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The work must go on: How to reduce feeling overwhelmed


The work must go on: How to reduce feeling overwhelmed

Let me quickly run you through the daily routine of a digital writer. I don’t just write. I also have to come up with creative ideas to put on social media. I have to undertake a great deal of research to ensure that I have a firm grasp of the topic at hand.

Some days the work gets done faster than others because I might be well-versed in one topic but not another. One day I might work on an app and the next, a print advert. The point is, this type of work takes up a lot of my headspace.

When I glance through my long to-do list for the day, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. This type of thinking is counter-intuitive. I end up using the energy needed to complete the task worrying about actually completing the task. Feeling overwhelmed not only has psychological drawbacks but physical ones too.

When we feel overwhelmed, we’re signalling to our brain that our demands outweigh our resources. Our brains then interpret this as danger and it might trigger the “fight, flight or freeze” stress response  – which could lead to experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches, a low mood and energy. In my case, I start feeling light-headed.

This is not ideal, but thankfully there are ways to combat it. I’ve often found myself feeling like there’s too much on my plate, and like many others, turned to Google to help me cope. Here’s what I’ve learnt over the years.

I plan my day

I chart my course of action for the day. It immediately gives me a sense of control. Just writing down what needs to get done is effective. It takes all the thoughts flying around dizzily in my head, grounds them and turns them into an actionable list I can manage. From there, I spend some time prioritising my tasks to see how my day should unfold. This helps me identify what to focus on now and what to focus on next.

I use the stop technique: I pay attention to my own cues. When I find that I’m feeling overwhelmed, I know that I need to pause what I’m doing. By breathing in slowly and deeply, I can clear my mind and attune myself to thoughts, emotions and physical reactions and then refocus and reprioritise what I’m doing.

The can-control mindset: When we feel in control of situations, our self-esteem is higher and we are more optimistic about our ability to deal with the stress we’re facing. Focus on what you can control instead of thinking about the mammoth task ahead of you. So I focus on what I can do and not what I have to do right this minute. Follow the simple yet effective mantra of: be proactive, not reactive.

If I can’t settle, it’s time to get moving

Some days it’s harder to relax and refocus. On those days, I find that it helps to get moving and rid myself of some of the nervous energy I’ve built up. A great alternative is to try a little exercise. I take a walk around the office block. The combination of some exercise and the separation from my workspace (albeit briefly) helps me get back into the zone.

Speak to people around you

I work in a deadline-driven environment. Often, there is an overload of tasks, but at the end of the day, they have to be delivered. We have a well-structured production process, but at times you can still feel overloaded. If this is the case, then it’s time to speak up. Share your feelings and workload with your manager or project manager.

Often, when we don’t communicate this, the people around us won’t know there’s anything wrong. For example, I underestimated my ability to complete a task one day, noticed this early in the workday and spoke up about it during a standup. When this happened, a coworker came to my rescue and shared the workload.

In a nutshell

The key to overcoming your feelings of being overwhelmed boils down to acknowledging that the situation is stressing you out, being honest with yourself and the people around you and communicating those feelings. Try to take action, you are allowed to ask for help if you are not able to think clearly about what is ahead of you.

If anything resonated with you in the blog or you want to share your own stories, we’d love to hear all about it.

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