Overwhelm and Stress as the New Normal

Over the years, you have probably done substantial work to develop your leadership style and skills to lead teams and organizations in a highly demanding environment. You know what it takes to be responsible and responsive continuously to the demands of your professional and personal life. You are probably more than familiar with the never-ending flow of stress coming your way.

Your days are filled with constant pressure and a daunting workload and it can be a huge challenge to maintain a healthy and effective approach towards work and life. Leading and living with clarity and focus, with constructive self-awareness, inspiration and satisfaction can feel almost impossible when you are dominated by to-do lists, too many responsibilities and a continuous stream of other people’s problems. It’s part of the job.

Is it, really?

However, that ‘it’s part of the job’, is a slippery slope. When you are exposed to stress and overwhelm for a prolonged period of time, a few things happen. First, you produce more adrenaline and cortisol as part of your body and mind going into a stress response (fight-flight mode). Second, as a result of this, your brain has less and less space to approach solutions with a wide array of possibilities but instead starts focusing on solving immediate problems, surviving. Third, your brain starts framing this overwhelm as a new normal, based on the experiences you are having and the things and situations you are accepting.

Challenging Overwhelm and Stress

When you are dealing with continuous overwhelm and work stress however, it is exactly the acceptance of that new normal that needs challenging. The first step in removing overwhelm from your life is by acknowledging that is it there but that you’d rather live without it if you could. What would be different if you would stop rushing through life and instead approach everything with an inner sense of equanimity?

Six Questions to Conquer Overwhelm and Stress

Acknowledging you’d want to live without it if you could and feel calm and composed instead, brings you to the first step of addressing overwhelm and stress: getting super clear on where it comes from. Work related overwhelm usually comes from three different angles: self-doubt, interactions with others and/or too many responsibilities/to-dos on your plate.

Mapping Overwhelm & Stress

Mapping how overwhelm manifests in your life can provide immense insights in the mechanisms that developed in your environment that generate stress. How can you map overwhelm? Ask yourself the following questions and write them down:

  • What are the actual activities/encounters that I dread engaging in?
  • What decisions am I avoiding?
  • Interactions with which people are causing stress?
  • What am I procrastinating?
  • What confrontations am I avoiding?
  • When do I say yes when I really want to say No?

Once you have answered these questions you can start asking yourself what is going on for you at each one of those overwhelm-generating situations exactly (Your Why), and then ask yourself what you want to change with each one of them from a place of calm and composure (What I Want).

In the meanwhile, if you are in need of some immediate self-care, you can take a look at these tips to take to heart because they will allow you to create more brain space to address the root causes of overwhelm with solutions that create true opportunities for growth. Or have a look here for some survival tactics that might help you relief some immediate stress at work.

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