7 Methods to Reroute Burnout When You’re Overwhelmed
I clearly remember it. I just kept looking at the clock, hoping the day would be over soon. I didn’t know how long I could keep looking happy with my colleagues.
The day finally came to an end and I just stepped in the elevator and the tears started to pour down my face. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a screamer. Never been. But that day I couldn’t hold back the tears. Sure, I was worried who might see me cry, but I couldn’t stop the flow. I was sad and the saddest part was that I didn’t know why.
I had felt this overwhelming feeling of worry, stress, and burnout for a while, but I thought it was going to go away. It was at the beginning of my career. I was a young mother and I didn’t feel safe in this role. I was also in a new managerial position and had imposter syndrome – a daily fear that my team would “find out” about me and find that I wasn’t qualified for the job. I constantly set unrealistic expectations of myself both at work and at home, and always worried about how others would see me.
- Am I seen as someone capable enough?
- Am I seen as someone who is committed enough?
- Do I sound smart enough?
- Do I deserve to be in my role or did I just get there because someone in the lead liked me?
- What if i make a mistake?
- What if I fail?
- Am I a good enough parent?
- Am I a good enough leader?
- How do others see me
This daily tsunami of doubt made me feel overworked and unhappy all the time. I got really good at getting it out of the way, but eventually it bubbled to the surface – as it always does. As the tears flowed, I realized I needed help dealing with the stress. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t alone.
According to Headspace at Work’s Mental Health Trends Report 2021, 54 percent of the employees surveyed said they were “stressed” or “extremely stressed”. They named work-life balance and work stress as the three most common sources of stress, just after money stress.
For many, the pandemic has exacerbated stress and mental health problems. The American Psychology Association’s latest Stress in America survey found that parents, key health workers, and colored communities were more likely to report mental and physical health outcomes associated with stress. The survey participants reported effects such as unwanted weight changes, irregular sleep and increased alcohol consumption.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen people develop stress-related ailments such as alopecia (hair loss due to stress), hives (even someone who got them on the eyeballs), paralysis (loss of the ability to walk and speak because their bodies simply just switching off from stress) and panic attacks (which are often mistaken for heart attacks due to the intensity of the palpitations). I’ve seen people take medication with a glass (or glasses) of wine at night. Pour yourself in work and performance to stun them. Shop, eat, play or find other ways to keep stress at bay. But it always catches up – and the effect is never positive. Not on their bodies, their minds, their families, or their organizations.
Stress is complicated. But what I’ve learned is that prevention is key. Proactively doing things that will help forestall the overwhelming effect is essential to maintaining wellbeing.
Here are some of the things I’ve found to help avoid a dangerous state of overwhelm:
Sleep: My whole perspective is over when I am sleep deprived. Staying up all night to check off even more of the millions of things on my to-do list feels nowhere near as good as being rested and energized to do my job the next day. As I tell my children, “let’s all rest and wake up in the morning with a better version of ourselves.”
Move: It’s easy to sit at my computer all day and crank through work. But I know when I get up and stretch, answer a phone call while I’m out for a walk, or spend time outside playing with my kids, I value self-care. As my body moves, my mind is better able to work to make me feel better.
Perspective: It is important to me to stick to what is really important instead of being distracted by other people’s plans or little things that don’t really matter. For me, it’s my family, my health, and the well-being of my team. Everything else falls away if I keep these priorities in focus and use them as a measure of whether it is worth investing my emotional energy on something.
Support: I’m grateful for a network of support at work and in my personal life – from regular coffee meetings with mentors and colleagues who have become friends to monthly outings with my friends. As an extrovert, I know that social interaction brings me energy and new ideas. Through the social isolation of the pandemic, it has emphasized the importance of keeping the connection going for me. Scheduling catch-up appointments in my calendar makes me responsible for making them happen and gives me new energy for my work and my life.
Attitude of gratitude: Before starting any gratitude exercise, I fell grumpy asleep, dreading the challenges that awaited me the next day. Reorienting my mindset to focus on a few easy wins each day has helped me maintain a more positive mindset. A conscious practice of bedtime gratitude ends my day in full swing, regardless of what happened before, and reminds me to cherish life – chaos and everything.
Authenticity: All of those “good enough” thoughts I mentioned above? Concern about what others thought of me was overwhelming; I realized that I had to stop being who I am and embrace who I am. Being myself, at home and at work, is not always rosy, but it is a role model for my team and my children that it is okay for them to be authentic.
Growth mentality: Seth Godin talks about CNP (as Close as Necessary to Perfect) as an intelligent resource allocation. I keep reminding myself and my team: “It may not be perfect, but it will be good enough.” Incremental growth, not perfection, enables us to be successful without compromising our wellbeing.
I’m sharing this to illustrate that wellbeing isn’t just about the physical: exercise and diet. It’s about taking care of the whole person – things like learning how to have confidence in your own skin, focus on your own accomplishments and compare yourself to others, and accept growth and failure instead of constantly looking for perfection to strive. We need to turn the script on wellbeing and start taking care of our whole selves when we expect us to be fine and comfortable. Organizations can play a critical role in providing employees with access to holistic wellbeing support to prevent stress-related wellbeing and mental health problems.
Without coaching, none of my personal revelations would have been possible. My trainer Karen helped me gain and recognize perspective to quote the great Glennon Doyle, “I can do hard things.” As for my well-being today, it can be seen in the quote on my coffee cup (a gift from Coach Karen): “I love the person I became because I fought to be her.”
Teresa Hopke is CEO of Talking Talent -The Americas, a global coaching company that inspires inclusive cultures that enable people and organizations to thrive. It works with organizations around the world to drive company-wide behavior changes that accelerate business performance. As a working mother of four, Teresa is committed to creating a more inclusive world for her children and the organizations she serves.