Overcome the Overwhelming Sink or Swim Feeling at Your Job
Overwhelm at work can vary.
Sometimes, your boss quits without notice — my particular true story. Or you were hired a month ago, and your co-worker is leaving. That means you’ll be in charge now. And by the way, compensation, what’s that?
Or how about being overwhelmed while I’m writing a post about overwhelm. All the while taking on more responsibility at my day job while striving to keep my writing side hustle alive and well.
It could be, you were hired for a position with minimal to no training, and you’re told to have at it. Go swimming. Oh, you don’t know how? As they say, sink or swim.
Do you feel like it’s your responsibility? As a first-born child, I feel like it’s ingrained in me to not let the ship sink. However, the more I white-knuckle one ship, the more neglectful I am of the other.
We deal with overwhelm in a few different ways. Sometimes, your mind won’t stop going 100 miles per minute with everything you have to accomplish. Yet there are only 24 hours in a day, right? Other people deal with overwhelm by procrastinating, withdrawing, screaming, or hiding, hoping through a baseless reality that someone else will pick up the slack.
Overwhelm is a tricky emotion. It’s mixed with anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. In the study, “Conceptual Foreknowings: Integrative Review of Feeling Overwhelmed,”
Author Edwin-Nikko R. Kabigting sums up overwhelm:
“The three themes that emerged from an immersion into the current literature are as follows: (a) feeling overwhelmed arises as an engulfing turbulence, (b) feeling overwhelmed surfaces with disquiet isolation, and © feeling overwhelmed emerges with reaching for relief.”
We can all probably relate to these themes. Especially wishing and hoping for relief. And why do you have to be the only one picking up the slack, anyway?
Did you know overwhelm is a response to our autonomic system? Specifically our sympathetic nervous system. After living in a constant state of overwhelm our brain will shut down with overload, causing our fight, flight, or freeze response to deal with the threat, the danger of our physical and psychological overwhelm. This is why we all handle it differently.
So, instead of walking out and burning bridges at your current job, maybe you can manage your overwhelm. At least until you find another job with these tips. One’s I’m also implementing and using.
Five tips on handling overwhelm
Reach out to others, like co-workers and friends — As it’s been said, divide and conquer. If you have co-workers in your department lean on each other. Divide responsibilities and work together as a team. It’s also emotionally cathartic to vent to each other about your dilemma. It’s also helpful to talk each other off that proverbial ledge too. And women especially feel more relief from overwhelming feelings when we talk it out with our friends, says the study, What To Do About Being Overwhelmed: Graduate Students, Stress and University Services.
Tidy up your workspace — When you’re feeling out of control everywhere in your life, start with a small area of your life that is relatively easy to organize. Jade Wu P.h. D. explains this in her post, 8 Strategies to Manage Overwhelming Feelings. This technique will reward you in completing this small task, giving you some quiet in the overwhelm to start on your other tasks at hand.
You can say no — I’m guilty here, at over-extending myself. Thinking I can do it all, but did you know this doesn’t work for us in the long run. Short term, maybe. In fact, author Susan Newman, Ph.D., in The Book of No, 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever,(McGraw-Hill, 2005) explains this over-extending can lead to errors in our work or reduced job performance. Additionally, she writes, “Before you say yes, think strategically about what you agree to and what advantage it holds for you.” Words I may tattoo on the back of my hand.
Try a small step. This can amount to significant steps — says, Therapy, in a NutShell, Emma McAdam — Licensed Mariage and Family Therapist. The smallest, tiniest step, like reading an email, or just walking through the door, can propel you forward to accomplishing your day. After that next small step, you can move on to another and another. Before you know it, by breaking things down into small incremental steps, you’ve made a whole lot more progress than you thought you could or would have. Try one day at a time, or even one hour at a time.
Shift your perspective — Heart Math Institue performed a study on the feelings of overwhelm. They found the primary source of overwhelmed feelings came from the “amount of significance they assigned to the projects, situations, and encounters in their lives.” It wasn’t necessarily the tasks themselves but the intense feelings surrounding them that fueled their overwhelm. The solution was to remove the significance associated with the overwhelm. They did this by focusing on changing their emotions around the situation of tasks, projects, deadlines, etc.
Those individuals that felt the dread, anxiety, and other lower emotions that come with overwhelm were asked instead to purposefully change and insert a new, uplifting emotion like love, gratitude, joy, etc. For many, this shift helped to reduce their overwhelm and provided a calmness within.
When dealing with overwhelm at work, it’s hard to take a step back and evaluate, but it’s essential for your job performance, quality of life, setting boundaries, mental clarity, and moving forward.
I hope these tips help curb your overwhelm and get you focused on getting things done with more relief. Personally, right now, I’m a big fan of one small step at a time and possibly getting a new tattoo!