For some of us, feeling overwhelmed at work is part of our daily lives.
Our brains are a muddle of priorities, pressures and demands that lead us to total exhaustion and a lack of confidence that seeps into all areas of our lives. Some of us can remember a time when we were confident, happy and productive. We didn’t feel judged, anxious or on edge and weren’t easily annoyed or irritable at the smallest of things. It’s a distant memory for some, but can you remember being able to stop worrying and that feeling of being totally relaxed?
If this resonates with you, I’m not a mind-reader. I’ve just been in that space of feeling totally overwhelmed at work.
There are many articles out there with tips on how to avoid feeling overwhelmed at work, and my biggest objection to these tips is that they infer it’s all about ‘getting more organised.’ The irony of this is that anyone who knows me knows I AM ORGANISED and very capable. For me, it’s not about organising tasks; it’s about creating as much certainty and stability as possible in a world that is full of demands and constant change.
Before starting the Resilience Development Company, the mistake I always made was thinking that feeling overwhelmed was in my DNA. After all, some of us are born with a gene that can make us feel more stressed, so surely feeling overwhelmed at work is unavoidable?
I’ve learned that feeling overwhelmed comes naturally to me, but it is avoidable. What you won’t perhaps want to hear is that there is no easy or quick fix because when uncertainty is high, or you are feeling squeezed by work pressures, it’s the easiest thing in the world to let your worries have free rein, blame everyone or something around you or totally disengage. If you recognise you feel overwhelmed, trust me, you are halfway there to gain back the ‘old’ YOU!
Here are 5 simple resilience skills that will help you take back control and avoid feeling overwhelmed at work:
Skill 1 – Take a Tactical Breath
Think about how you breathe when you’re stressed. It’s short, sharp breaths into the top of your lungs. When you are calm and relaxed, those breaths are long and deep and into the pit of your stomach. Tactical breathing is a technique that helps you to breathe deep and long. It is a quick and effective way to switch off your fight-or-flight stress response and help you to remain calm and relaxed. It also has the bonus of helping you fall asleep if you are struggling. The technique is:
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold for 7 seconds
- Breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds
- Repeat 3-4 times
Finding it hard? Count the 4-7-8 at your own pace. If you struggle to hold it for 7, don’t. You are aiming to achieve an exhale that is twice as long as the inhale and a big deep breath from the diaphragm.
Skill 2 – Perspective
Whilst we are outwardly trying to keep it all together, inside it’s easy to buckle under the pressure and allow catastrophic thinking about the worst-case scenario to cloud thinking. To combat catastrophic thinking, ask yourself:
- What is the worst thing that can happen?
- Then ask yourself what’s the best thing that can happen?
- Lastly, ask yourself what the most likely thing that can happen?
- Exaggerate your answers and keep going until you get to the most extreme answer.
- Now plan for the most likely scenario.
You can also look after your wellbeing by doing the simple things well like;
- Access COVID-19 information and advice only from trusted sources.
- Limit exposure to social media, where facts can become both blurred and exaggerated.
Skill 3 – 3Cs. Focus on what you can control
It’s understandable to feel a lack of control during these extraordinary times, and it’s simply not possible to influence and control everything. The 3C’s skill will enable you to put your energy into proactive and practical action. Grab a pen and paper and create three columns:
- In the first column list your concerns.
- In the 2nd column, write down what you can influence or control about one or all of the concerns in the first column.
- In the third column, write down one thing you are going to commit to doing and take action!
Example 1: a concern might be the worldwide spread of COVID-19. We can’t influence it globally but what we can do is influence it individually through social distancing/self-isolation. A proactive stance might be to research on-line delivery outlets for foodstuff and making an inventory of food as and when orders need to be made.
Example 2: you might have concerns that your boss isn’t as supportive as possible. A way to proactively influence it might be to tell them how you are being affected and what you need.
Skill 4 – Focus on the good and remain positive
Biologically, our brains are wired for the negative and all this exposure to bad news and uncertainty means it can be even more challenging to focus on the good things that we are grateful for. We have to work hard to beat our natural negativity bias and grab the good. Here’s how to do it:
- Spend some time once a day, reflecting on the positive things or experiences that you are grateful for.
- Write down three things you are grateful for or that have gone well today.
- Write down why you are grateful for it.
- Focus on HOW you can get more of this good stuff in your life.
Although at first this can be tough and feel very unnatural, it’s worth persevering with.
Ways to use it:
- After a stressful meeting or event, switch off your stress response by focusing on finding three good things about that meeting, because they will be there!
- At the end of the working day, stop stress creeping into your personal life by thinking of 3 good things that have happened that day or three things that you are grateful for. No matter how trivial, they will be there!
- Start remote team meetings off by ”grabbing the good”.
- Try opening your next meeting by spending a few moments focusing on the good things that have happened that week.
Skill 5 – Stability zones
Stability Zones are the places, people, ideas, groups or things you have around you that make you feel safe, secure and confident. It’s helpful to think of them as buffers to stress against the outside world. Identify your Stability Zones, nurture them and appreciate them as they are an effective way to manage pressure and stress.
Part 1. Identify your Stability Zones. Think about the people, pets, places, things and groups you have around you. Try to think broadly and be honest. If one of your things is your favourite teddy and you’re 45, that’s ok. Stability zones are personal to you.
Part 2: Now, work out which ones you should nurture. The danger here is that you invest your time in your temporary stability zones, and you rely on something that is not always going to be there.
Finding it hard?
Stability Zones can be your “saving grace” when the pressure is on. The irony is that they are the first thing we put aside when we feel stressed.
We all have bad days. What matters is how we deal with it. Be proactive and use the skills to challenge your thinking and maintain your mood.
The strength to manage your responses during these difficult times will dramatically increase your capacity for resilience and good mental health, now and into the future. Remember:
- Bad days will happen. Allow yourself time to see the situation objectively. Then you can respond with healthy choices that lead to better days ahead.
- When things aren’t going to plan, it can quickly put you in a bad mood. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only temporary and you can beat it.