You’ve been assigned a major project at work, maybe even your most important yet. But you’re not sure what to do or where to start.
Then your inner dialogue starts talking. “I can’t do that project—it’s too big. I’ll never get it done on time. What if I fail and disappoint the whole team?”
At the heart of this overwhelm is a spiral of panic that can paralyze you from moving forward. But no matter how overwhelmed you’re feeling, you can stop this downward spiral.
These three strategies will help you address the emotional and practical sides of overwhelm, so you can not only get started on that project, but also move through it with confidence and ease.
1. Calm your anxiety.
The first step? Put the brakes on those negative thoughts and calm your anxiety. Big projects often make people feel anxious, says Eric Maisel, Ph.D., a former psychotherapist and author of the books “Redesign Your Mind” and “The Power of Daily Practice.” “But if we can’t manage the anxiety, we’ll want to flee,” he says, “and we won’t get the work done.”
Maisel encourages practicing simple, anxiety-relieving strategies. To activate calm in the moment, try these meQ tools:
- Belly Breathing
- Quiet the Mind Meditation
- 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise
The meQ Trap it, Map it, Zap it technique also helps you get ahead of negative thoughts and emotions by teaching you how to reroute them so they better serve you.
2. Separate fears from challenges.
What are you telling yourself about this project and your ability to finish it? Some of these thoughts are likely based on your deepest fears: of failing, embarrassing yourself in front of peers, not being good enough.
At meQ, we call these Iceberg Beliefs, or deep-rooted ideas about how we and the world should work. Even though these beliefs often aren’t accurate, they can control what we do and how we feel, without us even realizing it. Think you should do something perfectly or everyone will see you as a failure? That’s an Iceberg Belief.
The rest of your worries may hit on challenges or key considerations that you actually need to address. For example, timelines and resources are important factors to project success.
To tell the difference, jot down all project-related thoughts currently going through your mind. Underline the fear-based thoughts that need to be reframed. Remember, you can change your thinking so that it supports your success and wellbeing. Create statements that are positive, realistic, and empowering. For example:
- I can do this. I’ve accomplished new projects before.
- I can channel my anxiety into action by taking this project one step at a time.
Then circle the thoughts that would benefit from concrete resolutions, and write down what you can do. For example:
- This deadline seems unrealistic, so I’ll talk to my supervisor for advice and about a possible extension.
- This project is too much for one person to handle, so I’ll ask a few team members to help with specific tasks.
3. Find a deeper connection.
Working on something big can feel hard and overwhelming if you “don’t have some underlying devotion to the project, some love for it, some curiosity about it, some deep connection to it,” Maisel says.
To identify your underlying connection, consider these questions:
- How will this project help customers or colleagues?
- How does this project connect to your company’s larger goals?
- What skill can you sharpen in the process?
- Is there a colleague you’re looking forward to working with?
Before starting your project, reflect on its importance. On a sticky note, write a mini mission statement and tape it somewhere visible. When you feel the pang of frustration, let these words pull you through.