How To Manage Feeling Overwhelmed at Work (With Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 August 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Feeling overwhelmed can often occur suddenly and inexplicably. When you do start to feel this way, it's important that you manage these feelings quickly and utilise coping strategies that work for you. In doing so, you can return to a normal day of work with minimal disruption to your health and the company you work for. In this article, we explore how to manage feeling overwhelmed, how you can prevent feeling that way and why you might feel overwhelmed.

What does it mean to feel overwhelmed at work?

Feeling overwhelmed at work means that you're experiencing stress from either the amount of work you have or the nature of the work that you complete. You may also feel overwhelmed following the completion of a difficult task or project. This is also common if you've been working more than usual in a short period of time.

For example, working for 60 hours over the course of the week can lead to higher levels of stress and the feeling that your work life is taking a more prominent role than your home life. Continuously feeling overwhelmed can lead to 'job burnout', which in turn can make you less productive and result in more stress because you aren't able to effectively carry out your duties. This added stress become cyclical and makes burnout worse. That's why it's important to avoid becoming overwhelmed at work before it becomes an issue.

Related: How To Get Motivated at Work and Reduce Stress in 10 Steps

What are the reasons for feeling overwhelmed at work?

There are many reasons why you might be feeling overwhelmed. Identifying the potential causes can help you to avoid them before they start affect you. The most common reasons for feeling overwhelmed include:

  • having multiple deadlines that are due at the same time

  • not feeling confident about your current performance in the workplace

  • feeling like a deadline is too tight to provide acceptable results

  • not understanding enough about a project brief or assignment

  • accepting too many tasks and not feeling confident enough to say no

Related: How To Overcome No Motivation To Work With Causes and Steps

How to manage feeling overwhelmed

If you're feeling overwhelmed, there are a range of steps you can take to mitigate stress. The sooner that you identify the causes of your stress and implement solutions, the faster you can break the cycle of burnout. Try the following steps:

1. Collate a list of all your tasks

If you feel like you're getting overwhelmed by having too many tasks to complete, begin by writing a list of all those tasks. Then break down each task into the steps required to complete it. By doing so, you can identify clear, actionable steps to carry out tasks and begin prioritising the list in order of what is most important to finish first. It also helps you to identify steps that rely on other stakeholders and are therefore best handled first, so you don't face delays later on.

2. Create a schedule to follow

Once you have a list of all the steps you need to complete to finish your tasks by their deadlines, you can create a schedule. You can structure this schedule on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, depending on the number of tasks and their deadlines. This is where the previous step of prioritising each task comes in useful and makes creating a schedule easier.

3. Allow yourself to ask for guidance

When you're feeling overwhelmed, it can be easy to feel isolated. Many companies have support systems available for times like this. If you're unsure about a particular assignment or require advice on handling a stressful matter, ask for guidance from a manager, mentor or trusted colleague. Having input from someone who is familiar with your role can provide valuable insights into how best to manage the workload.

4. Voice your concerns to a colleague or superior

Alongside asking for guidance, it can be helpful to voice your concerns to a colleague or superior. It's possible that the workload that has been assigned to you is excessive and that systems can be put in place to improve work distribution going forwards. Sharing tasks with other team members can help to ensure you meet your deadlines and aren't put in a stressful position in the future.

5. Maintain a healthy work/life balance

When going through a period of feeling overwhelmed in the workplace, it's important that you try to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Attempt to keep elements of your work as separate as possible from elements of your home life. This allows you to enjoy your downtime and not bring your work stress home with you. Having home life to look forward to each day can provide the perspective you require to get through difficult workdays.

Related: How To Be Self-Motivated (With Steps, Tips and an Example)

6. Remain honest about the reality of your workload

Whilst working through the tasks that are causing you to feel overwhelmed, remain honest with yourself about how you're dealing with the workload. If you feel that you could do more to achieve your deadlines, then consider ways that you can improve your efficiency. If you feel the nature of your work makes meeting deadlines impossible, then it may be wise to consult your manager. You can also consider asking for a deadline extension if you feel that it's beneficial to the overall quality of the project.

Related: How to avoid burnout in the workplace

7. Complete tasks in a measured manner

Try to perform your tasks calmly and in a measured manner. In doing so, you can slowly recover from the state of feeling overwhelmed and allow yourself to regain a sense of normality. Consistently completing tasks to a high standard and to deadline also provides you with a growing sense of confidence that positively impacts the completion of future tasks.

Related: What Is Job Satisfaction? (Plus Tips on How To Increase It)

How to prevent feeling overwhelmed at work

Potentially the best way to deal with being overwhelmed is to prevent it before it happens. Leaving a burnout state is usually harder than avoiding entering it in the first place. Some of the best practices to prevent work from overwhelming you include:

1. Take frequent breaks throughout the day

By taking frequent breaks throughout the workday, you separate yourself from the stress of work for a moment and slow its build-up. There are many ways you can take a break, such as getting a few minutes of fresh air or getting a drink and distancing yourself from electronics. Consider taking smaller, more frequent breaks if the task you're working on is particularly intense.

2. Commit to a single task at a time

Focusing on too many tasks at once can make it difficult to perform any of them to a high standard, slowing your progress. By focusing your efforts on one task, your to-do list gets shorter much more quickly. It also lowers the chance that you will make a mistake, as there is less information for you to keep in mind at one time.

3. Time how long each task takes

Looking at a long list of tasks at the beginning of a workday can give an unrealistic expectation of how much work you have. Some tasks on your list take less time to complete than others. By timing how long a task typically takes to complete, you can establish a better approximation of your workload. Doing this allows you to methodically schedule your day and predict if you can realistically finish the work.

4. Remove distractions

Distractions can quickly reduce your work rate, leading to greater levels of stress when deadlines approach. While distractions can feel good, especially when you use them to alleviate stress, they're a short-term solution. Distractions can also limit the accuracy of any productivity predictions you make, causing you to take on more work than was achievable.

5. Maintain a positive attitude

Approaching a day with a negative attitude works against your productivity and can encourage distractions. By starting a day with a positive mindset, you're likely to find more purpose in your work and feel enthusiastic. if you have a positive relationship with the work you do, you're more likely to see tasks as a challenge rather than a source of stress.

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