Success stories are great but they can sometimes be hard to relate to, particularly when things go wrong and we’re faced with adversity or disappointment. Everyday struggles are common, and we take them for granted but when another thing lands on our plate, it can become all too much. This often results in unmet expectations, unsupportive environment, anxiety and possibly illness.
What do you do when things go wrong? Or when you feel overwhelmed?
I’ve had my share of adversity in life. For example:
- My older sister died in a car accident when I was 19 years old
- I immigrated to Australia on a working visa during the global financial crisis, with people around me losing their jobs, and losing mine would mean being deported to South Africa
- My daughter developed obstructive sleep apnea when she was one year old, and needed surgery – which took place just as I returned from maternity leave and started a new role at work
I know what it’s like to be completely exhausted, both physically and mentally. And I know what it’s like to deal with disappointments in the workplace.
Over time, through some trial and error, and exploring different available resources, I’ve developed some strategies on how to deal with new challenges.
7 things to practice when things go wrong:
1. Hit pause, and breathe
Remove yourself from any environment that requires active participation, even if just for a moment. The initial shock can sometimes be too much to handle in front of people, so find space for yourself, breathe, and give yourself time to process the problem.
2. Avoid getting stuck in a negative loop
It can be therapeutic to talk with those close to you about the problem but make sure you don’t get stuck in a negative loop. By all means vent in a safe environment but be conscious of when those conversations start to reinforce negative feelings, and stop before they make you miserable.
As a general rule, don’t vent at work, and especially not to your manager. You should only talk with your manager once you’ve worked out a solution.
3. Don't make decisions when you're emotional
You might be angry about the situation, or possibly with other people. Allow yourself to be angry for a moment but be conscious of the feeling, and don’t get stuck in that space.
And certainly don’t make any decisions while you’re emotional, or let others take control of the situation, even if it’s tempting, as you might regret it later. Instead wait until you’re calm and the heat has gone from the situation, and give yourself time to come up with a solution.
4. Schedule time to think about the problem
Most of the time we don’t have the luxury of disappearing until a problem has been resolved. So we avoid thinking about the problem, and numb ourselves by watching TV, eating, drinking or playing Universal Paperclips.
I suggest doing the exact opposite. Schedule time to think of the problem, and work out a solution.
Maybe find a quiet room where you can meditate for a minute before plunging into it, or perhaps go for a long walk. Allow the problem to be your main focus at that moment, so it does not distract you at other times.
5. Reach out for support
When we are overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, our world seems very small and it can appear that nobody cares about us or our problems. However, people love being supportive, especially when they can see the positive results of their intervention.
Identify who you can ask for advice or support. If necessary ask for a referral to someone who might be more appropriate (eg. who could be a good mentor at work?).
6. Define your plan, and your timeline
Explore your options and define your plan, and your timeline.
- How, and when will you determine if your plan has been successful?
- What will you do if it isn’t? What’s your contingency
Assess your priorities and determine what is less important right now. You cannot add to your load without some form of repercussions, so drop the non-essentials if required.
7. Execute your plan
Take daily action towards reaching your goals. Planning is great but execution is everything particularly when things go wrong. Ignore what you can’t control, and seek feedback on better ways to do things where appropriate.
Don’t forget to breathe, and always take care of yourself, even if it’s just taking time for yourself or catching up with friends.
There are always potential solutions, even if they’re not obvious at first. And these challenges are a great opportunity to learn skills such as resiliency, and developing your own circle of support. They also help to define your values, and what really matters to you.
When things go wrong, think of it as a character building exercise. Where we have the opportunity to build resilience and overcome obstacles which ultimately helps us transform into our true selves.