Can You Be Doing Everything Right and Still Get Overwhelmed?

The short answer is, Yes!  Being overwhelmed is a common experience for sure, and sometimes we've already given a lot of attention to self-care, support from our community, and all the other things we need to do.   (That’s why Dr. Marnie and I included Capacity as an area of equal importance with the other four on the Burnout Shield.)

Because we learn so much from case studies, this week I’m sharing (with permission) a recent conversation with one of my private coaching clients. We talked on one of her days off, after she tried out the free Anti-Burnout Quick Action Handbook that we released last week. (The Handbook is still available for free; if you’d like your own copy, go here.)

Like many of the people I work with, this client is a hyper-competent professional, who always has several work projects going at once.

Also, like most human beings, she also has some significant daily personal challenges.  One of them is a severe chronic health condition that requires daily management to keep it at bay.  In her case, the health issue is diabetes, but the conversation would have been very similar had it been any other chronic health issue that can be made worse by stress (as can the majority of health issues!)

Here’s her Burnout Shield, as she sketched it that day in her diary:

SV's sketch of her own Burnout Shield

And here’s part of our discussion of it (edited for clarity, flow, and to remove identifying details.)

(And, Dear Reader, this is a conversation I'd particularly love to continue with you. I’d love to read some of your thoughts and insights about it all!)

Me: I am certainly fascinated to see that you are doing so well in all the other 4 areas, and Capacity is still your challenge.  A good reminder that we can be taking care of ourselves really well, and STILL take on too much.  Also, that our Capacity is a very individual thing, and comparing our own Capacity to what others' Capacity appears to be — that's not useful. (Because all those super-achievers out there may also be redlining it, and just not sharing that part of their experience.  Or they may be astronauts or whatever, and a bit super-human. Either way, not relevant to our own Capacity assessments.)

GK: And yes, I was a bit surprised myself. I've been good about taking care of myself and taking breathers (like today) so I don't feel like I score low on that one. Coping Style the same, I already recognized I wasn't doing well, so I took steps before even reaching for the Handbook. (Or maybe it's because I reached for it? I consider that a good coping style!) On Community, I have friends that are there for me at all times. I also had a lot of good things happen for me recently, so Reflection/Recognition was pretty obvious.

It's just that I have too much going on at once, so I feel very overwhelmed. Even if those things are good things, I only have a small Capacity bucket right now. Bigger than it used to be, but still relatively small. So it's very full right now which makes it a weak area for me.

Me: I purely love that you treat “adequate” as “good enough.”  There is always room for improvement everywhere, but setting priorities and recognizing your strengths is MUCH more important.  (And your accomplishments are super-impressive.) Great stuff.

GK: Thank you! I’ve been working on not beating myself up so much when things aren't perfect. I'm pretty conscious of that.

Me: “All or nothing” is an issue for many, many go-getters. It is, as you know, toxic.

GK: Very much so.

Me: Also, your Plan is great for your days off.  What about tighter control on the number of hours you work?  Including saying “not now” to clients who push the envelope?

GK: Thank you! I think to have tighter control on worked hours, I also need tighter control on my daily schedule first. It's hard to say “I'll work from x to y” if I don't know for sure I can actually reliably start at x. That's a good point though.

Me: 🙂  If you really enjoy having flexible hours, maybe you need a flexible plan? Or if you require flexible hours, because of your health needs?

GK: My plan right now is “Am I conscious? Did I eat? Let's work!” 😀

Am I conscious? Did I eat? Let's work!

Me: Heehee!  So MANY people have that exact same plan!  Because they LOVE to work. That feeling of flow is addictive!  (Also, money!)

GK: Yes! LOL

GK: D'oh! Missed one of the biggest warning signs: random unexplainable blood sugar spikes that happen several days in a row.

Me: Oh! Very important!  Are you guessing those are stress related?

GK: Yeah, definitely. Poor sleep caused by stress = guaranteed wonky levels.

Me: Ah!  Yes, critical.  Good for you for putting that together. SO common that people just put stuff like that under the heading of “stuff I have to cope with every day, because that's how my life is” rather than: “signal to stop and reassess.”  (That's certainly how I ended up in the hospital with severe asthma, a bunch of years ago.)

GK: Oh goodness yeah. The tricky thing is that sometimes, it really does just happen for no reason just ‘because it is what it is,' so it makes it extra difficult to pinpoint when things go way past that.

Subtler warning signs

Me: Well, it's always worth stopping and assessing.  Also, the “several days in a row” tag is key.  So…  what subtler warning signs exist to warn you that “poor sleep caused by stress” is becoming an issue for you?

GK: Putting off/not wanting to go to sleep even though I'm tired.

Me: Oh! Good one!  Sometimes poor sleep caused by stress is unavoidable, stress being what it is…  so, anything useful to be gained from realizing that wonky blood sugar levels are almost inevitable on such days?  Genuinely curious — I don't live with diabetes, so don't know.

GK: Knowing that the levels will be acting up can reduce the frustration I'd otherwise feel. It's very easy to blame yourself for making ‘poor food choices' and the like that cause high blood sugars, but it gets extra bad when you try your best to do everything right and it still isn't working out well. Just the simple knowledge of ‘Oh yeah, today's a stress day, let's take it as it comes and expect high readings,' makes that self-blame either much less or go away almost entirely. I don't feel happy about getting a high reading, but I don't blame myself for it.

Me: Ah!  Excellent insight.

GK: Like, I had a simple apple as an afternoon snack – I shot twice as high as I expected (apples usually don't raise me much) so I knew it was not the apple, but the stress.

[GK identified a snack that would be better for her on a high-stress day.]

Me: Going back to our original thread, here…  Because spikes are so undesirable, identifying early signs that you are headed for a higher-stress zone, as well as your best coping methods, may help you.  Probably telling you what you already know…

GK: Thank you! I will definitely be addressing this going forward.

Me: I am thrilled to see you applying the Handbook and getting such a great plan.  Let me know how it plays out for you, ok?

Once again, if you'd like your own copy of the Anti-Burnout Quick Action Handbook, go here to grab it for free.

What themes in this discussion about being overwhelmed spark your own insights? Share them to help our entire community of burnout fighters!