"I'm stressed and overwhelmed" - Take control of your well-being
Whilst there is some way to go, I have noticed businesses and individuals demonstrate greater openness regarding mental health and well-being.
I am a Mental Health First Aider and an advocate of well-being but actively decided to take responsibility for my own well-being about 15 years ago after a traumatic medical experience. I’ve been conscious about my well-being ever since.
Taking care of one’s own well-being is not necessarily easy – it can, as it did in my case, require utilising an array of resources and it can be tiring! Learning to take control and explore health and well-being tools and techniques is, however, one of the best things I could ever have done. Building my knowledge of mental health, of what well-being means to me and to others, exploring tools that may or may not help me has been – in many ways – a lifesaver. The issue is that stress, anxiety or other conditions do not arise simply on publicised stress awareness days, they are around every single day.
The word “overwhelm” comes up frequently in coaching. Stress, anxiety and overwhelm (as well as other conditions that may fall within “mental health”) are not uncommon. What I notice however is that it remains difficult for people, both in their personal life and at work, to articulate what this overwhelm actually is. Together we break it down so each of us is clear and can move forward.
As more organisations take notice that everyone suffers stress – typically part of the overwhelm conversation - at some points in their lifetime (for example most of us are likely to experience grief which may well be stressful while trying to perform at one’s best), the more balanced a workforce is likely to be. Why? Because they can talk about it and bring their true self to the workplace without fear of judgment.
The reality is that many jobs, due to deadlines, client pressures, conflicts, expectations, restructurings and so on, can create or increase stress, anxiety and overwhelm. This is as true for entrepreneurs as it is for employees and leaders. Where the levels of stress remain manageable, stress may in fact be a motivator for action or change but, when stress starts to take you over, it can be dangerous.
Excessive, or chronic, stress can not only promote ill health mentally but it can affect you physically. You may notice headaches, sweating, a faster heart rate or shallow breathing. Blood pressure may rise. You may be more tired or forget things more quickly.
As this happens, you may move into greater self-judgement and criticism that, by its nature, is negative and unhelpful. Your thoughts may become foggy. Rather than remove the stress, it can be exacerbated.
To be clear, everyone manages stress differently and what may be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another; we each have our own coping mechanisms, and experiences that impact what we find stressful.
What I find helps is to be more self-aware of what leads to greater stress as well as asking yourself if your sensations are disappointment, frustration, anger or stress.
Is it deadlines that enhance stress, or is it the lack of communication amongst the team that means your capacity is not understood? Is that that you overslept and therefore arrived late at the office? Is managing stress more effectively in your control?
Noticing what is in your control is important. When we feel that things are outside of our control, we do not have autonomy, and nobody really likes that. We want to be in control. Workplaces, or even personal circumstances, may mean you cannot control everything. Be mindful of what you can control even in those situations – can you control your outlook? Or how you behave given a difficult colleague to work with? Can your communication be more effective, more clear?
When we accept what we can control, rather than fight with what we cannot control, life can get easier – even if you do not get exactly what you want. Sometimes, that is life (or work).
The important thing to note is that if we dwell on things that are beyond our control, rather than focusing on what we can, we may be self-contributing to higher levels of stress.
I, therefore, recommend that you pause and reflect. Avoid self-judgment or indeed judgment of others and look at the facts. What is truly going on? What is it that you can do to improve your situation?
In the workplace, employers have a duty of care but we can also each take responsibility for our well-being by being more present mentally, and of our reactions. As I say, pause. Aim to look objectively at what is going on. If talking to HR or your boss is in your control, do that. If changing your hours is a realistic possibility, look into it. If a three-way conversation is required to address conflict, what can you do to facilitate that? If networking is necessary but gets you down, how can you become more comfortable with it?
We must take ownership of our well-being where we are able to do so. If, however, you are feeling especially stressed, see your medical practitioner who can assess you and, if necessary, offer medication or talking therapies to support you.