On occasion, a client will arrive at my office feeling completely overwhelmed. Together, we work to address this feeling as our first task so that the person can move to a place of calm.
I am currently feeling overwhelmed at work myself. I have bitten off more special projects than I can chew at the moment. I know I won’t make good decisions in this state, so the best thing for me to do is to take myself to place of calm so I can re-think the situation.
And here’s how I do just that.
- I tell myself that nothing that I have scheduled to do in the foreseeable future is a matter of life or death. I am not in physical danger, and I am not dying. This realization helps me to relax. Knowing no one is going to die if things go off the rails once in a while can be a helpful coping strategy all by itself.
- I make myself a cup of tea. I sit down and allow myself the time to enjoy it. And I take some deep breaths, which helps reduce the level of adrenaline in my system and calms my body and my mind.
- I make sure I have a good meal, because having food in my stomach helps me think a whole lot better.
- Then I make a to-do list.
- I rearrange the items on the to-do list, according to the level of urgency affixed to each one. Headings I write items under on the to-do list are Immediate, Soon, Later, and Never Going to Happen. I remind myself to push back everything that can get pushed back. I am a fan of the last two categories, labelled Later and Never Going to Happen, because they help me create breathing space.
- I look at the items in the Immediate and Soon categories and ask, “What do I have to do myself?” and “What can I ask someone else to help me with?” Then I think about who I know who can help me. I allow myself to be super creative and problem-solve during this phase.
- After I create the revised to-do list, I go for a walk, because exercise is vital to remaining on your feet when you’re in a heavy period and are over-committed. Exercise clears your head, and allows your body to burn off some of the adrenaline your body produces when you feel overwhelmed. Regular exercise during stressful periods is vital and is key to staving off burnout.
My personal situation is simple because I work for myself. If you report to a supervisor, you will likely need to explain that you find yourself over-committed and the solutions you plan to put in place.
Sometimes a supervisor will see your priorities differently than you do. If you’ve done your thinking before you both sit down and are in a state of calm, you will absolutely be in a better position to negotiate how to move forward.
Now there is being over-committed and there is being OVER-COMMITTED. Here are a couple of thoughts for you if you find yourself in a situation where things are really on fire.
- Delay making any major decisions until after you’ve had a chance to calm yourself. Take yourself somewhere safe. Maybe leave the office early and head for home. I realize you may feel you have to fix the problem immediately, but I promise that taking time to calm yourself first will lead to better decision-making.
- Find someone to talk to who is good at remaining calm and talk the problem through with them. Often talking to someone with fresh eyes can help us see a way through a problem that we can’t see when we are alone.
- As soon as you can, take a day off, and plan a vacation as soon as possible. This may sound counter intuitive, but no one thinks well when they’re tired, and rest often allows us to get a fresh perspective on things.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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