How to Save Your Sanity When Overworked and Overwhelmed

Jan 12, 2015
8 Min Read

If you’re feeling overworked, you’re not alone. A survey this year finds that more than half of U.S. workers feel overworked or overwhelmed at least some of the time. Perhaps it’s time to give mindfulness a try. The ancient art is growing more popular as a way to deal with daily anxieties – and to become a better performer on the job.

One of the solutions being touted more and more as a solution to the emotional and physical overload many of us experience is mindfulness. But is mindfulness the answer? Or is it just the latest fad that you don’t have the time or inclination to try?

Scott Eblin, an executive coach and speaker, says he understands the skepticism many feel when they’re told they will be happier and less stressed if they’re more “mindful” in their lives. But as someone who has practiced mindfulness for 20 years and credits it with saving his life after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Eblin believes that mindfulness can help anyone improve their quality of life.

“Most people are very happy to learn that mindfulness is not nearly as complicated as they thought. You don’t have to meditate all day or do yoga every day,” he says.

Eblin says the need for mindfulness is greater than ever, as the declining economy several years ago put more pressure on workers to take on more work – and do it with less resources.

“We still seem to be in that crisis mode, even though things have improved,” Eblin says. “And whatever boundaries we’ve had have been erased by the smartphone.”

Enough, already

Let’s say your day started with your daughter forgetting her science project for school, forcing you to turn around and go get it. This caused you to be late to work and an important meeting, ticking off the boss. By 10 a.m. you had 200 emails in your inbox and three more meetings to attend.

If such a scenario sounds familiar, Eblin says the first thing you need to do is breathe.

In his book, “Overworked and Overwhelmed,” Eblin points out that there is scientific evidence that breathing deep from your belly can alleviate your stress and help you become more focused. That’s why he calls breathing “the killer app of mental routines.”

Focusing on your breathing, Eblin explains, is the simplest form of mindfulness. If a thought crosses your mind while focusing on your breathing (“I have to answer 200 emails!”) just acknowledge that thought and let it go while you again refocus on your breathing, he explains.

“Think of it like doing reps at a gym,” he explains. “Within reason, the more you do, the stronger you get. Mindful breathing is like a workout for your brain.”

In the book, Eblin offers several ways that you can use mental routines to overcome various sources of stress and become more productive with your thinking. He suggests you:

  • Focus on learning. Don’t let your thought processes get caught up in remorse or regret for mistakes you’ve made, or things you could have done differently. No one is perfect, and you will make mistakes and have regrets. Instead, ask yourself questions about what was supposed to happen, what actually happened and what would you do differently next time. “What are one or two things, if any, that you want to do in the near future to mitigate what went wrong or to set things up for better outcomes in the future?” Eblin suggests.
  • Don’t let your mind wander. You may be washing dishes or brushing your teeth, but you’re probably thinking of many different things while doing it. But try being fully present while washing that dish – think about the temperature of the water, the quality of the soap bubbles or the spots you missed on that last pan. “If you find your mind wandering off to that meeting you had today or the presentation you’re doing tomorrow, no big deal,” Eblin says. “Just notice it, and then come back to the pots and pans.” Staying in the present in little ways can “help you be more present when it matters most,” he explains.
  • Let go of “what ifs.” When you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed, your mind can slip into constant worry. “What if I’m not ready for that meeting?” “What if I don’t get this done on time?” Recognize that you’re worrying about the future, which never accomplishes anything. Instead, ask yourself if everything you’ve got going on is really necessary. Do you have to dial into that conference call? Do you really have to make homemade cookies for your daughter’s class party? If you find things are really necessary, then what’s the most important thing you need to get done that day? What could be postponed? Another tactic is visualization, when you breathe deeply and then ask yourself: “What am I trying to do?” and “How do I need to show up to do that?” which can help you identify specific tips you can take to create successful outcomes.

Finally, Eblin suggests that even the busiest people can carve out five minutes a day to do regular meditative breathing. “It’s not that big a deal to do but can pay huge dividends in terms of reducing your mental clutter and increasing your focus,” he says.

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