In a fast-paced digital world at different times in our lives, we may experience workplace stress or overwhelm. It can last for a few minutes, or for a longer period of time. In my coaching sessions, I am pleased to see that in a post-COVID world, people have become even more equipped to identify the sources of overwhelm and take steps to manage it. In this article, we explore some of the triggers, the warning signs and possible strategies to support our teams to manage their feelings of stress or overwhelm.

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 feelings before the mind has a chance to catch up. I notice that by becoming more aware of the body’s reactions as well as our thoughts, we have an increased chance of quickly recognising the source of our stress or overwhelm.  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?

Being aware of what your triggers for stress and overwhelm might be, can be a useful starting point. Next time you feel these emotions starting to take hold reflect on what may be causing them. Some examples might include:

  • Lack of exercise.
  • Lack of free time in the diary, for example, back-to-back meetings.
  • A specific work task that you find difficult, and feel is beyond your capability.
  • When things pile up and your to-do list continues to increase with insufficient time to complete the tasks.
  • 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.

Identifying your warning signs

Stress can be a positive thing as it helps us to be more focused and productive. However, many things will influence our stress levels, so it is important to increase our self-awareness during busy times. Some warning signs might include:

  • A change in eating habits, eating too little or too much.
  • A change in sleeping pattern eg: struggling to get to sleep.
  • Feelings of anger, frustration or worry.
  • Feelings of overwhelm or sadness.
  • Withdrawing from social situations and those we care about.
  • Lack of energy or feeling tired.
  • Feeling like you have to keep busy.
  • Being more forgetful.
  • Feeling confused.

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, consider new ideas 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, feelings of dread, anxiety, panic, overwhelm, worry and a stronger nervous feeling.

Tips to overcome stress and overwhelm

Once we identify our overwhelm triggers we can 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 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. Tips to cope with stress or overwhelm might include:

  • Enjoying a favourite hobby or pastime.
  • Walking and exercising outside.
  • Enjoying a good book.
  • Socialising with friends and family.
  • Taking time to enjoy a lunch break.
  • Managing your diary so that some days are clearer than others.
  • Coaching provides a 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 stress levels, it enables us to talk more effectively with our teams about their stress levels and identify when they might need more support. A simple starting point is to create time to stop and listen to your team, check in with how they are doing, and allow them to think through their coping mechanisms to manage stress. This is where coaching conversations can be very useful as we deploy active listening centred around the person.

In summary

As you reflect on your 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 support you to manage stress and overwhelm please get in touch.

Jackie Haywood, PCC  is a mentor coach with Coach Advancement. Jackie from Illuminate You is an experienced global executive and leadership coach, coach supervisor and facilitator. Jackie has lived experience of the dynamics, challenges, and possibilities of working, leading, and developing within corporate environments and works with a variety of challenges and goals that people bring to coaching. Jackie has coached leaders across the world in an impressive list of corporate organisations, and therefore brings breadth of understanding to her work.

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