Are never-ending to-do lists making you anxious? If you have moments of feeling overwhelmed by your workload, there are a few things you can try.
Always start with taking slow breaths: Slow breathing helps you stop panicking and take a more long-term focus as it activates the brain’s prepare-and-plan mindset.
Focus on breathing out like you’re blowing up a balloon slowly; your breath will naturally regulate itself.
1. Practice your acceptance skills with healthy self-talk:
The best self-talk helps you feel calmer and in control. It combines self-compassion and appropriate responsibility-taking. As a kickoff, you might try: "Even though I have many things to do, I can only focus on the one thing I’m doing right now. I’ll feel better if I do that” or “I would prefer to be able to get more done in a day, but I’m going to accept what I’m realistically able to do.”
2. Track your time to give yourself an accurate baseline
Evidence shows that people who say they work very long hours are generally overestimating. When you feel anxious about work, your brain will overestimate how much you’re working, which in turn makes you feel more anxious and sets up a self-perpetuating cycle.
When your perception of your workload is dramatically overblown, the situation feels hopeless, which will likely leave you feeling depressed as well as anxious. Try tracking your time for a single week.
You won't have to actively attempt to change your behaviour: The way you operate will naturally shift in positive directions due to monitoring.
3. Check your assumptions about other people’s expectations
We often self-generate rules we expect ourselves to follow. For example, “I need to reply to Sandra more quickly than she generally replies to me.” But it’s worth considering that whoever contacted you might not want an immediate response.
Replying immediately to emails, especially after-hours, contributes to the always-on cycle for everyone. Practice not responding to messages outside of business hours. Most people will get the message, and may appreciate you helping them with their own boundaries.
4. Examine your assumptions about what success requires
You might also be self-generating faulty thoughts about what it takes to be successful in your field. Perfectionistic assumptions like, “To succeed I need to work harder than everyone else” become especially problematic when you’re rising through the ranks in a competitive industry and you’re in a group of other overachievers.
Look out for assumptions that cause unnecessary stress, especially if these also contribute to procrastination and paralysis. Write out your problem assumptions and a more realistic alternative.
Your realistic alternative thought could be something like “Given that my workgroup is composed of high achievers, there is a good chance that most of us in this group will be successful. Therefore I don’t need to perform at the very top of the group in order to achieve success.”
5. Start taking time off now instead of waiting for the ‘right’ time:
When you take an evening or weekend day off and the sky doesn’t fall in, you learn experientially that you can be less anxious about your workload. If you want to feel more relaxed about work, act more relaxed about it.