Managing Stress and Overwhelm

Through different periods of our lives, we all experience overwhelm to some extent. It can last for a few minutes or can be a more frequent feeling you associate with. In coaching sessions, I notice people become more equipped to identify the sources of overwhelm and take steps to manage it. In this blog, we will explore possible strategies and encourage you to consider how you can manage your stress levels. 

Our body knows what’s going on before our mind

In Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score”, he explores how the body provides us with a wealth of information about our reactions and feelings before the mind has a chance to catch up. I am struck that by becoming more aware of the body’s reactions as well as our thoughts at any given moment, we have more of a chance to recognise the source of our overwhelm more quickly.  Ask yourself at any given moment:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What is the body telling me?
  • Is there tightness anywhere and why?

What are your overwhelm triggers?

Identifying your triggers for stress and overwhelm can be a useful starting point. Some examples may include:

  • Lack of exercise.
  • Lack of free time in the diary, for example, constant back-to-back meetings. 
  • A specific work task that is beyond your control or capability. 
  • When things pile up, your to-do list at home or work keeps increasing with insufficient time and/ or progress to complete them.
  • Caring responsibilities can bring a conflict when time is pulled between looking after others as well as building a career.
  • A difficult relationship. 
  • Lack of feedback. 
  • Lack of motivation for the job. 
  • Unclear about the future. 

Sometimes these can be managed effectively, however, overwhelm is more likely to occur when several of your top triggers happen at the same time over a prolonged period. 

Healthy vs unhealthy stress

I encourage you to notice when you are in your peak zone of stress. This will vary from person to person. For example, one person’s stress is another person’s comfort zone. Healthy stress causes us to be motivated, push through a problem, gain new ideas or skills and generally is an enjoyable feeling. It can be felt as excitement, anticipation, healthy nerves and possibly elation. Unhealthy stress is a feeling you can identify that might be negative, for example, feelings of dread, anxiety, panic and a stronger nervous feeling. 

Top tips

Once we identify our overwhelm triggers we can more effectively forecast when possible periods of stress may take place. In turn, we can then factor in our strategies for dealing with it. MHFA (Mental Health First Aid England) describe the stress container and how we all have our own capacity for dealing with stress. Whatever the capacity is, we all need to “punch holes” into the stress container so that the water (stress) held in the container can flow out. Examples might include:

  • Enjoying hobbies.
  • Walking and exercise.
  • Reading a good book.
  • Socialising with friends.
  • Taking a lunch break. 
  • Having periods of free space in the diary. 
  • Managing your diary so that some days are clearer than others. 
  • Reflecting, coaching provides a really useful space to decompress and reflect on our lives. 
  • Sharing with others how we are feeling.
  • Having fun. 

Stress and leadership

When we start being aware of our own stress levels, we are more easily able to talk to our teams about their stress levels, as well as identify when they might need more support. A simple starting point is to create time to stop and listen to your team, asking how they are doing, and allowing them to think through their own coping mechanisms to manage stress. This is where coaching conversations can be very useful as we deploy active listening centred around the person, withholding the need to offer solutions. 

In summary

As you reflect on your own stress levels what does this tell you? And how might you improve your ways of managing it? 

I’d love to hear how you get on and what approaches work for you. If you would like to understand how 1:1 executive or team coaching can help you to manage stress and overwhelm get in touch.

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