Advice from Spill's therapists
Break down your workloadReview your work-life balanceStart by clearing your mindRelated resources
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Feeling overwhelmed and stressed about a high workload

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees struggling to focus.

I feel completely overwhelmed and can spend the day staring at my screen stressing about how much I have to do, without actually doing anything. I'm worried that I'm setting a bad example for the team and lowering the company's standards. What can you suggest?

Our first therapist suggests...

Break down your workload

One of the ways in which we make it harder to achieve goals and objectives is by giving ourselves too much to do.

As sensible as it sounds to write everything down in a long list, it is actually often part of the reason we find ourselves stuck.

We are motivated by making progress and the more we feel we have achieved the easier it seems to be to do more, but if the initial mountain appears to high to climb we are likely as not to just give up and sit at the bottom staring upwards.

You need to create a more enticing proposition for yourself and one of the ways in which you can do this is simply through adjusting how you create your list of things to do.

Make a rule that there will never be more than three things on your list at the beginning of the day. This will also help you get better at prioritisation.

When you look at three tasks you are unlikely to feel overwhelmed and have much more energy to get on and deal with them. Try and do the most difficult or uncomfortable one first because that will speed your progress through the others.

When you have completed all three you can add another one but never before that.

At the end of the day you will have achieved what you set out to do and find yourself with energy left in the tank.

When you break your workload down into manageable chunks like this you will not only get more done but also provide an excellent example for your team by showing them that the nature of work is such that we can never get everything done, and so should content ourselves with working steadily through a manageable list of tasks.

Therapy is shown to help people cope with underlying feelings of anxiety, fear and stress in the workplace.
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Our second therapist suggests...

Review your work-life balance

It sounds like you have a lot going on in your work and you’re experiencing an understandable response to the world around you at the moment. Let’s have a look at what may be helpful.

The fundamental foundations of good mental and physical health are sleep, fuel, hydration and movement (and for some also spirituality). Are there any tiny tweaks you could make to create a stable foundation to start from?  Good physical health supports good mental health.

Do you feel like you have solid boundaries in place for work? With the advent of home working, it’s been a common scenario that boundaries have disappeared yet they are vital in supporting our emotional health. Do you have a way of switching in and out of work mode – e.g. laptop on and out vs. laptop off and in a drawer; moving rooms; changing outfits; a walk? It’s so easy to be attending to work way past our ‘working time’.

How do you build in breaks? Think about ‘oscillating’ when taking breaks; doing something totally different to the task you were doing before. So a Zoom call to sitting on Instagram wouldn’t be felt by the body as a break, but a Zoom call to a walk or sitting outside with a cuppa is an effective oscillation (break). Our minds can only focus for so long before they become exhausted – they need nourishing and restoring in between. Strategies like the Pomodoro Technique can be great for guiding our focus and energy when we feel frozen or unable to start.

It sounds like you have a lot to attend to at work. Is this a reality or just how it feels at times? If it’s a reality then is there someone you could talk to about this (e.g. a manager, colleague, mentor)? You are only one person so can only do so much – have you been set an unachievable load? Is there a way of breaking it down or delegating it?

Outside of work, is your free time restorative? Does it offer you the activities you enjoy, e.g. connecting with others, music, creativity, sports, debate, nature, etc? Think about what ignites you and brings you pleasure – are you doing these? Can you do more?

Do you give yourself permission to stop? What restores you physically? It may be worth spending a bit of time just listening to what your body needs. This may be rest, or connection (a cuddle from a loved one/hand massage to ourself) or energy (movement). Sometimes it needs more time to recover and a day off may be helpful to restore and re-energise. Dip your toe into a few activities and see how they feel. Stay curious.

Pause. Take five deep breaths (into your tummy). See how it feels. Maybe take five more….see how that feels.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Start by clearing your mind

Thanks for your question on overwhelm, which is causing you to procrastinate and lose time. This in turn is making you feel guilty. When we feel threatened, we may experience symptoms such as a racing heart, difficulty concentrating, nausea, headaches, feeling dizzy and/ or sweaty. This can lead to fight, flight, freeze or fawning behaviours. You have a lot to do, and this is moving you into a freeze response. Examples of a freeze response include feeling stuck and having difficulty making decisions.

The following are suggestions for managing overwhelm and procrastination:

  • When you feel frozen first you need to do something to help you to relax. You won’t be able to think clearly until you do this. Try taking some deep breaths, meditating or doing something which makes you focus on your senses such as smelling a strong scent, paying attention to what you can hear, see, taste, or feel. Take it further and make relaxation strategies like exercise, getting out in nature and engaging in hobbies/ creative pursuits a regular part of your schedule.
  • Write down everything you have to do. Now prioritize what is urgent in terms of deadlines. Make a separate note of tasks that have no deadline and can go on the backburner. These are tasks you can do when you have more capacity.
  • Have a morning and afternoon check-in to see how your progress is going and acknowledge what is going well.
  • Eliminate distractions. For example if you get distracted by new emails coming in every few minutes, then turn off your email while you focus on specific tasks. Set times in your calendar to check your email.
  • Ask for help if necessary. If your workload is unreasonable, discuss this with your manager and look for ways to delegate. The ability to delegate is a skill and good managers know this is an asset rather than a weakness.
  • Challenge negative thoughts and avoid perfectionist thinking. You are probably telling yourself negative things about what you can achieve and the quality of your work. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments in life. You are capable!
  • If certain tasks feel overwhelming, break them down into manageable chunks. Whose help do you need? Brainstorm your options for solving problems and weigh up the pros and cons.
  • If you need more help, come, and speak to us at Spill!
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