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'How do you eat an elephant' and other tips on dealing with overwhelm

Right now, we're all experiencing some of the most significant changes within our lifetimes. As in many organisations across the world, at Yes Futures we've had to adapt to school closures and how we can continue to support young people in this uncertain and challenging time. 

This can naturally feel quite overwhelming at times, there are a lot of big questions to answer! 

How do we provide the best service for the young people we work with? How can we help schools and teachers? Are we looking after ourselves, families, young ones, neighbours, elderly? Or even how do you eat an elephant? (Bear with us, that last one will become clear later!)

In the spirit of good communication, a core value at Yes Futures, we sat down (virtually of course) to discuss some strategies for recognising, coping with and addressing overwhelm. We really hope you can find something useful within this to support you through this difficult time... 

Recognising the signs of overwhelm

Becoming overwhelmed can be a process, and there are often signs, like changes in the way we behave and feel that can help us to recognise that we are starting to feel overwhelmed and help us to act on it early on.

Letting go of overwhelm starts with acknowledging how you feel. Here are some of the signs that you may be overwhelmed:

· You feel anxious.

· Your nerves are shot.

· You constantly feel burdened and heavy

· You experience constant pressure and stress

· You're irritable

· You struggle to focus and have scattered thoughts

· You take things more personally and feel more sensitive than usual.

· You’re a lot more critical of yourself than usual

It's important to have awareness about the way you feel. Only then are you to begin to deal with the overwhelm. Too many people unconsciously live in a stressed and overwhelmed state of anxiety. It can start with a simple awareness, "I feel overwhelmed right now."

5 general tips for dealing with overwhelm

1. Practice self-love – It happens to everyone at some point and is not a reflection on how ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ you are – the key is how you deal with it.

2. It’s ok to prioritise yourself – it’s unlikely you’re going to do your best work if you aren’t feeling your best so it might actually be more effective to step away than to stay stuck in the middle of everything!

3. Take a step back – take some time to reflect in whatever way works for you to find some clarity on what is going to help you.

4. Talk to someone – for some people it is helpful to talk to a colleague, boss or friend. It is not shameful to admit you're overwhelmed and most of the time it can be sorted by sharing your burden even if that is just by talking about it.

5. Find out what works for you – everyone is unique and different but taking the time to find out what helps you may give you a toolbox to use time and time again.

What things do the Yes Futures team do to deal with overwhelm?

Tasks within work:

  • Set SMART targets so we don’t set our targets to high and then struggle to achieve them. Making sure we take the time to think how big is the task and realistically how long will it take?

  • Block time out of each day for priority tasks and allowing time of meetings, planning and contingencies.

  • Write down the questions that are worrying you - if they aren’t something you can control - cross them off your list.

  • Take time-out by sitting in a different space like the garden or local park

  • Use planning software that’s easily changeable such as Meistertask software based on the Eisenhower matrix.

Outside of work:

  • Do some exercise - there’s plenty of celebrity masterclasses that you can participate in for inspiration.

  • Take a psychological pause - take a deep breath and reflect on where you’re at with what you’re doing.

  • Practice mindfulness - what can you think, hear and feel? We use apps like HeadSpace and Calm.

  • Take a break and do something you enjoy like light a candle, water your plants, people watch.

  • Write a weekly/daily and monthly list and keep it in one place then prioritise what do I actually need to achieve today

  • Rate how much each thing on your list is worrying you and do that thing that is causing you the most stress first to reduce your feeling of overwhelm.

What technique do the Yes Futures team use to prevent overwhelm in the first place?

When starting out the day:

  • Having a morning process to start the day in a positive way - do some

  • Establish a work space that’s a delight to be in. Light some candles, have plants around, make it comfortable and your space where you can.

  • Start the day by writing out priorities and establish deadlines to understand the full work picture

  • Schedule in things that make you happy all the time, not just when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Throughout the day:

  • Reward yourself with tea/coffee to break the day into chunks, it’s important to take breaks to stay motivated.

  • Taking lunch breaks - no not a lunch break sat at your desk eating while working. An actual break!

  • Breaking tasks down into bitesize chunks… as one of our colleagues said

“How do you eat an elephant? In little pieces!”
  • If you’re worried about a task break the back of the task by starting it for 20min and then taking a break.

  • Separate tasks into draining, neutral and energising using letters D,N and E and then mix up draining, neutral and energising tasks to be more productive.

At the end of the day

  • Review your to do list and CROSS THINGS OFF! So satisfying.

  • Tidy away your work from the living spaces. Put it in a drawer or cupboard and leave it there until tomorrow.

  • Clean away the day. Wipe down the surfaces where you’ve left some biscuit crumbs, freshen up the space and turn it back into your home. Little adaptations to the environment can help put an end to the working day, and begin your evening, whatever that may entail!


Each week we send out five positive news stories, resources or tips&tricks for you to support your wellbeing and personal development during this time, or for the young people you look after as teachers or parents. You can sign up here.

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