What do you do when you feel overwhelmed at work? And you don’t just FEEL overwhelmed – you really ARE overwhelmed? Your mind is going at 180 mph, and all the tasks are whirling around in your brain so fast that you can’t seem to grab any one of them long enough to make a decision about it. The more anxious you feel about that, the more your mind blanks out. In order to catch a break, you may simply behave like a frightened turtle, pulling your head inside your shell and hunkering down until the maelstrom has passed.
This is a pretty typical reaction. Under stress we become less creative, not more innovative. The part of our brain that makes clear, logical decisions breaks down and our protective instinct takes over. It’s good to feel safe –—
Except in today’s workplace, it can be detrimental to pull your head into your ‘shell’ and hide out. Feeling overwhelmed and transforming to a ‘survival’ mode works when we are truly in danger (During the recent East coast earthquake, my heart rate stayed elevated for about 30 minutes.). At work –well – you’ve got work to do. Pulling your head into your shell is not only a poor strategy at work; it can cost you the very job you want to protect.
- Breathe slowly – slowing down your breathing and movement can slow down the adrenalin that is rushing through your body. Slower adrenalin allows you to recoup your ability to think.
- Take a break – Overloading your brain creates stress. Take a 5 minute break every hour – and give yourself a mental pause. Play a puzzle game, let your mind wander; listen to a piece of music or a favorite song. If you want to keep going- take time to change it up.
- Break it down – Take big tasks and break them into a series of small tasks. Getting the small tasks done seems easier and creates forward momentum.
- Take social action – It doesn’t get the work done, but talking to someone else (even if it’s just a 3 minute venting session) can put you in the right frame of mind for decision making. Sometimes, talking about it can ramp some people up to actually act. And there are some folks who, once they get something off tier chest, can move forward.
- Get a Cue – Having a visual or tactile cur like a post it not, a sign on the wall, a rubber band around your wrist, can serve to remind you to employ a specific strategy that works to slow or stop the pace.
- Take care – getting enough sleep and eating well nourish your body which allows it to be more stress-hardy. Rest and nourishment keeps the adrenalin down.
When I work with clients who are overwhelmed, I point out that when the pressure they feel is greater than their ability to adapt to that pressure, it creates stress, which in turn creates a sense of being overwhelmed.
PRESSURE – ADAPTABILITY = STRESS
If you can’t eliminate the pressure at work (and few of us can), increase your ability to adapt: take advantage of the cozy comfort of your shell for the time it takes to take a few deep breaths and focus on the ONE thing you can do right now. Then stick your head back out and DO that.