzes so many people,” Fr. Schmitz points out. But, one must remember this saying: “Done is better than perfect.”

Only God is perfect.

You should always try to do your best, but find a balance with the reality that you’re not able to be perfect as God is perfect. Otherwise, you could end up paralyzed, in the same place as when you began to feel overwhelmed.

Fr. Schmitz directs us to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV). St Paul addresses Christians struggling with the same problem of perfection: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Overwhelmed, people often make their situation worse by holding onto unrealistic or impossible standards. Live in the present. Take action. Talk to God, the only One who can ever be completely perfect. As St. Paul writes, we cannot know everything, but we can know that God is calling us towards heaven even though we might be a mess.

The Serenity Prayer

Try to memorize the Serenity Prayer so that in times of need, you can find peace. 

For Further Discussion:

1. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) What are you most frequently overwhelmed about, and how can you change your reaction to it to help?

2. How does perfection prevent you from accomplishing tasks? Where do you need to accept that “Done is better than perfect”?

3. Where does perfection affect your relationship with God? Are you trying to do too much or comparing yourself with others you think are more holy? What is God’s Will for you?

4. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) How can you better accept that you are perfectly imperfect, and your Heavenly Father is perfect and loves you?

5. Learn about the lives of St. Dymphna or St. Hugh of Grenoble, patrons of anxiety and being overwhelmed. Who else do you know that can be a role model or help you when you find yourself overwhelmed?

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