The day started so well. Sunny skies. Light traffic on my morning commute. The debut, during a lovely luncheon, of a nonprofit video I’d written. My mood soared as I arrived back home that evening.
Then, like falling dominoes, one piece of bad news after another crashed down on my perfect little day.
Affixed to the door of my newly rented townhouse was a notice informing me the previous tenants hadn’t paid the mortgage. The home had been bought in a foreclosure auction. Not good.
Before I could fully grasp the implications of that, my husband arrived home with news of his own: he had lost his job. Really not good.
Later that night, I learned about family members facing major troubles—loved ones falling ill and friends deciding to divorce.
It felt like some sort of cosmic joke. Surely so much could not go wrong in such a short period of time. I spent a sleepless night full of so many worries I barely knew which stress to focus on.
I was a wreck the next day. How could I possibly work while it felt like the world was crashing around me? Exhaustion and stress consumed me, but I couldn’t miss the day.
If you have to face a catastrophic week, here’s how to work through it:
Put your neutral face on
Controlling my expression was a skill I had to master or risk exposing my every emotion. Keeping a neutral expression on my face helped me to feel in control despite everything that was going on beneath the surface.
Maintaining a normal expression was necessary for keeping my personal problems separate from the work day. I knew that one “Are you okay, Erin?” from a well-meaning coworker could send me into tears, so putting on my business-appropriate game face helped set the tone for my workday.
Schedule your entire day
Idle time doesn’t help when you’re facing a lot of outside stress. Knowing you’re more likely than usual to get distracted means organization is even more important. Take time at the beginning of the workday to create a schedule. If anything on your schedule is particularly stress-inducing, give yourself a bit of time before and after to get prepared and decompress.
During my awful week, staying organized helped to keep me sane. Following a strict schedule gave my mind something to focus on aside from my troubles. Moving from one task to the next put me on emotional autopilot and helped me get my work done without adding additional stress.
During difficult times, you might need to deal with personal issues during work hours, like if a family member is in the hospital. It may be important to be in the loop about certain things, but updates every 15 minutes are probably not necessary. Let your family (or their medical providers) know specifics about when to call, what information to relay right away and what can wait.
Throughout my horrible week, I told my husband I’d call and check for updates during my lunch break. Aside from that, he knew to text me if it was something that affected my schedule, like when we had to meet with our new landlords.
My general rule was that if it’s something I can’t do anything about while I’m at work, it can wait. Setting these rules allowed me to stay informed without getting overly distracted.
Don’t be a hero
Just because you’re strong and capable doesn’t mean you can always handle it alone. Learn when to ask for help, both at work and home. There’s nothing wrong with getting some guidance when you need it. Sometimes a little advice or outside perspective can be exactly what you need.
If things get really bad, don’t be afraid to go to your boss or your company’s HR department if you need some time off. Some emergency situations need your full attention, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Getting help from my coworkers was an immeasurable asset during my chaotic week. Asking the right questions to the right people helped me create actionable plans. I asked a coworker who owns some rental properties about tenant rights. Another coworker gave me job leads for my husband. When I felt entirely overwhelmed by everything, a work friend talked me through it during our break.
Though it felt like the week would never end, it did. I managed to get my work done while keeping my sanity. Not only did I learn what I was capable of, but it was also a reminder of how lucky I am to work with such amazing people.
You can get through it, too.
Erin Palmer is a digital content specialist for University Alliance. She writes about topics like strategic leadership and how young professionals can become leaders. Erin can be reached on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.