How to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed by Rebecca Zucker

Our work lives have become increasingly demanding, presenting us with ever more complex challenges at a near-relentless pace. Add in personal or family needs, and it’s easy to feel constantly overwhelmed. In their book, Immunity to Change, Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey discuss how the increase in complexity associated with modern life has left many of us feeling “in over our heads.” When this is the case, the complexity of our world has surpassed our “complexity of mind” or our ability to handle that level of complexity and be effective. This has nothing to do with how smart we are, but with how we make sense of the world and how we operate in it.

Our typical response to ever-growing workloads is to work harder and put in longer hours, rather than to step back and examine what makes us do this and find a new way of operating. I have a few clients who fit this description. When we started working together, they each had already resorted to getting up at 4 AM to do work. Sue, who works for a tech company that recently went public, is leading many simultaneous projects and is fearful she’ll miss an important email. Ajay, a senior leader at a late-stage start-up, needs the extra quiet time to try to make a dent in his ever-growing to-do list, but feels like he’s trying to dig himself out of a hole that just keeps getting deeper. Maria, a start-up co-founder, felt constantly overwhelmed as her company started to scale. While CEOs of trillion dollar companies like Apple’s Tim Cook, wake up at 3:45 AM, most of us don’t have quite this level of responsibility.

The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve. When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed. If you are feeling constantly overwhelmed, here are some key strategies to try:

Read the full article @ The Harvard Business Review
Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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