I’m getting ready for a keynote speech with a group of leaders working in public service. As I have been preparing for the conference, I asked what they were hoping the most to bring to the group. Let me tell ya, the list got long REAL FAST. Overwhelm, burnout, competing demands, wanting time for personal growth, family commitments, health and wellness getting put on the backburner.
And a big question, “What do you do when the job has become untenable?”
It made me think of a recent coaching session I had where we were talking about what was causing stress during the work day, and as my client shared a recent experience, it was like watching an avalanche start to slide. The compound effect of one situation building on another interaction then snowballing into a third instance and winding up with him feeling completely overloaded was abundantly clear.
I myself had a similar experience. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that avalanche-y sort of feeling, but a series of events brought it about the other week. I was reflecting on what got me there and what got me out of it, and the “stress soup” metaphor came up. When I hit that “oh crap, the snow is starting to slide” point, it had gotten to be such a mixed-up mess that it was hard to tell what the actual problem was or what parts might be actionable. Hence, the soup analogy.
The overwhelmed sort of feeling felt like the broth, and there were so many little parts and pieces in it that were all mixed up, it was hard for me (and my client!) to tell what was what. In both cases, we started by picking out what we could identify and laying it out for further examination. Those little celery-like chunks? Frustration over little things that had gone wrong- not remembering to stop for gas and then having to do it at a time when it caused extra stress, the coffee lid coming off while you’re backing out of the driveway and coffee spilling everywhere, not having a replacement roll of toilet paper when you need it. Carrots? Nah, those were actually the emails that are piling up in the inbox and the growing list of to-do items that have built up. And are those potatoes? Nope. Those are the stresses of hard conversations that need to happen with some family members. And those onion-looking things? That anniversary of that really hard event you experienced is coming up. Oh, and those little parsley flakes that are EVERYWHERE? Remember how you haven’t been sleeping so well?
When you’re starting to feel like everything is in stress soup mode, get out that proverbial strainer and start sifting. Identify what you can, give yourself the grace and space to really see what’s in there. The greater clarity you can get on what’s building up and getting all mixed together and starting that emotional avalanche, the faster you’ll be able to figure out which aspects have action associated with them, which components need processing, and which ones are ready for the garbage disposal. And for my audience for the keynote- I’m ready to help them with strategies for sifting through their own stress soup so they can do the same.