In a recent workshop I led, a leader expressed that she was losing her grip on her work. She started to fall behind on tasks, make more errors, and regularly work overtime, which left her exhausted. She thought that pushing herself came from her strong work ethic.
This problem isn’t exclusive to leaders. Learning to manage your emotional skills is a tall order when overwhelm, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty plague staff members. With the employee global engagement rate sitting at 15%, managers need to help their team develop emotional skills if they want their companies to succeed.
To combat this epidemic, I developed a five-step reframing process to guide people to strengthen their emotional skills and shift their mind-sets from an overwhelmed state to one of calm. I call this process CIRCA. By building 10 to 15 minutes into each workday to troubleshoot, you can disrupt the overwhelm. Here’s what that consists of.
1. Chunking information
Chunking helps employees break down the overwhelm they are experiencing. This process involves breaking down information into smaller units that are easier to process. Having more manageable chunks of information can reduce the cognitive load.
For example, if a teammate is falling behind or producing low-quality work, pull him or her aside for a private meeting that brings up everyday work pressures. Help this individual see that he or she might be trying to do too many things at once.
A senior executive once approached me because she felt like a bad mother and an inferior worker, but she didn’t want to give up either role. She said that work overwhelmed her, and she took this stress home with her. However, when she learned how to chunk tasks, she felt less burdened. Her brain, rather than sounding an alarm that she needed to complete a massive project, was much calmer. She knew that she only needed to address a chunk of it in a given time frame.
2. Ignoring mental chatter
We all need to learn to ignore mental chatter. This requires an understanding of how to be mindful. Mindfulness helps the brain control emotional overwhelm. When someone is overthinking, the brain overheats, and being mindful helps it cool down.
Encourage teammates to set aside 5 to 15 minutes each day to close their eyes, attend to their breathing, and practice bringing their attention back to each breath every time their mind wanders. While this can be challenging at first, the exercise will bring serenity to overactive mental chatter.
3. Checking in with reality
A reality check requires us to analyze using self-talk. When we face bad news or an aggressive deadline, it is easy to feel as though the situation is going to last forever.
If a team member is going through a stressful situation, encourage them to bring themselves back down to Earth with positive reality-check statements, such as “This too shall pass.” Third-person language can make this more efficient. Sure, this might seem silly at first, but taking the time to pause and recalibrate is much better than allowing the overwhelm to grow.
4. Acknowledging what you can control
The control step is similar to a serenity prayer. It leans on knowing what can and cannot be controlled, which can ultimately improve well-being. To implement this in the workplace, learning to say “no” to energy wasters is just as important as saying “yes” to critical tasks. For this step, motivate yourself and others to ask, “How can I let go of things that I cannot control or things that waste my energy?” One approach to find such answers is asking what one would advise someone else to do in the current situation. This sense of objectivity can jog thought processes to come up with solutions outside of the current restrictive mindset.
5. Shifting your attention
Attention implies that individuals must learn how to become unstuck from problems and seek solutions instead. When we are anxious, it’s natural to ruminate on things. However, it is possible to learn how to disengage from the worry. One way to do this is to designate worry-free times each day, and encourage others to do the same. Even taking just 30 minutes to go out for a walk helps us be in a more solution-forward mind-set. This step allows us to unwind and, in turn, clear our minds of thoughts that influence analysis paralysis.
As a leader, you can follow these five steps and strive to nip employee overwhelm in the bud. Leading your employees through this process will not only help them better manage overwhelm in their lives. It will also free their minds, strengthen their valuable emotional skills, and improve your company.
Srini Pillay, M.D., is the CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and the award-winning author of numerous books, including Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind.