Some helpful steps to survive overwhelming moments at work
(Article originally published on Medium)
Did you ever experience going to work and suddenly experiencing that strange feeling of being overwhelmed extreme anger, or inexplicable heat flushing your cheeks and ears? These may be warning signs that burnout is looming.
This exact situation happened to me several times in my career. I’m naturally a type-A workaholic. I used to work day and night until reaching a breaking point, every single time. However, things have drastically changed, a topic I may explore in a future article.
So here we go. Here are some helpful steps from my own experience.
First, breathe. In case this one has not sunk in…again. BREATHE,
That’s 3 times. Three deep breaths.
Get to a quiet place as soon as you possibly can. This is by far the most important part. Go to your office, your desk, outside, or wherever you can get some peaceful minutes. Sit down and take 5 minutes to empty your mind. 5 minutes is surprisingly long, do your best to think of nothing.
Once the 5 minutes are over, write down the thoughts that are flowing back into your mind as a to-do list, item by item, as they come to mind.
For this, I would recommend pen and paper. No distractions.
Once there’s nothing left to write, take time to go through the list. Reflect on the fact that these are the items that put you in this state. You may feel that the list is shorter than you imagined. The weight of their thoughts is heavier than the ink on the paper, so let the paper carry the weight.
Go through the items and identify 1–3 priority tasks to work on, ideally including some that can be completed during the day. It’s not always possible, but if you can, do it. The satisfaction of crossing off a task can come in handy at the moment.
Most of my experiences except the life-changing last were before the pandemic. Back then, just leaving the office wasn’t common. Things are slightly different for some of us now. So if you are so overwhelmed that you feel you can’t go on and are about to explode, please consider walking out and getting help. I am convinced that there are tangible benefits in being supported early in these cases. However, if you feel you can still handle the day, I would encourage you to keep on going. Slowing down and tackling one task at a time in peace allowed me to avoid creating mental trauma around the workplace. I’ve heard of several people being afraid and understandably extremely anxious about returning to work after being burned out for months. If you can avoid this situation, avoid it. If you can’t, get out asap.
Work on each priority, one at a time starting with 1 (or the one that will give you the easiest win), and forget all the others. Dedicate some time to those tasks, shutting out distractions as much as possible — go into ‘do not disturb’ mode on your devices, close email and social media apps, silent mode, etc.
At this point, you should already feel slightly better. Take a short break.
Then go back and keep on working on your next item. Breathe.
When you get home that evening, take some quiet time to reflect on your aspirations and ideal life. Write them down and take one simple step towards a new you. Search for what could get you closer to it, books, yoga, sport, self-paced online courses, nutrition change, etc.
Remember this :
“You are always one decision away from a completely different life.” — Mel Robbins
This quote alone made a tremendous difference in my self-help journey. I consciously decide every day to go to work because it helps me on my journey, not because I have to. Planning for a better you sometimes mean you will “use” work to get you there. “Work” do not use you, you use “work”.
“Be the chess player, not the chess piece” — Ralph Charrell
Take one action, right now. Book a course, buy a yoga mat, clean your fridge from the unhealthy stuff, go to the groceries, and get a running training plan. If you are short on cash, there are plenty of free or extremely cheap options.
One small step can change your life. I’ve walked this path a few times, and this method saved me from burnout every single time. The immediate actions helped me survive until I was able to leave my job and re-position myself to execute the life plan I had drafted.
I’ve been using this method for decades. I’d love for it to have a sexy acronym. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
The best part, it did not cost me anything. Just commitment and dedication. I’m a much more confident, resilient, healthier, wealthier, and indeed, happier individual.
I hope these steps help you as much as they helped me in the moment and on your journey toward a more balanced life.
It worked for me but it may not work for everyone. It is recommended to seek professional help if feeling overwhelmed or on the brink of burnout. I’m just sharing my experience and have no credentials in that field.
Remember, taking the first step is often the hardest but that step is also the most crucial. Don’t be afraid to take it.