What To Do If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed At Work

There is no question that life has picked up the pace again. With many of us spread in between the demands of the workplace and our families, managing workplace stress, and ensuring we don’t get overwhelmed is critical. These are issues that affect people generally, but they have been compounded by a squeeze on the cost of living and hybrid working. This can make it very difficult to draw a line between your workplace and your home. We need to examine some practical steps we can take when feeling overwhelmed and understand why these feelings creep in to begin with.

What are the signs of overwhelm?

We tend to only spot and express that we are overwhelmed when that situation has hit a critical level. There are, however, some early warning signs that we should heed:

The relationship between our minds and bodies is well documented so if we focus on how we feel, both physically and mentally, we may be able to press pause before stress takes hold.

What to do if you’re overwhelmed at work

  • Think about how you can manage time in meetings, calls and emails (is every meeting actually necessary).
  • If you’re working from home, ensure that there is a clear demarcation. Physically put your laptop in another room when you’ve finished work, schedule in a lunch break, walk, change of scenery.
  • Practical solutions such as disabling work emails on your phone can help, to prevent you checking them in bed, on holiday, or in your general free time.
  • The relationship between well-being and exercise is documented so another practical solution could be to switch your phone off or put it into flight mode when exercising.
  • Make a list of what is overwhelming you, prioritise what needs doing, and be realistic with the time you have to do it in.
  • Once you’ve made the list, delegate what you can. Delegation often comes from a place of confidence and it’s not always easy to do, but it is necessary if you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Set manageable goals There is nothing worse than giving yourself a huge list of things you need to achieve in a day and then only managing to cross one or two off. Be realistic and be gentle with yourself about what is achievable and manageable in a day so that you take small steps and build that feeling of success and achievement.
  • At the beginning of each day, think about one thing to do that if you achieve it will have made the day a success. Don’t forget to recognise the small wins.
  • Say No – post-Covid it can often feel like we need to say ‘yes’ to every event and opportunity, but if it’s causing you pain rather than pleasure, say ‘no’ unapologetically, and give a firm reason why you can’t attend or ask if its possible to do another time.
  • Have conversations about realistic timescales – often we assume things need doing immediately when that’s often not the case. If your boss has asked you to do several things, ask, “When does this need doing by?” If there’s several things you’ve been given and it’s not feasible to get them done in the timescale allowed, ask for clear priorities in what needs to be done, highlighting this may mean other deadlines need to be pushed back. The majority of people are reasonable, and by opening lines of communication and understanding expectations a lot of stresses can often be alleviated.
  • Delegate.
  • Set boundaries – don’t feel obliged to reply to out of hour emails. People will soon realise that you’re not available during that time. Don’t feel you can’t protect your free-time.
  • Live in Day Tight compartments – only worry about what’s happening today – that’s all you can control. Sometimes even an entire day can feel too big and perhaps we need to segment it into half days or even hourly chunks.

Managing weariness, stress and worry
The challenge generally with managing overwhelm is about understanding the relationship between home and work. There are some useful strategies for understanding our boundaries in a recent article called “Gently does it – overcoming and managing weariness”.

The theme running through this piece is to be gentle in everything we do. It suggests in the workplace that communication and social intelligence are important aspects to ensure success. Equally, the piece stresses the importance of not bringing difficulties back into the home and ensuring we take the time there to relax and unwind. This means clear separation in our minds of what the two spaces are, so that we can manage feelings of overwhelm effectively. Now that many individuals are working from home this has become more challenging.

Increase confidence to ease overwhelm
Often when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we can be guilty of having internal conversations. If we have the confidence to voice our concerns in the workplace about aspects of a job or workload, then it would be far easier for our employers to put some support in place.

“Giving people tools to help them look after their well-being can enable them to better deal with pressure and reduce the impact of stress”.

When people feel stressed and overwhelmed, feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth can creep in. Building resilience within your team is hugely important because it not only enables them to get over hurdles but allows them to be adaptable and agile. There are training and development programmes that can be put in place to increase the confidence of your team, enabling individuals to build resilience and increase confidence.

The Importance of Workplace Culture
If you are overwhelmed at work, it could be difficult to verbalise if the workplace doesn’t feel like a psychologically safe space. Most businesses have worked hard on their employee engagement and recognise the importance of providing training in aspects such as time management or how to increase confidence. Team members also need to feel secure enough to have a conversation with their manager, to attain a better understanding of business priorities and how to manage them.

“Companies with the most supportive cultures had consistently the lowest productivity losses.”

Culture is developed by our leaders, but they potentially need practical training in strategies or programmes that help individuals relate to one another. There have been some real strides made in the last few years toward understanding the direct relationship between productivity and well-being, but it will be an on-going process and will require two-way conversations.

So yes, there is a training need and likely your business has developed programmes but it’s also about us taking some personal responsibility for our mental health, putting some parameters in place and setting some boundaries.