No fancy title needed. It’s just what it is. At this point in the school year most of you are feeling this, and so are the people around you especially teachers and administrators. It leads to short tempers, feelings of not being good enough, and exhaustion. It also affects your ability as a leader. And while you are in overwhelm you don’t want to even think about being a leader. It’s just one more thing you have on your plate and no time to do it.
You know the effects of overwhelm, its dangers, and perhaps how to deal with it. Your school may even have done a Professional Development session on this topic to help with times like this. But while you are in it, you have no time to put any tools into practice. It’s a catch-22 situation. To get to the point where you can implement strategies for dealing with overwhelm, there is one simple remedy which is good, because you need simple at this point.
That’s it. Go to a place in your library where you won’t be disturbed. Or go to the restroom. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, and then let it out slowly. Take another and another. When we are tense and overwhelmed, we shallow breathe. This adds to the problem and ramps up the feelings.
Once you have made this method into your “first response” to feeling overwhelmed, you can employ special breathing techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. The effects are immediate. And immediate is also good.
Now that you have a way to deal with those moments, you need a plan to minimize the frequency of attacks. If you live in an almost constant state of overwhelm, your logical thinking is affected, you don’t bring your best to your family and friends (actually, you probably bring your worst), and your attitude sends negative signals to teachers and students.
Our world seems to be a 24/7 place. Information, questions, and problems keep coming in, and you feel duty-bound to respond—sometimes immediately. This gives you little time to think and set priorities and the result is becoming more overwhelmed.
We are hardly alone in this challenge. The business world deals with this as well, and the Harvard Business Review offers a post from Rebecca Zucker on How to Deal with Constant Overwhelm. She offers five suggestions. (Keep breathing as you read on.)
Pinpoint the primary source of overwhelm – In the moment, we tend to give everything equal weight, but that’s not reality. Something is stressing you more than other things. Is it a project? An aspect of your schedule? A personal issue? You may not be able to take it off your plate, but by identifying it, you can analyze why it is weighing so heavily on you, and maybe discover what can be done to reduce the stress somewhat. For example, if it’s a project, break it down into pieces so you don’t feel the weight of the entire thing all at once.
Set boundaries on your time and workload – This is hard for some. We can’t work late every day and spend weekend hours doing more work for school. Make sure you give yourself at least two days when you leave at a regular time and one day free on the weekend. You will have more energy and because of this, you’ll be able to produce more in less time. This is one of those cases when less can lead to more.
Challenge your perfectionism – Not everything needs to be completed to the same level of “perfect” whether it’s a display or end-of-day cleanup. If you are working at two (or more) schools, stop trying to do full-time work in all your schools. Discuss priorities with your administrators letting them know what you think is most important and what you cannot do because of your schedule. Ask them for their advice and work with it. (This is related to boundaries on your workload.)
Outsource or delegate – This can be a challenge (but then again, what isn’t). Can you get student volunteers? They may be more work at the beginning when you’re training them, but they can help. Can you incorporate some tasks into your lessons? At the elementary level, kids can learn to put returned books on the cart in shelf order. Little things help. Or how about a parent volunteer committee? On the home front, perhaps you can hire someone so your weekend doesn’t also have cleaning or lawn care as part of it. Even once a month can make a big difference.
Challenge your assumptions – What would happen if you didn’t do one of your jobs? I used to be upset about having new books and racing to get them on the shelves. Instead, I let teachers and students see them. If they wanted one, they could borrow it. I would make a note of it and process it when it was returned. It got material out faster and was a lure to be the first to take the book out.
As you start putting these suggestions into practice you may notice many require a change of thinking. (See last week’s blog). These incremental changes will add up and hopefully lead to fewer times of overwhelm. Just knowing it’s possible can be a good start. But since there is no getting rid of it completely, just remember: