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Feeling Overwhelmed at Work? Must Know Tips

Employee Wellbeing
June 13, 2022
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When you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s hard to focus or find motivation to power through. Every person has a different threshold for what tips the scale into overwhelmed territory, so it’s good to understand what causes burnout and how to identify feelings of overwhelm. 

In this article, we will look at common causes of feeling overwhelmed at work. We will also cover tactics to overcome said feelings from an employee’s perspective and see how organisations can better support employees to reduce feelings of overwhelm and burnout. 

What Does it Mean to Feel Overwhelmed at Work?   

In a work environment (and also in a personal setting), feelings of overwhelm are equated with feelings of stress. These sentiments can come from a variety of sources, such as being overworked or from taking on challenging projects without having access to the proper resources. 

Being unable to manage a balanced sense of mental wellbeing in a work setting will eventually lead to burnout. Burnout happens when these stressful and overwhelmed feelings take a toll and there’s seemingly no way to turn back. In many instances, burnout will lead to quitting. 

Instead of letting these feelings grow, it’s vital to be aware of them and take steps to reduce or prevent them. 

What are the Signs of Being Overworked?   

Before we talk about ways to do so, let’s dig a bit deeper into what the signs of being overworked look like.

1. Feeling Helpless

It feels like you have no control or direction in your professional life. This makes you feel like you’re stuck and can lead to depression and anxiety. 

2. Always Thinking About Work 

Even when you are away from work responsibilities, you find yourself thinking about things you need to get done. Whether you’re with friends, family, or out having fun, you’re not actually present because work is on your mind. 

3. Having Difficulty Sleeping

When you are stressed at work, it can affect your sleep patterns as you will be kept up or woken up with thoughts of work or the dreadful feeling of having to return to work when you awake. 

4. Constantly Exhausted

With constant feelings of overwhelm, you’re never able to relax, take a break, or recharge. This will lead you to feel drained. Feelings of fatigue will affect your work performance, as well as your entire mental wellbeing because you are unable to focus and be present. 

5. Poor Eating Habits

Ever heard of the term “stress eating?” People may turn to food to deal with stressful situations, whether it means replacing a sense of boredom or dread with sweets or losing one’s appetite entirely. 

6. Getting Sick 

Eating habits, cortisol and adrenaline levels (stress hormones), sleep patterns, and ruminating thoughts will have an effect on your immune system. When you are in a constant state of worry, you are more likely to fall physically ill. 

7. Having a Negative Attitude

The negative feelings that stem from your workplace will likely bleed into other aspects of your life and take over your mental headspace. It can cause you to feel pessimistic and negative overall.

What are the Causes of Feeling Overwhelmed at Work?   

As mentioned, everyone reacts to situations differently and can handle different amounts of responsibility. 

One’s threshold is often driven by one’s level of mental fitness. When you feel mentally tough and strong, you are able to react to situations clearly, communicate your needs, and overcome challenges. The upshot is that your resilience is much stronger.

With that being said, there are clear causes at work that tend to make people feel overwhelmed, including:

  • Having too many tasks at once 
  • Lacking proper support or resources to get the job done 
  • Being expected to meet tight deadlines 
  • Not having enough knowledge of an assignment 
  • Being unsure about one’s own work performance due to lack of feedback 

Both employees and employers play a role in how employees feel at work. As you can see from the causes, it’s a two way street that requires proper balance. That’s why employers are leveraging employee wellbeing platforms to better understand how their employees are doing.

These tools give employees a place to reflect and digest their emotions, offer insights for employers to pinpoint departments that need extra support, and are equipped with techniques to strengthen and develop mental fitness. In turn, employees have what they need to overcome challenges and deal with adversity.

Person feeling stressed in work conference room
By Thirdman from Pexels

How to Overcome Feeling Overwhelmed at Work?       

While feeling overwhelmed at work can feel like a hopeless situation, there are actions and practices you can take to reduce such feelings. 

Here’s a look at a few of them, which, when put into practice, can really change your experience at work:

1. Understand Your Triggers

Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey share the idea of triggers in their book, Immunity to Change. The gist is that your capabilities have nothing to do with your feelings of overwhelm. 

Instead, you have to find your triggers, which are the things that add complexity in your day-to-day life. If you can pinpoint what items on your plate bring you the most stress, you can work to alleviate feelings of overwhelm. 

Employee wellbeing platforms provide exactly this solution! Employees get to record how they feel at any moment in the day and make note of whatever their stressors may be. 

This way, they can make connections between actions, behaviours, and thought patterns to strengthen their mental fitness and wellbeing to overcome challenges. With this ability, employees can quell and reduce overwhelming and anxious thoughts. 

Another action employees can take along with recording their emotions is to  write a to-do list out. The items you are procrastinating are probably those that feel the most overwhelming, but if you cross them off your list, you will feel lighter.

2. Communicate Your Needs 

Once you have identified your triggers, consider what solutions are possible, for example:
“Who might possibly help me with this?”, “‘How could I possibly look at this situation differently?”, “What resources could I possibly ask for, to help?”. 

 Once you have considered the art of the possible, try to find a solution to achieve the result you are aiming for. To illustrate, it could mean taking breaks during a particularly complex  task, asking for help, communicating to your manager that you need an extended deadline, etc. 

3. Quit Negative Self-Talk 

Whilst easier said than done, the way you speak to yourself  has a real impact on how you approach work. If you’re telling yourself that the project will fail if you don’t get the task done or that you’re not good enough to do it right, then you’re going to set yourself up for failure. 

Challenge these statements by telling people how you are feeling, writing them down, or saying them out loud to dispel them.

4. Create a To-Do List & Prioritise

When you have a lot of things to do, you might immediately feel like there isn’t enough time. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re only human, and you can’t do it all in a day. 

Instead, write a to-do list in terms of priorities and set reasonable daily goals to begin shortening your list of tasks. 

5. Set a Schedule 

Based on your priortised to-do list, you can build a schedule around what needs to be done on a daily basis. This way, you can schedule in time for breaks, time to ask for feedback, and a manageable amount of work. 

Setting a schedule is a good way to also account for your own work-life balance by scheduling time for your work duties, friends, family, and self.

6. Don’t Try to Be Perfect

Perfectionism is a big culprit in the world of overwhelming thoughts. To put things into perspective, accept that more work isn’t always better work (there will be diminishing returns as you work longer hours), ask for feedback before the job is completely finished, and focus on one thing at a time.  Remember, sometimes your 80% is another person’s 120%!

7. Request Feedback

When you’re stuck in your own head and judging your work to meet the unrealistic expectation of perfectionism, you are placing extra stress on yourself. 

By asking for feedback, you can get a different set of (unbiased) eyes to help you along and share another perspective. After all, you’re likely to be your own toughest critic. 

8. Be Honest About Your Workload

Many employees feel like they can’t say no or be honest about the workload they can manage. However, it’s worse to tell a manager that you can get something done when it’s beyond your threshold and will cause unnecessary stress (potential burnout). 

Instead, be honest with yourself and your team about how much you can actually get done in a given amount of time.

9. Ask for Help

When things feel like they are too much to handle by yourself, share those feelings with your team, manager, or HR. In organisations, many employees won’t actually ask for help because they think it’s a sign of weakness. 

This is why an employee wellbeing platform can make such a difference. It provides insights for managers and HR teams to see when their employees may need extra support so that they can take the first step and open up a conversation about how they are doing. 

Employee wellbeing platforms also empower employees to digest and resolve issues on their own as they provide actionable techniques and learning tools to do so.

10. Take Breaks

Don’t forget to take breaks. While it seems counterproductive to getting things done, it’s necessary to remain focused. Complete one task at a time and set breakpoints so that you can approach your next task with a sense of being refreshed. 

11. Strive for a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work life balance is essential to preventing feelings of overwhelm at work. Owning this balance will mean that you can be present at work and present in your personal life without conflating the two. Want to know how to improve your work life balance? Check out this post

12. Take Care of Your Mental Wellbeing

Wellbeing takes into account one’s emotional, psychological, sociological, and spiritual health. By prioritising mental wellbeing, you will be better equipped to show up authentically and be honest with yourself and others. 

In a workplace setting, this translates to setting boundaries, asking for help, prioritising tasks, and taking control of your actions to reduce your stress levels (however that may look to you). 

From an employer’s perspective, you can implement an employee wellbeing platform within your organisation to prioritise your employees’ mental wellbeing. The tool not only empowers employees to care about their own mental wellbeing, but it also supports development of mental fitness through educational and interactive learning journeys.

What are Best Practices to Stay Productive at Work?   

When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, it’s more difficult to stay focused and be productive. Lack of productivity can contribute even more to feelings of stress, getting you stuck in a cycle. 

Here are a few recommendations to remain productive at work so that you can get things done without risking feelings of overwhelm:

1. Remove Distractions 

As best as you can, limit your distractions. If that means turning your phone on silent or going to a secluded workspace, then so be it. Distractions will end up eating away at your time, which when compiled, can end up costing you a lot in terms of peace of mind and literal time. 

2. Do One Thing at a Time 

While you may be tempted to multitask to get a lot done at once, the truth of the matter is that you won’t be able to do anything at your highest potential when you’re trying to do too much at once. Focus on one task at a time. If it’s a big project, consider breaking it down into smaller increments, with breaks in between. 

3. Optimize Timing 

Figure out when you are the most productive and do your most challenging duties during those times. Once you fulfill your most challenging tasks, you can do the easier items on your to-do list during the rest of the day. 

4.Take a Break

If you’re not concentrating on something or feeling overwhelmed by a particular task, take some time away from the environment, go for a walk, meditate, practice some breathing exercises and then reconnect with the task at hand.  A simple switch in environment can help you to gain a different perspective.

5. Buy a sand timer! 

If your attention span isn’t connected with a task after the first 8 minutes and you notice yourself procrastinating, work on something else and come back to it.  The sand timer can be a good visual aid to represent the time passing and your level of engagement with something.

Closing Thoughts 

No one wants to be feeling overwhelmed at work. It’s important to be aware of feelings of stress at work and also take the necessary action to reduce such feelings. It all begins with slowing down and taking stock of how you’re feeling and communicating your needs. 

Both employees and employers play a pivotal role in caring for mental wellbeing in the workplace. With the aid of an employee wellbeing platform, organisations provide resources whereby employees can get the support they need to do so. 

By prioritising mental wellbeing, organisations and individuals can work together to prevent burnout and create a desirable workplace culture.

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