Barely keeping my head above water. Slammed. Buried. Inundated. Drowning. Riding the struggle bus. Overwhelmed.
Every day I talk to community leaders and public servants who are all echoing the same refrain:
We are overwhelmed. Whether a city manager of a large community or an early-career employee who has been furloughed, this sentiment is ringing true for all of us right now.
If you, your team members, or even family members are feeling overwhelmed, try some of these strategies to help you overcome the overwhelm:
Practice radical presence.
Feelings of overwhelm often sweep over us when we are trying to manage more than one thing at a time. If you are starting to feel swept away, take 30 seconds to become very present exactly where you are. What tangible things do you see in front of you? Are you standing, sitting, lying down, moving? What is the temperature of the space around you? If you are really struggling, try narrating this out loud to help narrow your focus. “I am standing in my kitchen. I can see the coffee pot. It’s warm in here because the oven is on.” When you are ready, turn this same tactic toward the task in front of you and tackle it as your sole focus.
Ensure good boundary hygiene.
When you are fighting the overwhelm monster, boundaries become your best friends. However, they may look different than usual! Ask yourself where and when you need to set boundaries to successfully navigate your day. Consider using micro-boundaries, such as working for 20 minutes uninterrupted, but then putting a strict boundary around putting away your devices for the next 20. If you find yourself working constantly, create a “punch out” ritual to help yourself go off the clock for breaks, lunch, or at the end of the day. You can always clock back in when needed!
Check your capacity.
Think of capacity as your ability to handle whatever the day has in store for you. Work to create awareness of your capacity so you notice when it needs to be restored or if it needs to be maintained differently. My partner and I start our day with a “capacity check,” asking each other how we’re feeling in terms of readiness to tackle the day. This helps us provide support for each other and builds our individual self-awareness. I also check in on my own capacity throughout the day so I have a better understanding of when I am most optimally primed to take on the next task. I advise my coaching clients to monitor their capacity on an ongoing basis throughout their weeks. If there are consistent low spots or a continuous drain or decline, it is a good signal to you that you need to think about how to restore or maintain your capacity differently. Pro tip: The capacity check also applies to teams, and it can be a powerful conversation starter to ask your team about how they are doing in terms of overall capacity and what might help maintain or restore the group’s capacity as a whole.
Consider priorities horizontally instead of vertically.
When you have competing priorities, it can be overwhelming to try and put them into a hierarchical order to know where to start. It can also create pressure when you feel like you should only be working on the “top priority.” Try thinking of your priorities in buckets that sit next to each other instead of on top of each other. You can work on one, then move sideways to the next one and do the work that is needed there. This helps eliminate fear of not doing enough or concerns that you are ignoring something else important. Switch back and forth as needed until you have addressed each priority.
You have been breathing your whole life. Leverage your breath to help you prevent feeling overwhelmed by focusing on your exhale before doing any deep breathing. Our brains register the amount of carbon dioxide in our systems. Ensuring that we fully expel our breath by deeply exhaling helps clear the way for all that lovely, fresh oxygen to get more deeply into our systems. This is a great way to rejuvenate and refresh both your physical and your mental capacity!
Pay attention to when you are feeling overwhelmed. Deploy the strategies listed above and talk openly with those around you about how you are doing. Engage your team authentically in this conversation. If you are interested in more micro-strategies, let’s connect!
This blog post is part of a four-part mental health series presented by Nicole Lance for Mental Health Awareness Month. Join Nicole and Eric M. Bailey, CEO of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, for a free ICMA webinar on Friday, May 29 titled, Extraordinary Resilience.
Nicole Lance empowers individuals and teams to accelerate outcomes through strategy. She is the CEO of Lance Strategies and Managing Partner of EXB Team and serves those who serve by providing training, coaching, facilitation, and strategic planning services. Find out more about how Nicole can serve your team at www.nicolelancestrategies.com and www.EXBteam.com.
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