Overwhelmed? 4 steps to calm and focus
Working on leaner teams, dealing with expectations of being “always-on,” and being a part of multiple teams and projects can build up to a sense of overwhelm that so many of us experience. However, many of the factors that contribute to overwhelm come from within, says Laurie J. Cameron, who advised companies to navigate uncertainty and change for more than a decade at Accenture, a leading global professional services company, and continues to do so today as the CEO of PurposeBlue.
“Sometimes our own beliefs about how much we have to take on, what we have to say yes to, and what ‘done’ looks like contribute to the workload on our desk,” says Cameron, author of the upcoming National Geographic book “The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy From Morning to Evening.” “Without awareness, you can keep repeating the patterns that create the hamster wheel, as well as the habitual ways you respond when you feel like projects and demands are just too much to manage.” Mindfulness practice increases our capacity for self-awareness- to see the habits of our mind, our patterns, and the beliefs that either limit us or propel us forward.
“When you pay attention to the sensation of being overwhelmed, you can investigate the causes and start to shift the patterns,” she says. Creating space allows for more choice in how we relate to our workload.
Try these four ways to do this:
- Take Three Breaths (Reset and Refocus) – One of the causes of overwhelm is that we simply lose focus on what really matters. Step back from what you’re doing and take three mindful breaths — what’s sometimes known as the “sacred pause.” Then think about what you were working on. By breathing, you give yourself a window to reconnect to your intentions, values, purpose, daily plan, and weekly goals. If you received a new request, is the interruption a higher priority or simply a distraction from your current task? Choose to reset and refocus your attention and energy on what matters most.
- Audit Your Energy Spend – We often overestimate how much we can get done and underestimate how much effort in energy and time each activity will take. Try doing an audit on yourself for a few days, either by journaling or using an app that records time spent. As you observe how you spend your day, ask yourself: “Where is my time going and why? Am I overestimating how much I can get done and underestimating what it takes to do it? Can I add buffers into my schedule to allow for that tendency?”
- Reflect on your habits – Many of us power through projects alone, reluctant to pull in others even when needed, especially under deadlines. Becoming more self-aware is the foundation for disrupting old patterns. Notice what you believe about asking for help, delegating, setting boundaries, and saying “no.” Consider what you would do differently or adjust in your beliefs, assumptions and routines for working.
- Try Journaling. At the end of the day, reflect on what went well, and your role in making it happen. You can anchor in the “good” by noticing what is working. We offset the low feelings of overwhelm and cultivate optimism and possibility by paying attention to the things we are doing that work for us.
“Most people are living a good chunk of their day unconsciously — rushing from task to task, saying yes more than no, not aligning energy and time with what matters most,” Laurie says. “Becoming more conscious about how you spend your energy and resources will help with reducing overwhelm as you let go of habits, people, and activities that drain your energy.”