Anxious or stressed at work? You could be experiencing workplace overwhelm. Psychologist Dr. Jan Smith offers advice on finding the perfect work/life balance
Sometimes you might lack the motivation to get up and start work – especially as the dark and cold mornings don’t lure many out of bed with ease.
You might also feel a sense of dread, worry, are anxious or irritable. Having moments of this is expected, and most people find ways to manage them.
When you continually overwork, you soon become emotionally and physically exhausted
However, when these emotions tip into feeling uncontrollable, this can be described as ‘overwhelm’.
Every now and then you may have to work intensely to meet a deadline or complete a project. However, this should be sporadically and not the norm.
When you continually overwork, you soon become emotionally and physically exhausted, increasing your risk of burnout.
This will have a significant short and long-term impact on your mental and physical health and take a prolonged period to recover from.
What can cause workplace overwhelm?
Whatever has caused you to feel overwhelmed will be individual for everyone.
Broadly, it can be that you don’t understand the task you’ve been assigned, you have too many deadlines, do not have sufficient resources to do your job effectively, or have relationship strains with colleagues.
To help with some of these, you could create a to-do list to prioritise which tasks you need to complete. Ask if others can support you to meet deadlines or identify resources that might help.
When you have finished work, as tempting as it might be, try not to check emails or respond to messages until you are back at work – hold your boundaries.
Signs of overwhelm to look out for…
Feeling overwhelmed is on a scale, which means there are subtle signs to look for before it escalates.
For example, you might not feel any different, but in your head, you’re regularly thinking about a challenging aspect of work.
Having moments of overwhelm, like feeling stressed, irritable, anxious, or worrying when you think about work or being at work, are signs they need addressing.
letting someone know would be a significant first step
Whereas, if you’ve more extended periods of feeling this way, or feelings worsen and develop into panic attacks, crying or verbally lashing out – reaching out and letting someone know would be a significant first step in helping you get support.
Also, if someone acknowledges that you’re overwhelmed and are offering support, consider accepting this.
What does the perfect work/life balance look like?
The perfect work/life balance isn’t a goal to achieve; rather, it is something that you always need to pay attention to because your life and work priorities will shift; they’re not static.
The reality is that sometimes you might need to focus more on work and other times on home life, which ensures that work doesn’t begin to creep into each area of your life and preoccupy your mind a lot.
This needs to stay high on your agenda regularly, so you periodically monitor if the balance is out of kilter and how you might address it.
sometimes you might need to focus more on work and other times on home life
Connect with how you are regularly feeling, as this will gauge when you have reached an optimal balance.
For example, if you feel calmer, happier, enjoying and connecting with work and personal life, this might indicate you’ve reached (or are reaching) a place of balance.
Take a few minutes and write down what you’re doing in work and life that’s contributing to you feeling this way, so it could be you’re better organised and so can spend longer time with family and friends.
Tips on how to calm down if you feel overwhelmed:
Identifying the factors contributing to you feeling overwhelmed will help immensely. That way, you can address it directly.
It is worth noting that despite addressing these, you will continue to have moments of feeling overwhelmed- everyone does.
So, to help with this, when you detect those feelings that arise, take a moment and breathe: fully through your nose and have a longer exhalation until you’ve calmed (this is discreet).
Take regular breaks, even if it’s just fiver to ten minutes
Break your time into sizable and manageable chunks, so getting through a full day feels stressful; focus on the morning. If that feels too much, reduce it to hourly.
Take regular breaks, even if it’s just fiver to ten minutes, and if you can, try to get some fresh air.
Telling a loved one they need to take a break
This might feel like a tricky subject to broach, particularly when your family member or friend’s heightened emotions.
Part of having loving and trusting relationships means having difficult conversations sometimes. Choose a moment when you’re not going to get interrupted.
If this is impractical, it might be that you ‘book in’ some time during work hours.
Rather than have the plan at the beginning of the conversation, they must take a break, try to understand with empathy their situation. Try not to start the conversation with the word ‘you’.
Instead describe what you’ve been noticing, for example, ‘over the past few months, I’ve heard you talk more about work and the pressures you’re facing. It sounds really tough, and I’ve noticed that you’re not yourself. What has it felt like for you?
Try not to start the conversation with the word ‘you’
Try to create a safe space for them to share without feeling attacked. Also, reinforce that it feels difficult to watch them struggle because you love them, and you want to be supportive.
Asking them what they feel they need at this time could be explored. Also, listen to their response and offer a range of suggestions that might be helpful.
Dr Jan Smith is a chartered psychologist that specialises in workplace mental health. She’s the founder of www.healthyyoultd.co.uk
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