You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round: Getting through the day when it’s all a bit too much

I had great plans about what I was going to post today, but to be honest, it hasn’t quite worked out. It hasn’t worked out because I can’t focus on the post I had drafted because I am currently feeling so overwhelmed by the day job. I’ve been prepping and then running a course for three weeks, and the emails have mounted up to a point where I can’t see a way forward. I have lectures coming up that aren’t written. I feel run down and grotty because I pushed myself too hard physically, and to top it all off, yesterday was filled with frustrating politics. So, instead of posting about Infection Control, today’s post will be about reminding myself of some of the tools I use to re-centre myself when I feel like I’m spinning out of control.

Know tomorrow is another day

I am sadly not one of those people who always look like a graceful swan, working frantically under the water but appearing calm and graceful to all observers. I am the person who wears her heart on her sleeve and quite frankly gets stuff done but looks like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil in the process. I ride the emotional roller coaster and just try not to scream too loudly. Sometimes, I just need to take a step back from the chaos and try to realise a) what’s real, b) what is just because of tiredness, c) what really matters. Some things that feel so challenging in the moment feel so different once they are resolved, like the sun coming out. Therefore, getting worked up about them hardly seems worth it. When things feel like they currently do, I try to remind myself that everything will feel different tomorrow, or when I start to feel more like myself. This means that I also need to try to remind myself not to react so much in the moment. I find that taking a brief moment to focus on a point in the future that feels removed from where I’m at can really help me reset my thinking, be that planning for a future holiday, focussing on sorting a future talk etc, focussing on the future whilst also not losing time I don’t have to fix the present.

Just like any roller coaster, this too will end

When everything is coming at you, it can feel like the end of a game of Tetris, when everything is coming at you so fast you don’t have a moment to even recognise what pieces you are juggling, let alone how to fit them in. The thing is, even this is a state of mind, if I was in a different place I would be excited by the challenge rather than feeling a rising state of panic. The key thing, for me, is that I recognise when I am entering a mental space where I am losing perspective. I have two approaches to this:

Step one (a) is to make a total list that will enable me to get a better idea of where I’m at with things. Step one (b) happens when I’m too far into my stressing, in this case making a complete list actually freaks me out even more, and so I make a next day list. I list enough that I feel like I have identified the urgent things, but make sure not to be so extensive that I worry about how I’m going to get the entire list done.

The second approach is that I go through my diary and try to gain some time I can block out as ‘task time’, so I actually have some time to make the things on my list happen. I may not have solved the issues but at least I know what it will take to make me feel like I’m back in control enough to get off the roller coaster.

Focus on one thing, directly in front of you

If it all else fails, and I can’t even cope with ‘The List’ I pick one thing. The biggest, most urgent, most panic inducing thing and just give that 100% of my focus. I split it down into pieces that are easier to mentally digest and just start at the very beginning. I’ve said there are times when looking to the future helps me, there are also times when I just need to look at my feet and take one step at a time. I also find that, to stop the prevaricator in me, I need to put the ‘Do not disturb’ sign on my door to buy me not just the physical time, but the undisrupted mental time to get into the task and enable me to find a rhythm. Sometimes, I need to pick at a couple of easy things to lead into the big thing, but often, for me, it’s better to just pull off that band aid and get to it.

Even if it’s as bad as you think, how bad is that really?

All of this is about process managing my way out of where I’m at, but there is also recognising what are the real consequences of where I am. I’ve previously written a blog post about the reality of deadlines, but there is also the aspect that we feel these things so keenly because we are the centre of our worlds, therefore when we feel things aren’t correct we assume that everyone else clearly sees the same. The reality is that most of the people we interact with aren’t all that focussed on us. If there are deadlines that are real, then we manage them, but just like others aren’t fully aware of our individual workloads, they are also not as aware of our weaknesses and failures as we perceive them to be. This can be especially true if you’re a perfectionist, and you feel that if something is delivered and it is not as you envisioned that it is a massive reflection of your failure. As far as I’m aware, I have yet to meet a mind reader and so the only person who is benchmarking against the vision in your mind is you, therefore cut yourself a break. When it comes to outputs on days like today I tell myself ‘done is better than good’ and that my benchmark for done is usually pretty damn high. Therefore, just get it done!

Plan your way out

When I have given myself a good talking to, and dealt with the immediate panic in front of me, it’s time to work out how I’m going to tackle the rest. I’ve already talked about blocking out some task time and moving towards making a list, but for me, this part is also about being able to visualise my progress. What are my quick wins, so I feel like I’m getting somewhere. What if any bits can I seek help with, we are not one women armies after all. Are there any bits in hindsight I can drop, or are no longer needed, to buy me some extra time? Any deadlines I can move? Once I’ve got myself to a space where I feel brave enough to look at the entire list and see the big picture, I can be proactive about moving forward. Or the BIG question…… I just feel this way because I’m feeling run down and ill, in which case I need to stop worrying about it and get some rest.

Sometimes, you just have to get a little distance

If the answer to the question ‘do I just feel this way because I’m feeling run down and ill?’ is ‘yes’ then the answer is to down tools and get some space. I started this post on Friday but just couldn’t manage it and so took Friday night and Saturday off. I’m finishing it on Sunday so as not to put extra pressure on myself to finish it on my Monday morning tube journey in. I have a tendency to work harder when I feel out of control, and that is fine, to a point. The issue with pushing harder when the tank is already empty is, as my husband regularly says to me, ‘ease down you’re only grinding metal’ (it’s an Aliens quote). You have to know when you are in a space where it’s productive to work, versus when you are in a space where it’s more productive to rest. If you step away you will come back refreshed, with a new perspective, and sometimes the challenges are either just not as great any more, or you can see solutions you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I have a great team around me, who really help flag to me when I’m just doubling down when I should step away, them and my husband are absolute lifesavers in terms of reminding me that I’m more productive long term if I rest. Be aware however, that resting is different to ostriching, so being honest with yourself is key.

Anyway I’m still pretty tired but I’m better for the rest. Hopefully you all won’t judge me too harshly for my honesty and that by sharing how I feel we can all support each other a little bit better when the deadlines are looming and the sky feels like it might come crashing down. Here are the tips I’ve been channelling this weekend to help get me through:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Work out whether you actually have an issue or whether what you really need is rest
  • Decide whether to look to the future (to gain perspective) or to identify a single task to work on (to support focus)
  • Use the resources you have available to you, you are not in this on your own

If all else fails, phone a friend, we are after all here to help.

All opinions in this blog are my own

One thought on “You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round: Getting through the day when it’s all a bit too much

  1. I only read a couple of your posts. But I’m completely confident in saying that you’re pretty resilient!


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