Calming Anxiety When Your Plate Is Full

Staying Calm When Your Plate Is Full

Staying calm is a necessary work-life skill, especially in a post-pandemic world. The research indicates that there has been an increase in anxiety over the past couple of years. Thankfully, though, there are many tried and true strategies that have been proven to work in times when your plate is too full. If you’re looking for tips to get you grounded when work gets busy, this post is for you.

Today, we’re dividing our strategies into two categories. First is coping techniques, for short-term relief to move your projects forward fast. Secondly, we’re covering management approaches, which will move you toward longer-term peace at work. We’d love to hear tips of your own, so be sure to send us a Tweet with advice of your own.

Ready to start calming your overwhelm? Let’s get started.

Coping Strategies for the Short Term

Breathe, even for just one minute

The power of our breath has been catching the headlines in recent years, and rightly so. Our breath has the potential to awaken or calm us, with some studies even claiming “breath-control can change your life.”

Stopping to take a breath in a moment of anxiety at work may sound like a cliché, but the science indicates that it’s anything but:

  • According to those in the know, controlling our breathing taps into our parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Our parasympathetic nervous system is what helps us to “rest and digest”.
  • It effectively does the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight or flight response. The parasympathetic is all about regaining calm.

When stressed, we tend to breathe irregularly, shallowly, and too fast. Why not try a one-minute breathing exercise, perhaps using an app like Breathwrk? Even a small amount of controlled breathing can make a big difference in our lives. There’s evidence that just ten minutes of deep breathing a day can lower blood pressure, but even one minute will make a difference in how centered you feel. We highly recommend James Nestor’s book Breath if you’re ready to explore your breathing even further.

Pause and do a brain dump

Journaling is powerful. As far back as 2007, studies have shown that putting our feelings into words can make them more manageable. As we grow anxious or stressed, our thoughts can start to whir and race. We find ourselves getting overwhelmed by the racket that’s in our brains.

The next time this happens to you at your desk, stop working and journal. You could follow an anxiety journaling exercise like this one to get started, or you could simply free write. Brain dump everything that’s in your mind at that moment, completely ignoring grammar and spelling. Write down your feelings, list the things that are worrying you, and note down any of the to-do list items that keep cropping up.

Sometimes, our stress is as much about remembering everything we have to do as it is doing the things themselves. Stopping to just get all the tasks out on paper can be transformative, while listing our feelings helps us to reconnect with our present. So often, just seeing everything down on paper is enough to give us back a feeling of power.

Open up to someone

For so many of us, our first instinct when things get hard is to close ourselves off. Instead of saying, “Hey, I’m struggling right now,” we say all is well or say nothing at all.

There are a few downsides to be found here. Firstly, we close off a chance to connect and bond. Studies show that we struggle to confide in those we’re closest to, yet doing so makes us feel so much better.

When we open up, we can:

  • Problem-solve with those we trust, rather than mulling the same ideas on our own endlessly.
  • Get help if the person we’re talking to has the emotional or professional bandwidth to assist us.
  • Improve our communication, vital to a team or work-related setting.
  • Create closer bonds with people that matter to us.

If at work, reach out to a co-worker who could potentially lighten your workload, or get things off your chest by venting to a friend. Otherwise, make sure to let loved ones know that you are struggling. Maybe they can give you a call to chat through things, or come by and cook dinner that evening. Voicing your feelings is the first step to validating them.

Create a calm working environment

We love the idea of tending to yourself through sound. Sometimes, just wearing headphones without playing anything is enough to detach a little from the world. Beyond that, you could play a comforting album or listen to soothing rain sounds. If you like a soundscape, Rainy Café is a great free option.

Alternatively, a simple change of scenery can also do the trick. Take yourself for a walk around the block to break out of the trapped feeling anxiety can instill. Not only does moving help, but fresh air and being in nature is another proven method to relieve stress.

Tune into your body

Often, we forget that changing the feelings in our body can change the mood in our minds. It’s one of the most effective ways to switch up how we feel.

If you’re not sure where to start, try:

  • Building up a sweat. Take 10 – 20 mins to do a cardio-heavy exercise that will leave you feeling calmer afterward.
  • Hold an ice cube. It’s been proven to help ward off anxiety and the internet has vouched for it anecdotally, too
  • Investigate tapping. It’s been lauded by doctors, therapists, and coaches alike for its calming abilities.
  • Trigger your vagus nerve by holding yourself. Apparently, we subconsciously can’t tell the difference between someone hugging us and us hugging ourselves. Your vagus nerve controls your heart rate, how much you sweat, and your blood pressure; giving a self hug triggers its calming powers.
  • Focus on your senses. Try out the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, which connects to each of your senses in turn for a calming effect.
Calming Anxiety When Your Plate Is Full

Managing Strategies To Calm Stress In The Longer Term

Ask yourself: what can you say no to right now?

So many of us feel anxious because we aren’t setting sufficient personal boundaries. Instead of guarding our mental energy and our time, we say yes to projects we lack capacity for, or for events that are too much for our schedules. It’s a natural trait for anyone who loves making other people happy, but it’s not a sustainable practice.

If your plate is full, ask what you can realistically remove.

  • That co-worker request – are you the only person that could do that particular job?
  • That hard deadline – is it actually a hard deadline, or could you ask for more time?
  • That team meeting – are you a “must attend” or a “could attend”?

We should be able to set personal boundaries with our co-workers and loved ones, but we need them with ourselves, too. Are you checking the news at a problematic time of day? Are you making yourself feel better or worse by looking at social media first thing each morning? Do you need to turn your phone off for an hour, just to avoid temptation?

Review how you plan for your time to find more calm

It’s a whole lot easier to overfill our plates when we don’t have a grip on what’s demanding our time. Do you have a weekly slot where you review the work coming up for that week? Calming anxiety isn’t just about managing stress, but also about preventing it.

If you do and you still feel overwhelmed, give time tracking a go. Toggl TrackTimeCamp, and other tracking apps will help you visualize how you use your time. You can even set up an automation with Zapier to add your tracked entries to your digital calendar, giving you a clear view of how you spend each week. This will let you make more realistic estimates about how long tasks take you to finish, rather than guessing and potentially overloading yourself.

Even seasoned planning fans miss things. Maybe you need to schedule in more time for emails each day? Perhaps you could do with a power hour? Maybe you’re just too optimistic about how long projects will take? It’s a great skill to master.

Is it time for a change?

If you feel as though you’ve tried everything, it could be that your situation needs to change.

  • Do you need to change teams?
  • Should you open up to a manager if this problem is ongoing?
  • Is it time to change company altogether?


  • Anxiety has increased in the last few years, but there are plenty of techniques to help
  • Address overwhelm in the short term by grounding in the present
  • Do a breathing exercise, brain dump, speak to somebody you trust, and create calm in your environment for quick relief
  • Work on calming overwhelm in the long term by setting personal boundaries and planning your time.
  • If you feel like you’ve tried everything to address it solo, consider that it may be a sign that it’s time to make a life change.

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