Everyone has moments where they feel overwhelmed. Trying to handle overwhelming emotions at work is especially challenging. And simply pushing through despite everything can lead to burnout.
Being overwhelmed means that your life or work is overpowering you. Regain control by clarifying your intentions, setting realistic expectations, and focusing on your next step. — Daphne Michaels
What does overwhelm at work feel like?
Feeling overwhelmed at work usually means you’re in over your head and either can’t keep up with all the demands or that you don’t have the necessary skills to do your job. Feeling overwhelmed at work can also mean you don’t feel like you have support available to help you deal with the situation. Focus is difficult, your attention span is reduced, you easily get stuck in analysis paralysis, and you might feel mentally fatigued or blocked creatively. Heck, you may also be noticing increased conflict or irritation with colleagues or co-workers.
Causes of overwhelm at work:
Feeling like you have too much to do, and not enough time to do it
Feeling you aren’t being well compensated for the work that you
Difficulty saying no and thereby stretching yourself thin
Supervisors or managers who demand more than your job description
Lacking necessary skills or tools to do your job effectively
Lack of sufficient support from your supervisor or colleagues
Personal mental health or relationship challenges
Poor sleep or nutrition
Absence of self-care
What can you do to feel better and stop feeling overwhelmed at work?
1. Notice your triggers. When you start to feel overwhelmed, ask yourself why. Be as concrete as possible. The more you can nail down the specific causes of your bad feelings, the more you can specifically address them. When you start to identify the triggers, you can develop coping strategies for each of them so you're better prepared next time.
2. Map it out. Take a few moments to write down everything that's on your plate. Sometimes by looking at all of it in writing will help you begin to identify what you can do right now, soon, or what can be put off a bit, as well as what is not so important and what can be delegated.
3. Make deadlines work for you instead of against you. Instead of procrastinating on tasks until the last minute, which typically leads to feeling overwhelmed, make deadlines work to your advantage. Start by breaking larger projects into smaller tasks, each with its own time frame and deadline for completion. Then work hard to complete each task by the deadline you created. The more consistently you do this, the more progress you’ll make in a shorter amount of time. Instead of feeling anxious as tasks pile up and deadlines approach, you’ll steadily check off tasks.
4. Perform tasks that are familiar to you. Find an activity that you find satisfying and familiar on your to-do list, then do the work. Why is this effective? Because you get a mental boost from completing familiar tasks. The more energy you have going into your day, the less likely it is that you'll feel overwhelmed.
5. Perform half of your tasks. Splitting up duties then having success completing SOME of them can ignite you, which can help you conquer your day. Instead of tackling your entire to-do list in one shot, focus on one task at a time. Succeed, then, move on to the next.
6. Take planned breaks. Instead of playing it safe, take a break when the situation calls for it. Take breaks throughout the day and shorter ones between functions. Varying your rest periods this way reduces your feelings of overwhelm and keeps you more focused. It also prevents you from getting burned out and going crazy to work throughout the day more efficiently. Getting some rest when you feel overwhelmed can help you think clearly.This shift can help you recharge mentally, and you can return to work with a fresh mindset.
7. Set healthier boundaries. Step back and look at everything that’s contributing to your feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Where did those things come from? Did you say yes to unnecessary requests from your coworkers? Did you wait too long to start on a project or underestimate how long a task would take you? Do you regularly work outside of normal work hours, which has created the expectation that you’re always available to your boss or team members?
8. Prioritize & delegate. Adjusting your workflow to include more delegating and less time handling activities yourself can help you feel less overwhelmed. If you constantly handle your jobs alone, or without support, you'll burn out pretty fast, and it'll take a lot longer for you to feel focused and productive. Let other people handle some of your tasks -- if possible -- so you can focus more on the rest.
9. Add in the fun. Be sure to schedule some fun or socially re-charging time during the day, whether it's a quick break or coffee with a friend. These small windows of feeling safe, connected and even having fun can go a long way to recharging your batteries and helping you reduce overwhelm.
Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. It's one of those things that comes with the territory, at least for a while. What matters most is how you manage these feelings and approach them.