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  • Writer's pictureAlex Bowman

How to deal with Overwhelm - Part 1

If your home life isn't in check, it will follow you to work!

Did you know nearly half (46%) of UK workers are close to burnout due to feeling overwhelmed?

Did you know that 88% of the UK workforce has experienced burnout in the past two years?

The topic of feeling overwhelmed is popular with the clients I work with. This feeling that there's always too much to do regardless of whether they are at work or home. We're on a non-stop treadmill of tasks, and the hope is that when we get to the end of the list, we'll have time for ourselves or feel happy or complete.

But the treadmill never stops!

Let's take a look at the definition of feeling overwhelmed:

Overwhelm is the state of being overcome with emotion due to stress that feels too much to handle.

When I work with clients in leadership positions, our first session looks at work-life balance. This is sometimes surprising as most people feel that work is the cause of their overwhelm. This may be true; however, clients must have a balanced home life and self-care protocol. If you don't have peace, structure and fulfilment in your home life, it will impact how you show up at work.

Being an impactful leader means that you have to really show up. You must feel resilient, motivated and creative to get the best out of yourself and inspire your team.

This article is titled "Part 1" as it focuses on our lives outside of work. Future articles will address the other aspects of overwhelm, including in the workplace.

Some of the common signs that we're feeling overwhelmed when we're at home are:

  • We feel like we have no time

  • There's too much to do

  • It all falls on us to sort everything

  • We feel anxious about getting stuff done

  • We feel depressed

  • We feel bored and drained by monotony

  • We're in our heads and not present

  • We're irritable with our partners and kids

  • We reach for junk food or alcohol to change our state

  • We can feel lonely

  • We can feel like a failure

Part of dealing with overwhelm is about having an understanding of our mindset. We all have a hierarchy in our heads that determines who and what we devote our time to. I call this the "priority triangle", and it usually looks something like this:

As you can see, the triangle is inverted. Let's start with the top layer, the most important one on which we spend most of our time and bandwidth, our jobs.

Naturally, we need to make an income, so our job becomes the most crucial layer that takes up the most time.

Then, when we've tried to sign off from work for the day, we come home and, for the readers who are parents, our next focus is our kids. Once our kids are fed, watered, entertained and sleeping, we look to our significant other. We'll devote time connecting with them and ensuring they have what they need. We'll then make sure the friends, extended family members or WhatsApp groups calling for our attention have been given time before we focus on the bottom level of the triangle. You!

Now, I want to point out that this mindset comes from a place of love and support. Our perspective is that we're at the bottom of the triangle supporting all those above us.

We think that once they are all sorted, we will have time for ourselves and give ourselves permission to do the things we want. What usually happens is there isn't any time, or if there is, we're exhausted, sit on the sofa and drink beer, eat crisps and watch Netflix... Or is that just me?

So, what's the alternative approach?

The first thing I do with new clients is restructuring their priority triangle to look like this:

Now, I'm sure your inner critics have plenty to say, but let's try and park them for a second and understand the idea behind this approach.

If we put our needs first, we can have the most significant impact on all those we wish to support. If we feel fulfilled, we'll become better partners for our significant other. We can then help them find the balance they need so that we can show up as better parents. Your kids will remember the times you are engaged, fun and resilient rather than the times you're with them but not present.

Once our immediate family within our four walls is in check, we can show up as the best version of ourselves for our job.

Just because extended family and friends are at the bottom doesn't mean they're unimportant; it just means we don't have to put their needs first before looking after ourselves.

Now let's address those voices in our heads, the inner critics. They will be saying things like:

"Easier said than done!"

"You can't possibly do that!"

"Who's going to pick up all the slack?"

"What will they think?"

"It's selfish to put yourself first!"

The word "selfish" often comes up when talking to clients about this perspective shift. The best metaphor I can use is the oxygen mask safety briefing on a plane before take-off.

In an emergency, you're told to put your oxygen mask on first. You're useless to anyone else If you end up passed out on the floor! The message is to look after yourself first so that you can be of service to others.

I like to change the word "selfish" to "self-full". If we put ourselves first and feel fulfilled, we become better leaders, partners, parents, family members and friends.

Now, we can't instantly change how we think or react to situations, as this is habitual. The good news is that, with self-awareness, we can slowly adapt our behaviours and responses over time. The first step is changing our habits and recognising what negative voices crop up.

These voices are your inner critics, and everyone has a different mix of them. We will discuss these in more detail in my next article.

Let's look at some steps to get you started with dealing with overwhelm:

1. Reflect - What would it look like to put yourself first? What fun things have you been putting off until you have time? What makes you feel more YOU when you do it? What could I put down or give to someone else to do to free up more "me-time"?

2. Commit to one action - Pick one thing you will commit to. It may be returning to the gym, picking up an instrument, going for a walk in the woods, or taking a few hours away from the family. It will feel indulgent but let's change the language to "investing" in yourself.

3. Share your commitment - Tell your partner or loved ones what you plan to do. This gives you someone to help hold you to account and starts a curious conversation about what they might need to put their needs first. Before you know it, you're a team encouraging each other and working towards fulfilment.

4. Now do it! - Ignore your inner critics and commit to action as part of your growth.

5. Reflect - After you've done your activity, take note of your internal dialogue and how you feel. Did the pain of your inner critics ruin the experience? Do you feel better about doing the activity? There's no right or wrong; just become familiar with the stories in your head, as we will discuss them in a future article.

Please remember that this process is about prioritising time rather than fitting more in. If you try to add more to your already crazy schedule, you will become more overwhelmed!

Between now and the following article, commit to the above steps. This isn't about drastic changes to your life. It's about incremental progress that eventually mounts up to SERIOUS life changes. I will discuss more about this process in future articles, but for now, let's look at a new perspective and the first step on a new journey.

Please comment and check in with me as you progress. I love to hear from readers!

If you want to know more about me, my coaching process and actually experience being coached by me, I offer a free 1-hour coaching session to those curious about leading a better life. Please click this link to book the free session, or click here to learn more about me.

Here's to your journey.


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