How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

relaxed-at-workSo you’re stressed out and you have too much to complete. What do you do?

Usually someone does the opposite of what they should really do. They try to rush through to get as much done as possible without being aware of their body signals.

This is actually funny to me. I have often seen co-workers making calls, writing an email and planning their night all at the same time they’re rushing to get all their work done and then they complain about feeling stressed out.

Instead of looking at the root cause, they apply topical solutions to the problem. I’ll explain as this article continues.

I’ve actually tried talking to these stressed out people about their habits and all I get are grumpy stares. I’m sure they are addicted to the rush of rushing around. We all love to feel important, making sure our ego gets that daily dose of “oh yeah, that’s why I’m on Earth.”

The problem is that our hearts, minds, and stomachs can’t handle the pressure. No wonder we eat for comfort. We are constantly on the edge trying to bring ourselves back to solid ground. We also forget that we have superpowers that need to be used more often.  We forget that we are put on this earth to thrive instead of just survive. That means doing work that gets us excited, gets us in the zone, and plays to our strengths. It’s a lot easier to keep stress back when we are doing work that comes easy to us.

We also need to find other ways to relax with the work that we do without feeling overwhelmed. It’s a mental game that we must all solve for ourselves.

I use 3 techniques that I’ve combined to help me deal with my frustration, plus a bonus idea that has worked well for me:

- Slow your movements for a specified amount of time

- Increase speed slowly

- Be 100% there

* Bonus Tip

Slow Down Your Movements

The whole world seems to advocate slowing down. There are countless songs about it. Here is a small sample of lyrics – Jack Johnson, Bobby Valentine, and Wyclef Jean.

After doing research on work habits and how they cause stress, I found an article on the Wall Street Journal website called Not so Fast.

After reading the piece I understood the root cause of our stress.

It all comes down to how we adjust to the pace of our work.

If you have a lot to get done then of course you need to increase the pace of your work, but how much more can you take? Do you increase your pace by 10% or maybe 25%? And how much can you reasonably handle? How do you measure your stress level so you don’t fall into the fetal position crying and sucking your thumb?

When you feel like work will crash down on top of you, refuse to give in to the game. Take 30 minutes to work at a slower pace. Use this time to type slower, breathe slower, and think slower. You’ll be surprised by the work you are able to accomplish.

I was recently stressed out so I put myself in a slow motion state, working at 50% capacity. I did this for 30 minutes. It was hard to not jump right back up to full speed. There were a couple of times when I caught myself working too fast and I had to pull back. Try typing at 50% reduced speed. It’s hard not to fall back into regular typing habits.

This exercise helped me prioritize. After that half hour was over I increased my speed, but I felt much more relaxed and able to enjoy my work.

When you challenge yourself to work at a more manageable pace, you usually increase your stress level. But you can challenge yourself for a small amount of time to help you reframe the situation. This added stress will help you in the long run.

I know you still need to get your stuff done, but be mindful of your pace. Learning to slow down when the nerves are about to snap is a great tool to improve your work happiness.

Increase Speed Slowly

The only way a professional athlete will get beyond his current skill level is to push outside of his comfort zone. That may mean 30 more minutes in the gym, 30 more minutes of practice, or 30 more minutes of studying. I picked 30 minutes because it seems reasonable. When you want to add 2 hours to any routine you will rebel and fall back into old habits.

When I first started blogging, everyone told me to post every single day.

That’s not me.

I started with short posts twice a week, moved up to three short posts, then one long and three short, to one long and one medium and to one video post each week. The idea was to slowly increase the amount I could handle. I’ve also added a cartoon to the weekly mix, so that’s four posts a week. That seems to be a good fit for now.

I know that you may not have this luxury at your job. So try pushing hard for 1 hour then take a break. I means push yourself really hard and see what signals your body gives off.

- Do you feel tense?
- Do you feel invigorated?
- Do you feel tired?

Be aware of how you feel and what you need to do for yourself after 1 hour. That’s when you should take a break or pull way back. If your shoulders are tight and you have a headache then take these signals as a need for a break. If you feel grumpy then you may only need to slow down to let yourself recharge.

Be 100% There

Many of my most frustrating moments have been when I tried to multitask. I try to do a difficult task while also doing more menial tasks.

For example, sometimes I try to work on my blog, while also keeping an eye on my kid. He’s young, so I need to give him my full attention if he isn’t sleeping. I’ve tried researching an article while he lies in his crib, but I end up going in and checking on him every ten minutes. I can’t stay focused. So instead of pushing through, I make a decision to give 100% of my focus to him. Then when Nikki comes home and I let her take over so I can finish my work.

Bonus – Find the Game that Fits You

Many of you probably want to become more productive while still feeling relaxed. This takes practice. So try to make it a game. If you know you want create a blog, write a novel, or learn to draw cartoons then start slowly. The idea should be to devote a little time every day to accomplish your goals. That may mean sitting down every night and refusing to allow anything to distract you for thirty minutes.

The game comes in how much you can accomplish in this short amount of time. Can you write half a page, one page, and then step up to two pages? Can you decrease your TV time while increasing your creative time?

If you feel tired when you come home and all you want to do is relax then you need to make a choice. Push past your present limits or accept where you are?

Putting it all Together

The hard part is relaxing as the stress increases. I focus on my body signals, such as a headache or tightening in my legs, back, and neck (my three stress catchers).

When I feel stressed, I focus on slowing down my thoughts, taking deep breaths, and relaxing my muscles as I work. When I feel the signals again, I bring myself back to the same routine. I keep bringing myself back to the same routine, retraining how I respond to the work. After I’m calm I slowly begin to ramp up my work level.

This has been a long work in progress. After practicing this for a couple of years I’ve learned to notice frustration before it overwhelms me.

I reprogrammed my habits so that I can change the way I feel before I become overwhelmed. Instead of getting all huffy and puffy, which used to force me to take a break, I’m able to pull back for a few minutes then ramp back up again. It has become a more natural work flow instead of forced effort.

Natural Work Flow

As you practice these techniques, you’ll eventually find your comfort zone and discover how to push past it so you can accomplish work that makes you feel strong.

Never think of yourself as lazy. You just need to find a way to enjoy a little discomfort to push to a new level.

* Join over 400 people who have already subscribed to the FREE Happy at Work 10 Week eCourse. It will arrive in your inbox every Monday morning. When you need it the most. (Sign up is also in the top left corner)

* I write about fear on this blog, but have trouble catching it’s true essence. Marc and Angel wrote a wonderful post that gets right to the heart of fear. It’s called I Would Rather Sound Stupid.

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Image courtesy of Perfesser

Comments

  1. This was an excellent article Karl and so valuable – thank you!

    For me it really comes down to the most what you mention in your third point being 100% present.

    Conscious actions, by being present truly work wonders. We are more aware of our words, thoughts and actions, and seem to make much better decisions in what we are doing, how much we can handle, how we are doing, etc….

    So this is fantastic…I know it is so easy to get overwhelmed with too much, but following these points is a sure way to break through the cycle. Thank you again.

  2. This is a great post, Karl! Just tweeted it! :)

  3. Karl,

    Just the words “Not so fast” work for me. I try to do too much at once, get overwhelmed, then procrastinate, then get going again…unfocused. How’s that for a confession!

    Your blog is very helpful for ADHD people like me!

  4. Hi Karl,

    These are some great suggestions for coping with feeling overwhelmed by a heavy load–whether at work or just as part of life. I like your idea of making the decision to just deliberately slow down and really focus on the one task in front of you for a set period of time. Based on my work experiences, this is absolutely crucial if you’re dealing with complex data or information and accuracy is absolutely critical to the project. Trying to push harder and go faster in these circumstances pretty much guarantees there will be oversights, errors or omissions which really lead to more stress. I’m sure there’s a reason for the expression “Haste makes waste…”

    Sometimes recognizing that one is feeling completely overwhelmed and frantic and actually deciding to take a break to regroup, eat a healthy snack, or do a few quick stretches might be a better choice than changing pace. I’ve seen–and experienced first hand–what happens when people do not stop to take the breaks that their body and mind need to rejuvenate every few hours and it generally leads to crankiness, poorer performance with ultimately more errors due to fatigue or the stress of feeling overwhelmed, and a lower morale in the office.

    Sometimes it might be the case that the amount of work and time lines given actually are quite unrealistic and what is needed is a chat with the supervisor about reassessing the workload or estimates of how long it will actually take to complete a project and do some negotiating around extending deadlines, especially if it’s framed in terms of providing the best possible service to the client whether internal or external to the organization. If this happens on a regular basis, then I would say that the person assigning the projects maybe needs some gentle education around what is reasonable and realistic. (Easier said than done, though.)

    Hope these additional thoughts on the subject are helpful.

  5. Hi Karl — thanks for this — paying attention to how we’re feeling is something I think we could all benefit from doing a little more often when we’re sitting in front of our computers — when we get lost in the content of what we’re doing we can lose sight of our own needs and get stressed and resentful.

  6. I’m a fan of using speed for results — whether it’s slowing down to enjoy the moment, or speeding up to make something a game and stay fully engaged.

  7. Hi Evita, Getting overwhelmed can happen so easily. We just need to be mindful and have ready to use techniques that help us relax and stay productive.

    Hi Positively Present, Thank you.

    Hi Tess, We can get caught in a viscous cycle if we aren’t careful. By slowing down we help stop that cycle and find time to relax or at least reduce our stress.

    Hi Sue, Talking with the people that ask you to do the work is a great way to nip the pain in the bud. There are times others have unrealistic expectations. They need to know this and help us create a better schedule.

    Hi Chris, We can’t ever lose sight of our needs because if we aren’t happy we aren’t doing our best work.

    Hi J.D., Speed is very important. We have to know when to stomp on the gas or when to ease up.

  8. The pointer you have shared here are no easy task to achieve. However, in my experience, they are a powerful means to reduce pressure. Therefore, one must master the principles you ave shared here. :-)

  9. Karl,
    Over the years, I have really worked at focusing on the idea of “this too shall pass”. While there can still be moments, remembering this thought has done wonders. I also *try* to focus on single-tasking instead of multi-tasking. When I do this, I am fully focused on the one thing in front of me, instead of only partially focused on several things.

  10. Stress is, literally, in our heads. It’s thoughts. It’s control and it’s a lack of awareness. I also think it’s a little bit of narcissism. When we’re not present, as you mentioned above, there is stress. If we slow down, breathe and stay in the moment (easier said than done!) there is no stress. Truly. It takes practice to get there because having the tools handy and accessing them isn’t as easy (unfortunately) as reading a blog post.

    A topic near and dear to my heart! :-)

  11. Denver Virtual Assistant says:

    Nice post Karl. I am around a lot of people who always seem as if they need to unwind. These simple steps are nice reminders for us all.

Trackbacks

  1. Relieving stress – 8 excellent articles « Always Well Within says:

    [...] 6. How to stop feeling overwhelmed – Karl Staib at Work Happy Now “So you’re stressed out and you have too much to complete. What do you do? Usually someone does the opposite of what they should really do. They try to rush through to get as much done as possible without being aware of their body signals.” [...]

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