How to avoid being overwhelmed

Letting ourselves off the hook...

A colleague said to me recently, “we have a massive job to do, here!”

He was talking about how challenging it is helping some very troubled young people to engage with services and start making progress.

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/alphaspirit (Adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/alphaspirit (Adapted)

At times our work can feel overwhelming…

So how do we avoid being swamped?…

If we think for a moment what it is we do for a living, it’s hardly surprising that it can feel daunting at times:

  • Assessing needs and co-ordinating services
  • Protecting children from abuse
  • Standing up for their rights
  • Dealing with the aftermath of abuse and neglect
  • Providing an alternative place to live
  • Educating those for whom school doesn’t work
  • Mentoring kids through the justice system
  • Providing therapy, counselling, recovery…

And on it goes. Hard stuff isn’t it? Whatever your role, if it’s with troubled children it’ll be no walk in the park.

Little wonder, then, that it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Little wonder that the burnout rate is so high. So…

Avoid the overwhelm?

I want to share two things here. One is like a golden key – a mindset – that will set us up to keep going when things get tough.

The second is to look at a few practical things we can do to help tame the tide!

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Let yourself off the hook!

This is all about perspective…

When I was going through a really tough time a few years back, a friend of mine gave me some great advice. It helped me then and has stayed with me since.

I was dealing with a major relationship issue that was threatening to overwhelm me and take me down. We were discussing the complexities, the disappointment, the trauma of it all.

Then my friend said this to me:

YOU DIDN’T BREAK THIS THING AND YOU CAN’T FIX IT. SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP ABOUT IT ALL!

Simple, right?

But it effected me profoundly. I realised that I was not only trying to solve the problem, I was carrying the responsibility for it.

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/ptnphoto

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/ptnphoto

I was also anticipating what might happen if I couldn’t “fix” it.

This was why I was feeling overwhelmed!

You can’t “fix” it!

All this applies to our work with troubled kids – we didn’t break them, the family, their childhood. And we can’t “fix” it either.

We can certainly help – we can support, facilitate, advocate, encourage, cajole, intervene and guide – but we can’t “fix” it.

So maybe it’s time we let ourselves off the hook? Time to stop carrying all that weight?

Avoiding the overwhelm starts there.

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10 Practical hacks to help…

Here are some practical things we can do to dial down the growing sense of panic that can creep up on us:

Prioritisng:

  • “Can’t do it all” – telling yourself this is a great place to start. It’ll get done eventually, but not just yet. Not today. Doing what you can do is as good as it gets. The rest isn’t your problem.
  • Sort stuff – when tasks start to mount up we can buy ourselves some time and focus by prioritising them. Sort things out into urgent, important and neither urgent nor important.
  • Make a list – only include things on the list that fall into the “urgent” category. Leave the rest for now. Ignore it deliberately. It’ll be important… eventually. But leave it for now.
  • Work the list – now crack on and work your way through the list, starting with the urgent stuff. If you get it all done, you can continue on and make progress on the important stuff, too!
  • Dominate email – having set times in the day when you check your email will help stop it being a distraction. It’ll stop you getting drawn into other things. And other people’s things!

Cut yourself some slack:

  • Diarise everything – putting non-appointments in your diary can be liberating. Things like time to do paperwork. Time to plan for a meeting. Time for email. Time to think through a case. If it’s in the diary, it gets done.
  • Say “no” to stuff – diarising non-appointments also means you can say “no” to other things that people ask you to do. because you know you have that time allocated already. Saying “no” is very liberating!

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/ISerg

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/ISerg

  • Take a lunch break – put it in your diary. Then take it. Don’t buy the lie that you don’t have time. A break – even a short one – will re-energise you and allow you to more than make up the time afterwards.
  • Raise it supervision – if the pace never slows make sure you raise this in supervision. Ask it to be noted that things aren’t getting done. Discuss solutions. Don’t sign the notes if you’re not happy.
  • Consider the nuclear option – if we can’t carry the kids, we certainly can’t carry the organisation. Neither should we try. If nothing changes, despite doing all of the above, maybe it’s time to move on? Even just thinking about this can help!  :0)

I know that you guys know this stuff already. I’m really not trying to teach anyone to suck eggs!

But I also know that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I forget the simple things that can help.

Final word…

Work gets tough for us all from time to time. But there really isn’t a good reason why we should be feeling under pressure all of the time.

Hopefully, if you can let yourself off the hook a little, and apply some of these time-tested practical ideas to focus, you can avoid the overwhelm and start feeling good about work again.

Go for it!

What do you think?…

  • How have you avoided being overwhelmed? What practical tips do you have to help your colleagues?
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Stuck with what to do with a troubled child or young person? Help is at hand – click here…

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© Jonny Matthew 2016

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  • Bryce McKeown

    Hey Jonny,

    You don’t realise how timely this post was for me – so thanks heaps! Another consideration is when the people we work with seek to place the responsibility of “fixing” them onto our shoulders which is where being mindful helps as does an awareness of issues around transference / counter-transference.

    cheers

    Bryce

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Bryce – I’m delighted it helped. There’s no accounting for timing, eh?! Totally agree about the way some folks actually try and put their problems on us. The issue of transference and counter-transference is a whole other thing, too, and very powerful if we’re not mindful of it. I feel another blog post coming on – “Avoid Being Overwhelmed – The Sequel: Judgment Day” ! :0) Thanks again, Bryce. J.