Overwhelm can feel a lot like drowning. So many more things to do than can possibly be done. Struggling to keep your head above water. Wondering how much longer you can keep the thrashing up before you sink below the surface.
I was about three months into my exciting and demanding job thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” With an 11-month-old at home, I struggled to do all of the things I needed to do so that I was a good mom and a successful career woman. I ran faster and faster all the while feeling like I just got slower and slower. I was in complete overwhelm. And I didn’t know what to do.
I wasn’t alone, and there are plenty today in this very situation. Statistics Canada reports that nearly a quarter of Canadian women describe their days as being “quite a bit” or “extremely stressful” (source).
If you are in this situation here are some ideas to help you through it.
Stop, slow down and take a slow, deep breath. It can be hard to go from full speed to full stop, so ease into it by taking a second to notice a few things around you. What does your breath sound like? What’s happening in the room around you? What’s in front of you on your desk? What sounds do you notice? What does your chair feel like under your legs? Once you feel more present, it’s time to do a quick exercise that provided me with fantastic results.
Then pull out a sheet of paper, a pen, and do this 20-minute exercise. Most of the time it doesn’t even take that long. It’s a quick yet profound way to step out of the emotion and mental swirl that comes with overwhelm so that you can gain perspective. It was hugely helpful for me and I did it daily for at least a month, or any time I felt the anxiety creeping in. Do it as many times during a day and for as often as you need to over time so you can gain that quick perspective and take the necessary next steps.
Speak to your supervisor. The good news is that if you’re in a new position like I was, it’s really normal for a new employee to hit that “What the heck” wall about three months in to a new position. Your supervisor and Human Resources department will probably be aware and expecting the reaction. They may even have some tools to assist you through it. Consider having a conversation about which areas of your work are the top priorities and which things can wait until later, be cancelled, or transferred to someone else.
Lower your standards. Our houses don’t need to be perfect. They simply need to be safe and comfortable. So yes, sweep up broken glass but maybe you don’t need to vacuum every week.
Get some personal help. Whether it’s with laundry, changing diapers, making meals, tidying and cleaning the house, ask someone who cares about you to assist you while you get your bearings. Look at your life at home and identify the biggest time and energy sucker for you and work to delegate that to someone else. You don’t need to do everything! If you have the financial resources, consider hiring a cleaner or nanny or shopper.
Get some professional help. If you’re worried you’re headed for or already in burnout, speak to a counsellor or psychologist. Burnout can spiral down to depression, so it’s best to nip that in the bud.
Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, sleep. Take time for you and family. Take time for friends—as long as it’s nourishing you and not depleting you further. If you have extracurricular commitments, consider putting them on hold until you’re able to regain your balance. Say no to some things for others so you can say yes to you.