Ways to Cope when You are Overwhelmed at Work

In these days of downsizing, many workers are carrying a heavier work-load than they used to, and feeling overwhelmed by it. The more overwhelmed we feel, the less well are we likely to deal with the problem. Often we get into a state of mind in which we are convinced that nothing will help. At that point, stop, take a deep, slow breath, and commit to trying at least four of the potential solutions below even if you don’t think they apply to your situation – not all of them will. They largely fall into two categories – how you think about the situation, and how you deal with it.

1. Avoid getting into a victim stance. Once you start being a victim you adopt a role of helplessness in which you can do nothing to get yourself out. Remember, there is no knight in shining armor to rescue you. It is your situation, and you, more than anyone else, have responsibility for changing it.

2. Stay in the moment. Do not get caught in the trap of thinking about all the other things that will need doing when you finish what you are doing at that moment. We finish each task much more quickly and easily if we focus solely on it, instead of at the same time worrying about what else we need to do, about the situation in general, and about whose fault it all is.

3. Take time to list all the tasks on which you spend time and decide which ones are not essential. Your first impulse will be that every one of them is absolutely essential. Move past that to decide which tasks are not. There will probably be some that you decided to do because that was the ideal way to do it. Remember that every task serves an end result. In most work situations it is the result that must be achieved, not the process. The process can often be shortened without damage to the result.

4. Let go of control issues. How much of the pressure you are feeling really comes from outside, and how much is actually from you?

5. Delegate. Decide if there is anything that can be delegated, or that more fairly belongs to someone else’s work load. Do not just dump it on them, but discuss with those involved how work may be redistributed more fairly.

6. Come up with your own suggested solutions to the work-time crunch and take them to your boss. S/he will probably be delighted that you are producing, rather than asking for, ways to solve the problem.

7. Keep in mind that work loads are often cyclical. The fact that you are rushed off your feet this week does not mean the situation is permanent. What can you legitimately put aside to catch up on when things slow down a bit? (This is NOT the same thing as procrastinating.)

8. Take your breaks. Five minutes away from the work situation will do far more to clear your head and your attitude than the work you would achieve in that five minutes if you did not leave your desk. Lunch-breaks exist not just so that we can eat, but so that we may take a mental break. Put something in your office or work situation to remind you of pleasant things and take you out of your frantic mind-set. Read or listen to something that will inspire you or bring you peace.

9. When you leave work, leave your work behind. Find time when you can turn off the phone and do not let your work problems rent space in your head during the time when you are not supposed to be working. Some people find it even helps to develop a mental ritual, a metaphorical shaking of the dust from one’s feet, somewhere between leaving work and getting home. I know of one counselor who, as she drives across a bridge, mentally tells her clients good-bye. As she drives back the next morning she greets them again.

10. If you cannot find any way to change your situation, and continue to feel trapped, remind yourself that you chose this job. Remind yourself why. Has it now become something different from what it was when you were hired? Do you still choose it? Are you hanging with people who can discuss only the negatives? Could you start a mini-gratitude list relating only to things that happen, or exist, at work? Try to focus on the positives.

If none of this works, try updating your resume. Even in hard times, some people do find work and perhaps the universe is telling you it is time to stretch yourself and move on.

 

About Diana Gardner Robinson