How Leaders Can Deal With Getting Overwhelmed
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As a leader, you have a lot on your plate. Sometimes it can seem too much. How often do you find it difficult to think clearly? Do you ever lash out at colleagues? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you felt paralyzed? That there’s no hope in sight? Feeling overwhelmed is the number one symptom people grapple with when stressed. Your body is built to handle short bursts of high stress, but it’s not meant to cope with it over long periods of time. When you’re constantly overwhelmed and stressed, your body begins to break down. Stress hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, are released consistently over the span of days, weeks or even months, and they begin to upset the delicate balance of bodily processes. Rest assured, there’s hope. Even simple actions can make a big difference. By changing your perspective and looking for positives, you can increase your cognitive flexibility. When you’re stressed, cortisol binds to cells in the hippocampus of the brain and disrupts your ability to process new experiences, but when you think positively, you offset that process.
It should be empowering to learn that we can deal with the being overwhelmed. Take a breath. Here are four steps you can take to get back on track.
Related: Self-Care Leads to Long-Term Success
1. Think clearly about your goals and priorities.
When you experience stress, you can’t think clearly. Your brain’s processing speed slows down and it takes you longer to process new information, make decisions and interact with colleagues. You may become frustrated by your lower levels of productivity, which may result in a loss of enjoyment at work. Stress also impairs our concentration. When you struggle to concentrate, you can’t focus on tasks that need to be completed, you are easily distracted, your self-esteem erodes and you waste precious time. Solving problems becomes impossible, conversations become disjointed and teamwork is negatively impacted. The most effective way to overcome mental slowdown and impaired concentration is to take a step back and think clearly about where you are going. Try creating a map of the future by writing out your top three-to-five goals for the year on Post-it notes. Have fun! Place them on your wall at work, on your laptop and wherever you can. When you’re finished, prioritize your time so you’re able to accomplish your goals. You can do this by asking yourself, “Does this help me meet one of my goals?” whenever you are asked to do something. If it doesn’t, try not to focus on it. When you’re only working on the most important things, you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
2. Get help from others.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed alone. It’s important to find someone to confide in. Other people can open your perspective and cause you to think differently. Talking and listening to others will help jump-start your thinking process. It’s important not to alienate yourself. Depression and suicide are on the rise among executives. When you get help from others, you should reciprocate. Giving is receiving after all, and there is immense power in gratitude and the human connection. Gratitude has been shown to decrease a slew of toxic emotions, including envy, resentment, regret and depression, all of which trigger high levels of stress. Research has shown that gratitude is associated with 23 percent lower levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, including adrenaline and norepinephrine. How are you doing so far?
3. Be creative.
Leaders often fall into a routine that can seem monotonous. It’s important to take a step back and switch things up. You can do this by finding a space that will let your creative juices flow. Try to take deep breaths and your mind to wander. You should also be inquisitive and ask yourself questions. Go from idea to idea without constraints. How does it feel? Research has shown that only 45 minutes of creative activity significantly lessens stress levels. And it doesn’t even matter whether you’re artistic or creatively talented. Because the brain is flexible, it can reorganize itself over time, learning to cope and adapt to challenges. When you’re being creative, the amount of gray matter in your brain can increase, new neural pathways can develop, and existing neural networks can expand. Creativity promotes brain plasticity. The association of visual patterns with motor actions can cause new neural networks to form. Feel your stress levels decline as you get out of your slump and put things in perspective.
4. Define the problem.
It’s natural to get overwhelmed when you feel hopeless. You can get control of your situation by writing down the problem or what you think is the problem that is causing you to feel overwhelmed. Then break it down to its smallest pieces. Try to peel the onion by asking a lot of questions. You shouldn’t stop until you’re unable to break the problem down anymore. When you understand the problem, you'll feel less overwhelmed and be able to deal with it. Phew.
Esteemed painter Jameson Frank once said, “Our greatest battles are with our minds.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are in the driver’s seat. You can control your destiny. You’ll come away in a completely different state of mind. So, take these four steps to deal with being overwhelmed. Why? Because when you'll be more productive and have lower stress and better relationships with others.
Do you think somebody else could benefit from learning about stress? Forward this to a colleague or friend. Most importantly, take good care of yourself.