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  • Writer's pictureMegan Filoramo

Drowning at work

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning? Like everything is too overwhelming, you can’t get ahead and you don’t even know where to start?

Maybe you haven’t even verbalized it as such but you can feel it in your body, in your nervous system, that you are thrashing around and trying to get your feet under you. Sometimes this manifests as difficulty sleeping, repetitive worry or lack of motivation.

I had it manifest as something else entirely this week and I wanted to share it with you as just becoming aware of it gave me a sense of peace, and honestly, relief.

As I have mentioned recently, our pain management practice has recently gone through a big transition; moving from being part of one organization to another. With this has come a lot of expected change; change in location, in benefits/insurance, in electronic medical records, in systems and processes. In many ways it has been a very exciting time, being able to create an efficient process that serves our patients and allowing our staff to really shine has been amazing.

But it’s change, and change is uncomfortable. Of course life continues to go on outside of work as well, with its own set of challenges, obligations and stressors.

What it all boils down to is that this week I have been grumpy, grumpy and unmotivated to stay engaged.

It’s like when you decide to clean out a closet. You are all motivated and excited. It’s going to be great. You buy new containers to fit your intricate vision of perfectness.

You start taking everything out of the closet. And somehow, what fit into a 3x3 closet seems to be enough to fill up a tractor trailer. Now your room is a mess, your closet is empty and you are sitting on your floor, totally overwhelmed, with your fancy bins sitting next to you in a mocking fashion.

That’s where I was mentally this week. 

And so I started using all my tricks and tips to drum up some motivation (I will spare you the list of all the things I tried). What ultimately kept holding me back from any of them working was I kept coming back to what everyone else should be doing. I couldn’t let it go. It would be easier if this person would just… (you can fill in the blanks). I was totally fed up.

Here’s the thing. I have a great team, a team that has really worked their butts off over the last 6 weeks to get everything running smoothly. Yet I was feeling internally nit picky.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the point that may help you if you have ever felt this way about your team. 

When you are in the midst of a significant amount of change, obligation, or stress it is common to feel very uncertain.

Uncertainty can feel very unsettling since we are programmed to always look for safety and uncertainty feels unsafe.

When we feel uncertain, we may look like we are holding it together on the outside but internally we are thrashing around, trying to get our footing in water that is too deep. 

In real world terms, thrashing around can look like trying to get control of anything and everything around you (including the people you work with). It’s a reflexive behavior; you feel like you are drowning. 

Awareness of this is the first step to feeling better. You may not actually say anything to your coworkers (I didn’t, thank God). It may just be feeling hypercritical of those around you.

Left unchecked, this reflexive thrashing and trying to control everything can cause your sense of team to disintegrate before your eyes. 

We want to avoid this at all costs, not only because it feels isolating and terrible but because we know from the research that having a sense of team is crucial to work satisfaction and preventing burnout. 

This may sound like terrible news but it’s not. 

Realizing that our criticism is based on our own uncertainty

can help us let go of resentment of members of our team. 

This is where my sense of relief came in. Like I said, I have a great team, a team that I have been with for years and a team that we are growing. I felt terrible when I was constantly criticizing them in my mind, not only did it make me feel aggravated, I was honestly ashamed of myself.

So here’s the moral of the story. If you are feeling hypercritical of someone in your life and it is bringing you down, take a minute to check in with yourself. Are you feeling uncertain? Uncertain that you can handle everything? Uncertain of how something will turn out? 

Take a minute to see how YOU are actually doing. Give yourself some empathy and compassion while you try and figure that out. The empathy and compassion will be like a life vest while you get your bearings. Bring your attention back to you, it’s not really about your coworkers, they are just a distraction that your brain is trying to use to take you away from your uncertainty. 

How can you establish a sense of safety for your nervous system? This may sound woo woo but it’s really the key here. 

  1. Acknowledge that you are feeling uncertain. You may have never even identified this as an emotion you experience. We like to just lump everything into “stressed”. When we do this,  it puts the focus back outside of you, and we have no control out there. 

  2. Reassure yourself that you are safe. Take a couple deep breaths (if you were in actual danger you wouldn’t be sitting around breathing, right?). Maybe make a quick list of things that ARE ok in your life, a list of things you don’t have to worry about :) 

  3. Ground yourself in the knowledge that you can handle change AND hard things. You do it all the time.

Uncertainty is still going to feel pretty crappy but it will continue to show up in our lives. Let’s have a plan to give ourselves a little bit of time and space to figure it out without mentally isolating ourselves from our teams. 

After all, the team is treading water with you. Once one of you gets your feet under you, the rest will figure it out too.


P.S. If you are seriously drowning and don't feel like you can get out of it by yourself, schedule a time for a consult. I am here for you whenever you are ready. Coaching changed my life, I know it can change yours.

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