Education & Career Trends: Mistakes we make when we’re overwhelmed

4 min read

Edition: June 6th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

When we’re overwhelmed during busy and challenging times, the way we react can actually make things worse. (Image Credit: Freepik)

Excerpts from article by Alice Boyes, published in the Harvard Business Review

When you feel overwhelmed, you may react in ways that not only don’t help the situation but even make it worse. You could be oblivious to these patterns or you don’t know how to overcome them.

However, there are practical solutions to resolve mistakes that we can make when we’re overwhelmed. Working towards these solutions will help you feel like you’re on top of things. You’ll also do a better job of navigating your most important tasks and solving issues.

Here are the 5 most common self-sabotaging mistakes overwhelmed people tend to make:

1. You think you don’t have time for actions that would help you

People often have great ideas about things that would help them feel better and more in control. However, they dismiss them because they think they’re too busy or that it’s not the right time, waiting to take those actions until a more ideal moment – which typically never arrives!

Instead of thinking about what would be ideal, choose the best option that’s easily available to you now.

When you have good ideas but don’t act on them, it can lead to a sense of powerlessness or incompetence. By acting to help yourself, you’ll get practice finding doable solutions, feel more self-efficacy, and reap those benefits sooner.

2. You don’t utilise your unconscious mind enough

Focus isn’t the only way to get things done. Your unconscious mind is great at problem-solving, too. It is a valuable a tool for solving problems and creative thinking. Utilising it will help you get important things done.

People who are feeling overwhelmed sometimes try to block out work thoughts during their personal time by listening to music, a podcast, or other entertainment. But that can rob you of some of the productivity potential of your drifting mind. Try identifying the activities during which your mind naturally drifts in helpful ways and solves problems for you.

3. You interpret feeling overwhelmed as a weakness

Lots of times, we feel overwhelmed simply because we need to do a task we’re not very familiar with or because a task is high stakes and we want to do a superb job of it.

We get self-critical about the very fact that we feel overwhelmed. When you’re self-critical, you become more likely to procrastinate because not only does the task trigger feelings of being overwhelmed, it also triggers the shame or anxiety about having those feelings.

People react to this in different ways. They may approach the task with extra perfectionism or they might become more reluctant to ask for tips and advice from others. It’s important to replace your self-criticism with compassionate self-talk.

4. You default to your dominant approaches and defences

When we get stressed out, we tend to get a bit more rigid. As we have less cognitive and emotional bandwidth to consider other options, we become less flexible about adapting to the demands of the situation. Instead, we default to our dominant ways of handling things.

We all have values, but we don’t always use them to our advantage. When you’re overwhelmed, make sure you’re matching your values to the demands of the situation.

5. You withdraw from your supports

If you feel overwhelmed, you’ve probably got limited emotional energy. This can lead to important changes in your behaviour and emotional availability. This may make you miss opportunities that fill up your emotional cup when you need it most.

Identify ways you still enjoy connecting with your supports even when you’ve got limited emotional energy. If you struggle to get around to these activities, create routines for them so that they fit into your daily or weekly routine.

By being aware of the five patterns outlined here, you can make getting through busy and challenging times easier on yourself and those around you. Know what the traps are and make easy, small changes to overcome them.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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