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Overwhelmed Leader? 5 Tips to Reduce the Stress

5 Self-Development Tips for Overwhelmed Leaders

If you’re in a hectic leadership position (and let’s be honest, what leadership position isn't a little challenging sometimes), you might have experienced being pulled in what feels like a million different directions. 

It can be an incredibly tough position to be in. When you’re the boss, people just expect you to be calm, controlled and have all the answers at all times. As much as I’m sure we all want that to be true, it’s just not realistic.  

We’re only human after all. Even leaders have their moments (and are entitled to those moments!). 

At Life Ladder, we help Leaders tackle these challenges by providing personal development tools that can be used to create a sense of calm because people build the inner resources they need to deal with fast-moving work, change and challenge. 

Leaders can get to a point where they get less day-to-day support than regular employees. They’re often just left to deal with it themselves. That’s sometimes the ‘burden of leadership’, some say. 

We don’t really believe in that – so we've written this article to help leaders take control of their workload, feel happier and more resourceful in their work life. 

 happy leader sitting at office desk has reduced stress

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

How to combat the state of overwhelm 

Being overwhelmed can cloud the mind to the point of paralysis. Why endure that when you don’t have to? 

There are methods you can use to manage your mind so you never reach the point where you’re struggling to just keep your head above water. 

You’re probably already doing some of the more standard tools and techniques (such as creating lists and prioritising tasks) which have been a time-tested strategy to keep on top of work. But what do you do when that list is a mile long and it feels like EVERYTHING is a priority? 

Is there anything else that you can do other than these standard techniques? 

Our Founder, Natalie Rea, has extensive leadership training experience and is also a personal development expert, so Life Ladder has a huge range of tools to help leaders calm the mind and get back on track. 

Usually these would be included within our personal development membership, but here are three useful methods you can benefit from now. So here you go:

1. Break unwanted states of mind

Our emotional states have a pattern. We have ways to representing the state and the feeling in our internal world, either through a picture, sound, or feeling. 

Our professional development coaching experts have coached people to move and release extreme emotional reactions by a process called ‘breaking the state’. Effectively, this means that when you change the picture, sound, or feeling behind the emotion meaning it can no longer have the same effect. 

To do this without the help of a coach, start by clearing your thoughts because while you’re stuck in the overwhelmed state, you can’t think clearly or break it down, so you need to mentally (if not physically) remove yourself from the situation. 

Easier said than done, we know. However, with practice, this will become like breathing. Your mind is capable of clearing the emotions by creating an image of something totally different that you have a positive association with. 

You’ve heard about going to your ‘happy place’ when you’re stressed, right? This is exactly the same thing. Visualise your favourite beach in the world, or a field you love to walk in. Find an expansive, calm place that you love. 

See it in your minds eye and make it as vivid and bright as you can. Consider what sounds you might hear; the soothing sound of a babbling brook, the gentle waves meeting the shore, birds tweeting high above you, or leaves rustling in the trees as the wind caresses your face. Whatever works for you, really be associated. That means that you’re there, in the moment, looking through your own eyes in your mind. When you look down, you can see your feet touching the sand and paddling in the clear water. Whatever your image is, imagine yourself there as much as possible. 

In doing this, you break your original overwhelmed state. Your mind will be momentarily transported to your place of calm and when you return back to your ‘real’ life, you’ll neurologically feel better because you’ve removed yourself enough for your brain to know it’s not trapped in that emotion. 

This may take you a couple of tries to fully immerse yourself in your ‘happy place’ and break state but once you’ve mastered this tool, you’ll easily be able to switch your focus, to change your inner state of mind and therefore your behaviours and emotions.

2. Breathing is the rhythm of life

When you feel overwhelmed, there’s always a feeling of chaos. Breathing brings calm. 

Breathing is steady, controllable, and simple. 

One of the simplest ways to get yourself out of the mental rat race is to breathe more deeply and in steady, rhythmical, slow breaths. 

Find a quiet place where someone won’t bother you for a few minutes, either at your desk or in a break room. 

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. 

With every breath you take, feel yourself relaxing more and more. Notice where there is tension in your body and let it go with each out-breath.  Not only does breathing this way give you something else to concentrate on but it literally physically reverse-hacks your fight-or-flight response which we all have when we’re under stress because you can't be in fight-or-flight when breathing deeply and relaxing. 

Biologically, our ‘fight-or-flight’ response has changed over the years. We no longer need to run from predators. This response is now triggered by more internal stresses, such as work pressures and overwhelming situations. 

By breathing deeply and calmly, you’re signalling to the body that you’re okay. You don’t need the adrenalin or cortisol right now and breathing deeply sends a message to stop pumping these hormones. You’re not in danger.  Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in a place where you can think clearer and face the challenges with more insight and clarity because cortisol is not scrambling your cognitive processes. 

Breathing once will help but only a little, focus 5 minutes just on breathing and you’ll shift your energy easily.

3. Be creative with visualisation

Our minds work with pictures, sounds, and feelings. It also works with our internal voices, smells, and tastes. 

You may think you have no choice over the way your mind uses these. Surprisingly for some, you’d be wrong on that one (we’re pleased to say you do have control). You can get very creative with them!  

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), a hugely successful approach to personal growthit’s called working on sub-modalities. 

What’s great is that you can work on your own sub-modalities once you get used to it. 

It’s a little more obscure than the other two coaching techniques we've explored here, but it’s highly effective. 

The next time you’re in a state of overwhelm, have a look at this question checklist: 

  • Imagine you can see the overwhelm in your minds eye, what colour is it? 
  • This sounds random, we know. Just go with it so you don’t miss out. Notice the first colour that comes to your mind – this is how your subconscious mind represents it. 
  • Is it moving, or still? 
  • Is it heavy, or light? 
  • Where is it? 
  • Perhaps your head, chest, hands? Where is your body feeling that overwhelm? 
  • Use your mind to move it, change the colour, and turn it into a shape. 
  • What shape is it? 
  • Allow it to come outside of you. 
  • Now, see it launch into the sky like a NASA rocket or drop-kick that thing out the window! 

When you do this, it may feel a little silly at first. The key is to keep going, because your subconscious mind works at rapid speed and gets bored easily and creates its own entertainment if not directed. 

We don’t tap into our deeper minds enough day-to-day. It’s incredible what it can do. 

Our Founder did some NLP Coaching with an employee within a childcare organisation in Hove, the employee had been experiencing some upset. When Natalie asked her the questions we've listed for you above, the client immediately said the feeling was red and stuck in her throat. It felt heavy and was blocking her. 

Our Founder guided her to change the colour to a light blue. 

Almost immediately, she told Natalie that the feeling had disappeared. She didn’t want to cry anymore! She kept laughing saying how weird and fascinating it was that it just disappeared like that, saying she was going to share it with her friends! Even Natalie was surprised it worked that quickly! Everyone responds differently. Her mind worked extremely well and was ready to release. 

Our mind is fascinating. Start working with it proactively and your life will change. That’s why we made it our mission to make mindset transformation and personal development affordable and accessible for everyone with Life Ladder's elearning professional and personal development platform. 

Not everyone’s mind will respond and release those feelings that quickly, but if you can connect with yourself enough to know how your mind represents it, you can release it. By using pictures, sounds, and feelings you can help the subconscious mind control how your conscious mind deals with any situation. 

What have you got to lose by trying it out? Experiment and see how it goes, or if you want to get a better understanding of how to start improving your mind and therefore how you feel about life, find out more about Life Ladder Memberships.

4. Empower other people

 happy leader and team experiencing no stress

Often, leaders feel that they have to do everything themselves. They think that giving people tasks outside of their normal job role would be ‘cheeky’ or inappropriate, or that they can't do it. 

The fact is, it’s okay to need help. A lot of the time, your team will be excited and happy to take on additional tasks that expands their experience and skillsets and gives them variety. People thrive on being given additional trust, responsibility, and challenge. 

We realise a lot of the time, leaders ‘know’ this, but they don’t act on it because they don’t truly believe it. It is sometimes easier to do it yourself. 

Maybe you want to be the one helping, rather than needing help. However this approach is missing so many opportunities to give someone else the spotlight to shine. 

Others can step up which helps their wellbeing and growth as well as your own. It can give them an increased sense of worth and motivation. 

That said, it needs to be the right person at the right time. It’s best to be using your influence to motivate them, rather than just demanding that they do your work. 

Let them know why the task is important and why you’ve specifically chosen them. Explain what you think they’ll gain from it, how you want it done, deadlines, resources available to them, and the impact on you if they can help you. You should also let them know when you want them to communicate their progress to you. 

When done right, this will be your ace card. You’ll win employee loyalty and commitment and you’ll be able to strengthen your bond and rapport with them to no end. 

5. Be present

You’re at your most productive when you’re present within the moment. 

You need to find a method of focusing on the here-and-now without being blocked up by thoughts of the past or future. 

An article in Forbes recommends being present for tackling being overwhelm too.

A technique we train on in our personal development journey is called the 'Hakalau'. This is an NLP technique also known as 'The Now State'. 

We go into this fully for our subscribers, however a simple starting point you can apply without training is to pick a spot to focus on, then allow yourself to expand out to your peripheral vision, whilst still focusing on the one spot. Expand your vision to the floor and the ceiling, whilst still focusing on the same spot. You’ll notice that the more you expand your focus, the less space there is for unhelpful internal dialogue. You’ll be more in the moment and not focused on consequences in future or problems from the past. Just being. 

Contact us if you would like some additional help for getting the best out of yourself and your team with corporate personal and professional development membership.