Work is busy, too busy. Being too stressed and overwhelmed is not good in any job. Self-care is always important, but even more so when we notice the effects of too much work.
I let my manager know when I am too busy. She may already know this and may be working to alleviate the stress, but it is a good idea to remind her – in a nice way – that I am getting burnt out.
Co-workers can be helpful. Grudging remarks about the stress that end with some humor or building each other up helps. Try to stay away from those who only gripe and complain. You will end up feeling worse about what you are going through.
Prioritizing is important. Yet, spending too much time organizing and prioritizing keeps us from the job. I try to keep all my tasks on one sheet of paper – though this often does not work. I use two highlighters when my piece of paper gets messy. Blue to highlight what is complete, yellow for what I need to do. When I am busy, I have up to 5 to 6 pages, blue and yellow marks all over them. I shuffle and prioritize these pages working on the jobs I can complete in the time I think I have and trying to reduce the number of papers on my desk. I rarely recopy unfinished tasks to a clean sheet. It wastes time and I no longer see the blue highlights telling me what I have accomplished.
I focus on the task (singular) at hand, so that I can do it well and with reasonable speed, so that I can move on to the next task. When overwhelmed, our thoughts often fixate on being overwhelmed, dragging down how well and how quickly we do our job – and we get further behind.
Take breaks. Going mindlessly from one task to the next simply stresses us out more. Brief breaks between small tasks – a couple deep breaths, focusing your breathing before moving on to what is next. Longer breaks between bigger tasks. I often take a walk up and down the hallway – checking if there are goodies in the lunchroom, having a three-minute conversation with a co-worker to clear my mind before moving to my next task. If there was an intense situation that I got through and I need more time, I ask for it.
I take my lunch and make sure I take it away from my desk. We need to get away from the physical place that is home to our stress. We need time off and vacations for the same reason. I am lucky in my job that work does not pile up when I am out. This is not the case for many. Yet, not taking time you have built up when it is available saps your energy.
Take the scenic route between work and home. I did this in college. I could save five minutes taking the expressway and driving through a depressed area of town; or I could drive along the lakefront. The lakefront was soothing. When needed, I would stop and vegetate for a while on my way in or on the way home.
You can also sit in the parking lot at work for a minute before going in to ramp up for what you are going to face. I would rather think about it in the parking lot than at home the night before. Many people think about work as early as Sunday afternoon before the start of their workweek. I have always been successful at not letting this happen. I do not allow any prompts at home that make me think about work. I never get my lunch ready or think about what I am going to wear to work until 15 minutes before I start my commute – as my co-workers are likely to attest!
For the commute home, stopping at a park or in your driveway for a few minutes can help release the stress of the day – as well as get you ready for what stressors may be facing you at home.
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Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.